Cultural adaption of the First and Second Generation British West Indian Migrants in Curaҫao


Cultural adaption of the First and Second Generation British West Indian Migrants in Curaҫao


Curaçaoan society consists in large part of a population that at one time in history migrated to the island. The recent study by Jeanne de Bruijn and Maartje Groot concludes that an estimated forty percent of the present population of Curaçao is descendant of migrants that arrived on the island during the last 100 years (de Bruijn en Groot, 2014). In the first half of the 20th century, immigration was important for population increase on the island, and Syrians, East-European Jews, (East) Indians, Chinese, Venezuelans, Portuguese (mainly from Madeira), Surinamese, and natives of the English-speaking Caribbean (the British West Indies and the Dutch Windward Islands) settled here. The majority of the migrants came as manual laborers for CPIM, an oil refinery that established itself on the island in 1915.3 The subsequent expansion of the oil refinery resulted in a severe shortage of industrial workers. The island then began admitting more immigrants, especially young males, to work in the oil industry. During the economic heydays of the oil industry from 1920-1960, the island’s population grew, in part due to increased immigration, from 32,709 to 125.094 an approximate 320% growth in 30 years. Growth peaked in the period between 1940 and 1950, when the population grew from 67,317 to 102,206 – an increase of almost 35,000 people in a ten-years span (Palm de, 1985:71).

The migrants came mainly from the former British colonies in the Caribbean, such as Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago.4 They are the focus of this article. This migration constituted the first significant voluntary movement of a working class from the wider Caribbean to Curaçao. In addition to working at CPIM, they also worked at the adjacent tanker company Curaçao Stoomboot Maatschappij (CSM), and the Phosphate Mining Company. One noticeable feature of this migration is that it included a fairly large group of young single women (locally known as “sleep-in maids”), recruited independently as domestic workers in and after the 1940s (Philipps, 1988).5When economic opportunities in Curaçao declined in the immediate post-World War II-period, especially male immigrants in particular returned with their families to their native countries or continued on to the UK, the USA, and Canada in search of work. Nonetheless, a substantial number remained permanently on the island; their descendants are now second and third generation immigrants.

In this article the characteristics of this first and second generation of immigrants from the former British colonies in the Caribbean living in Curaçao will be examined, taking a closer look at their education, settlement pattern, and type of education, income and language. These are indicators of cultural adaption in which people participate in various societal spheres. This paper is part of a larger study in which twentieth century migration from the former British West Indies to Curaçao is documented and analyzed in order to understand shared Caribbean cultural identities (Allen, 2012).

The article is structured as followed. A brief overview is given on the incentive for this study and the methodology used. This is followed by definitions of important concepts. Then the collected data will be discussed, such as level of education, employment, and the primary language use of the first and the second generation of migrants to obtain insight into the challenges and successes experienced by these generations during the last hundred years. The last section includes a summary and conclusion.

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