West Indian immigrants

Although West Indians have made up a relatively small part of immigrants who have come to the United States, notable West Indian communities have arisen in New York and Florida. Their places of origin are close to the southernmost part of the United States and they have a comparatively long history of immigrating to the United States.

The many small countries of the Caribbean make up the West Indies. There are some variations in the use of the term “West Indian,” but the expression most frequently describes people in the English-speaking Caribbean islands. This region encompasses inhabitants of Anguilla, Antiguan immigrantsAntigua, Bahamian immigrantsBahamas, Barbadian immigrantsBarbados, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Montserrat, Trinidad and TobagoTrinidad, St. Trinidad, and the British and American and Virgin IslandsVirgin Islands. The term sometimes also encompasses people from BermudaBermuda, which is north of the Caribbean, and Guyanan immigrantsGuyana, which is on the South American mainland. Moreover, many immigration authorities also include people from the French West Indies, notably GuadeloupeGuadeloupe and
MartiniqueMartinique, under the category “West Indian.” Information presented here describes immigrants from both the English and French West Indies.West Indian immigrantsWest Indian immigrants[cat]IMMIGRANT GROUPS;West Indian immigrants[cat]WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANTS;West Indian immigrants[cat]LATIN AMERICAN IMMIGRANTS;West Indian immigrants

Although West Indians have constituted one of the smaller immigrant groups in the United States, they have a fairly long history of immigration as a result of the geographic proximity of the Caribbean. Between 1900 and 1920, immigrants from the West Indies living in the United States increased from only about 10,000 to more than 53,000. One of the best-known West Indians who immigrated during this period was the black nationalist leader Garvey, MarcusMarcus Garvey, who arrived in the United States in 1916 and settled in New York City;West Indian immigrantsNew York City, which was already home to the largest concentration of immigrants from the West Indies in the United States. In 1920, close to one-half the West Indians in the United States lived in New York. Other, smaller, but significant communities of West Indians lived in New Orleans;West Indian immigrantsNew Orleans and Miami, Florida;West Indian immigrantsMiami, Florida.

The West Indian population of the United States grew to nearly 79,000 by 1930. It then dropped dramatically to around 26,000 in 1940, and rose back up to about 38,000 in 1950. Numbers of West Indians increased over the 1950’s to just over 100,000 in 1960 and then to 165,000 in 1970. The numbers of West Indians again increased rapidly after the early 1970’s. By 1980, the West Indian immigrant population was close to 377,000. In 1990, the total reached 697,000, 1 million in 2000, and 1,174,000 in 2007.

Jamaicans Jamaican immigrantsmade up the single-largest West Indian group in the United States, numbering an estimated 600,000 in 2007. New York City was still home to the greatest number of West Indian immigrants in the twenty-first century, holding close to one-third of the total. Florida;West Indian immigrantsFlorida, the state closest to the Caribbean, was home to nearly one-quarter of the West Indian immigrants in the United States. Most of Florida’s West Indians settled in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood-Pompano Beach metropolitan area and the Miami-Hialeah metropolitan area.

West Indians worked in a variety of occupations during the early twenty-first century. They were especially well represented in medicalMedical professionals;West Indians and health services. About one of every ten West Indians in the American labor force worked as a hospital or other institutional attendant in 2007, and nearly one in twenty worked as a Nurses;West Indiansnurse.

Most West Indians are of African ancestry, but some are descendants of people from India who settled in the Caribbean during the era of the British Empire. The Indian presence in the Caribbean is most evident in Trinidad and TobagoTrinidad and Tobago. Immigration studies of this group are often concerned with the influence of racial prejudice on their adaptation to life in the United States. Relations between African AmericansAfrican Americans;and West Indians[West Indians] and black West Indians have generally been good, but some tensions have arisen between members of the two groups.West Indian immigrants

Further Reading

  • Alvarez, Julia. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1991.
  • Foner, Nancy, ed. Islands in the City: West Indian Migration to New York. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.
  • Vickerman, Milton. Crosscurrents: West Indian Immigration and Race. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Waters, Mary C. Black Identities: West Indian Immigrant Dreams and American Realities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.

African Americans and immigrants

Cuban immigrants

Dominican immigrants


Garvey, Marcus

Haitian immigrants


New York City

Puerto Rican immigrants

Universal Negro Improvement Association