Celebrating Diversity in June and July
Bright colors, culture, food and music can be seen and heard throughout the country during the months of June and July, not just because June is home to the day of the summer solstice, but because various celebrations abound this month. This month is the beginning of LGBTQ+ PRIDE as well as the month for Caribbean American Heritage and Juneteenth. Each one being unique while at the same time holding very similar traits in the plight of the past and uplifting and celebrating for a brighter future.
Pride is the anniversary of Stonewall Riots. A police raid took place at the Stonewall Inn of Manhattan, New York. Very few places welcomed open LGBTQ+ people, but the Stonewall catered to the most marginalized population in the gay community (drag queens, transgender individuals, queer communities of color, and homeless youth).
During the 1960s, police raids were routine on gay bars. The music was turned off and lights were turned on. Patrons were lined up and their identification cards checked. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing. Female police officers would take customers dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex. Those without ID or dressed in full drag were arrested. Employees and management of the bars were also usually arrested. At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, the raid did not go as planned. Those who were not arrested were released from the front door, but they did not leave quickly as usual. Instead, they stopped outside to watch, and a crowd began to grow. Within minutes, between 100 and 150 people had gathered outside. Some from inside the Stonewall, and some after noticing all the police activity and commotion. Their anger was apparent and vocal as they watched bar patrons being forcefully removed. A woman in handcuffs (not wearing three pieces of feminine clothing) was escorted to the waiting police wagon. She had been hit over the head by an officer with a baton for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. She looked at the bystanders and shouted, “Why don't you guys do something!?"
In previous raids, the crowd had been passive, but not this time. They began to jeer and throw bottles/debris at the police. The policemen called for reinforcements and barricaded themselves inside the bar while 400 people rioted. The police barricade was repeatedly breached, and the bar was set on fire. The fire department and a riot squad were eventually able to douse the flames, rescue those inside Stonewall, and disperse the crowd. However, the protests, involving thousands of people, continued in the area for five more days. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. In recent years, the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides toward full equality through legal victories and political change built on decades of grassroots activism. However, in 30 states, LGBTQ+ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are. LGBTQ+ youth continue to face elevated levels of bullying and rejection, and many associated physical and mental health challenges.
As the LGBTQ+ community celebrates the progress they have made in the 50 years since Stonewall, they still have a long way to go to achieve full equality. National PRIDE is celebrated across the country in June, while certain cities reserve the month of July for celebrations. Regardless of which month the celebrations take place, there is certain to be a plethora of rainbow flags, apparel and other items, as well as vibrant music to help set the tone of the jubilant celebration.
National Caribbean American Heritage Month
National Caribbean American Heritage Month commemoration was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 to recognize the significance of Caribbean people and their descendants in the history and culture of the United States. Since the declaration, the White House has issued an annual proclamation recognizing June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month. The campaign to designate June as National Caribbean American Heritage Month, was spearheaded by Dr. Claire Nelson, Founder and President of the Institute of Caribbean Studies. As of June 2016, the Caribbean-American population of the United States was approximately 12.6 million. (Note that these populations are not mutually exclusive, as people may be of more than one ancestry or ethnic group). Some of the largest Caribbean ancestry groups in the U.S. include:
• 5.45 million Puerto Ricans
• 2.2 million Cubans
• 1.9 million Dominicanos
• 1.1 million Jamaicans
• 1 million Haitians
• 228,000 Trinidadians and Tobagonians
• 71,000 Bajans
• 62,000 Belizeans
• 56,000 Bahamians
• 20,000 U.S. Virgin Islanders
Each ancestry group is well known for the abundance of color displayed in clothing and household materials which reflects the bright sun shining on the lands around them. Many Caribbean dishes are made from beans, vegetables, fruits, meats and fish which are readily available in the respective islands and countries. Food from the Caribbean has evolved into a narrative of the culture which round out the stories told in the music genres of reggae, calypso, compass, salsa and bachata.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger, led union soldiers to Galveston, Texas to spread the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.
Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors had experienced.
Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations. Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish. Meats such as lamb, pork and beef which were not available every day, were brought on this special occasion. Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs and is often still taken seriously, particularly by the direct descendants who can make the connection to this tradition's roots. During slavery there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved.