Latin-Caribbean Immigrants vs. Afro-Caribbean Immigrants: How Race and Language Affect Occupation and Income


Scholars often regard the Caribbean as one unit, but there is an important dichotomy in this region: the Latin-Caribbean versus the Afro-Caribbean. Since the Latin-Caribbean is predominantly white and Spanish-speaking while the Afro-Caribbean is predominantly black and English-speaking, it is important to examine the Caribbean with this division in mind. Consequently, in this post, I seek to prove that American immigrants from the Latin-Caribbean have distinctly different experiences than their Afro-Caribbean counterparts. To show this, I compare the racial makeup, occupations, and incomes of Afro-Caribbean and Latin-Caribbean immigrants in the United States from 1950-2000. My data come from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), which takes census data and makes it publicly available for scholarly use. I reference IPUMS data to argue that race was responsible for most economic disadvantages that faced Afro-Caribbean immigrants at this time, while a factor that the census does not measure consistently—likely the ability to speak English—was the crucial factor for Latin-Caribbean immigrants.

This post examines only two countries from each half of the dichotomy to allow for a narrower focus. These countries are Haiti and Jamaica for the Afro-Caribbean, and Cuba and the Dominican Republic for the Latin-Caribbean. These four countries serve as a representative sample because they are the four most populous sovereign nations in the Caribbean (Population). Literature on these four countries contain two major themes. First, many Caribbean immigrants emigrated due to economic crises or turbulent and repressive governments. Second, many of these immigrants went to New York City or Miami.

New radical governmental change caused waves of emigration from each of the countries studied. For example, Haitian presidents Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier exacerbated Haitian poverty by regularly seizing citizens’ farming yields (Boswell 1983). This was devastating because the Haitian middle class only existed in metropolitan areas while the poor citizens, who were the majority, lived in rural areas (Boswell 1983). Naturally, Haitian emigration marked the Duvaliers’ presidencies (Boswell 1983). Similar economic and governmental troubles plagued Cuban immigrants as well. Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution of 1959, in which he overthrew the Cuban government and began a communist regime, drove many people out of Cuba (Pérez 1986). Castro’s introduction of communism meant a restructuring of the economic systems of Cuba, causing wealthy people who would be negatively affected to flee. Since America viewed communism as evil at the time, they gave Cubans special allowance into the country, causing significant Cuban immigration to the United States (Pérez 1986). Similarly, in the Dominican Civil War of 1965, there was a spike in emigration (Bray 1984). In general, election years have proven to be times of high emigration throughout Dominican history (Bray 1984). Also, many Dominican immigrants blamed a lack of economic opportunities as their reason for leaving the Dominican Republic (Bray 1984). Lastly, Jamaican emigration followed the same trends shown in the other countries. President Manley’s socialist administration sparked mass emigration due to the major restructuring of the political system (Cooper 1985). Additionally, the government imposed heavy taxation in the same years that people began emigrating (Cooper 1985). Clearly, governmental instability and economic pressure caused people to emigrate from the Caribbean.

Many of the people who emigrated went to New York City or Miami. New York was one of America’s most economically important and politically powerful cities; for this reason, NYC represented the American Dream to many West Indians (Bryce-Laporte 1979). As a result, many had synonymized New York City with the U.S. itself (Bryce-Laporte 1979). This was a major reason for such heavy Caribbean immigration to New York. The first group of Haitians to immigrate to the United States traveled to NYC by air (Boswell 1983). Similarly, the first group of Jamaicans to immigrate to the United States also came to New York (Cooper 1985). Furthermore, the first group of Dominicans did the same (Bray 1984). As a result, New York City had more Haitians, Jamaicans, and Dominicans than any other city in the country (Boswell 1983; Cooper 1985; Bray 1984). Cuba was the only country I studied that did not have most of its American immigrants residing in New York City. Instead, Miami had the most Cuban-Americans, but New York City came in second (Pérez 1986). The second wave of Haitian immigrants also came to Miami in large numbers (Boswell 1983). So, for half of the countries I studied, Miami served as a powerhouse of immigration as well. In conjunction with New York, it was a centerpiece of Caribbean immigration.

Due to the high presence of Caribbean immigrants in New York City and Miami, I decided to examine only New York state and Florida, since city-specific census data is limited. So, I compared the racial makeup, occupations, and incomes of Haitian & Jamaican (Afro-Caribbean) and Cuban & Dominican (Latin-Caribbean) immigrants to New York and Florida. Based on the existing literature, I gathered that most of the Afro-Caribbean New Yorkers in the study were Jamaican, most of the Afro-Caribbean Floridians were Haitian, and that most of the Latin-Caribbean Floridians were Cuban. It would be incorrect to say that most of the Latin-Caribbean New Yorkers were Dominican; instead, most Dominicans in the study would be in New York. I expected to see the highest incomes among Latin-Caribbean Floridians, due to the pervasive narratives in the literature that Cuban immigrants have carved Miami into a successful cultural hub (Pérez 1986). Conversely, I expected to see disproportionate poverty among Afro-Caribbean Floridians due to the fact that many of the Haitian immigrants there arrived by boat and were undocumented (Boswell 1983). By process of elimination, I expected New York immigrants to be somewhere in the middle.


I define Afro-Caribbean immigrants as people who were born in Haiti or Jamaica, while Latin-Caribbean immigrants are people who were born in Cuba or the Dominican Republic. All people listed under New York or Florida in any data visualization have that as their state in the census. The data for all visualizations come from IPUMS 1% state form 1 samples in 1970, 1% metro samples in 1980, and 1% samples for all other census years. I created three types of visualizations to aid in my understanding of Caribbean immigrants to New York and Florida: pie charts (Figure 1), stacked bar graphs (Figure 2), and double bar graphs (Figure 3).

Figure 1 shows the racial breakdown of all Afro-Caribbean and Latin-Caribbean immigrants present in either New York or Florida in all census years from 1950 to 2000 combined. The data are weighted by PERWT. It is important to note that even though I listed a category titled “Mixed/Other,” mixed raced people were only recorded as such in the 2000 census.

Figure 2 shows the occupations of Afro-Caribbean and Latin-Caribbean immigrants aged 18 to 65 living in New York and Florida from 1950 – 2000 by census year. I used the IPUMS occupation categories as expressed in their OCC1990 variable. I define occupation ‘none’ as anything under ‘Military Occupations’ and ‘Experienced Unemployed not Classified.’ ‘Farmers/foresters/fishers’ are those listed under ‘Farming, Forestry, and Fishing Occupations.’ ‘Craftsmen/operatives/laborers’ are those listed under ‘Precision Production, Craft, and Repair Occupations’ and ‘Operators, Fabricators, and Laborers.’ ‘Service’ jobs are those listed under ‘Service Occupations.’ Therefore, ‘managerial/professional/technical/sales’ jobs are listed under the remaining categories: ‘Managerial and Professional Specialty Occupations’ and ‘Technical, Sales, and Administrative Support Occupations.’ The data are weighted by PERWT.

Figure 3 shows the incomes of Latin-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean immigrants aged 18 to 65 living in New York and Florida by census year from 1950 – 2000. it features the same people in Figure 2. I used the IPUMS variable INCWAGE, which measures wages earned in the previous year. I adjusted income to the 1999 American dollars equivalent using the consumer price index. The data are weighted by PERWT in all years except 1950, when they are weighted by SLWT because the census only asked about income on the sample line form.

The links to the code for the pie chart, stacked bar graph, and double bar graph are on GitHub.


Racial Breakdown of Afro-Caribbean vs. Latin-American Immigrants

Figure 1. Racial Breakdown of Afro-Caribbean vs. Latin-American Immigrants

Figure 1 shows that it makes sense to view the Caribbean as a conjunction of two regions. It points out that about 90% of the immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti were listed as black on the census, while only about 6% of the immigrants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic were listed as black. Conversely, about 74% of the immigrants from Cuba and the Dominican Republic were listed as white, while only about 3% of the immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti were listed as white. Therefore, Figure 1 shows stark racial differences by American standards between these two regions. Even though immigrants from these countries were geographically close in their home nations, the way they mapped onto American constructions of race was starkly different. As a result, when looking at the Caribbean, it is necessary to break it down into the Latin-Caribbean and the Afro-Caribbean. Furthermore, it is not far-fetched to synonymize “Latin-Caribbean” with “white” and “Afro-Caribbean” with “black.” Even though both regions contained people of both races and other backgrounds, the overwhelming majority of Latin-Caribbean immigrants were deemed white and the overwhelming majority of Afro-Caribbean immigrants were deemed black. There were historical reasons for these racial makeups. Cubans, who made up a large portion of the Latin-Caribbean immigrants studied, were granted citizenship and asylum from Fidel Castro’s communist rule in a way that no other country had seen (Perez 1986). The United States was not usually so lax with its immigration policy, but it did tend to show generosity if the immigrants were white (Ngai 1999). Therefore, it is no coincidence that Cubans were granted such generous asylum, nor is it a coincidence that so many people who were probably a mix of more than one race were deemed white once they arrived to the United States. Additionally, it is no coincidence that the United States had been so reluctant to welcome Haitian refugees, considering most Haitians were deemed black (Boswell 1983).

Figure 1 also shows that about 6% of Afro-Caribbean immigrants and about 20% of Latin-Caribbean immigrants identified as mixed or other. Since the category ‘mixed’ was only added in 2000, the majority of people in this section of the pie chart identified as ‘other.’ The number of people identifying as Asian or Native on the census was negligible, so that means that most of the people in this section of the pie chart actually marked themselves as ‘other’ on the census. It is notable that Latin-Caribbean immigrants were over three times more likely to identify this way than Afro-Caribbean immigrants. This is likely in part due to the strong collective identity of American Cubans. Immigrants from Cuba reshaped Miami and South Florida into a cultural haven, lessening the need for assimilation (Perez 1986). This resulted in a strong association with the Cuban identity, which may have superseded any associations with American constructions of race. I suspect that the majority of people from either region who identified as ‘other’ felt more strongly tied to their nation of birth than any race by American standards.

Figure 2. Occupations of Latin-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean immigrants to New York and Florida.

Figure 2 shows that region of origin (Latin-Caribbean vs. Afro-Caribbean) had an effect on occupational choices, further suggesting that it is useful to study the Caribbean with this dichotomy in mind. One major difference is that Latin-Caribbean Floridians saw higher rates of white-collar jobs (managerial/professional/technical/sales). This was likely a result of Cubans turning Miami into a hub of Cuban success after their mass immigration following the Cuban Revolution of 1959 (Perez 1986). Many of the immigrants who left to escape communism after the revolution were well-off, so it makes sense that they would have had so much success (Perez 1986). Additionally, America was especially welcoming to those escaping communism (Perez 1988). It was also probably not a hindrance to be categorized as white in the census.

Afro-Caribbean New Yorkers also saw a high rate of white-collar jobs, and this was likely because of Jamaicans’ high presence there (Bryce-Laporte 1979). Many Jamaicans and Afro-Caribbean immigrants in general pursued the American Dream in New York City because mass media culture had connoted that city with the American Dream (Bryce-Laporte 1979). New York City was also highly metropolitan, so it likely had more white collar jobs available than Florida would have had.

Figure 2 also shows that in most years, Latin-Caribbean New Yorkers had slightly higher rates of unemployment than their Afro-Caribbean counterparts. This actually had less to do with difficulty finding jobs, but more to do with the high amount of female and elderly Cuban immigrants (Perez 1986). This demographic existed because most men of military age in Cuba were not allowed to leave (Perez 1986).

Another notable point displayed in Figure 2 is that Afro-Caribbean immigrants to Florida were really the only people who were farmers, foresters, or fishers. Geographically, this makes sense because Florida was more of a farming state than New York and it was also better for fishing. However, that still does not explain why Afro-Caribbean immigrants would be more likely to farm or fish than Latin-Caribbean immigrants. Even in New York, where the amount of farmers, fishers, and foresters was almost negligible in both states and in all years, Afro-Caribbean immigrants were still more likely to have that as their occupation than Latin-Caribbean immigrants. Race must have been another factor at play then. Florida was an ex-slave state with plantations while New York was not, so that could explain why black people were so much more likely to be farmers.

Figure 2 also shows that Afro-Caribbean immigrants were more likely to work in service than Latin-Caribbean immigrants. Many service jobs were low skill, such as housekeeping, or low pay with high risk, such as firefighting. As a result, black people were probably more likely to have these kinds of jobs due to the leftover effects of de jure segregation. Such discrimination would have made it difficult to achieve the education necessary for a white-collar job or the skill training necessary for a blue-collar job. This major difference in occupational choices, in addition to the ones previously mentioned, suggest that scholars should not treat the entire Caribbean as a homogeneous region.

Figure 3 shows that the population of Afro-Caribbean immigrants to Florida was becoming less poor over time. Afro-Caribbean Floridians were mostly Haitian, and Haitian immigration to Miami had been marked by large waves of poor people and undocumented immigrants (Boswell 1983). So, despite initial poverty, Figure 3 shows that Haitian immigrants had been increasing their incomes over time. This suggests that South Florida slowly became a cultural cub for Haitians in the way that it had been for Cubans. Another explanation for the increase in incomes is the civil rights movement. Occurring in the 1960s, it made segregation and discrimination in the workforce illegal. This lifted the legal bans that would have barred Haitians, or Afro-Caribbean immigrants in general, from achieving higher incomes.

Figure 3 also shows that a significant portion of immigrants from the Latin-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean, regardless of state, were poor. This was a reflection of the economies of those countries. A dearth of economic resources was a major reason for emigration from this region (Boswell 1983; Bray 1984; Cooper 1985; Perez 1986). Such economic inequality did not exist in a vacuum, but was rather a result of oppressive governments (Boswell 1983; Bray 1984; Cooper 1985; Perez 1986).

Lastly, Figure 3 shows that in New York, immigrants from the Afro-Caribbean had higher incomes than their Latin-Caribbean counterparts. This trend existed in all years, even those preceding the civil rights movement. This means that black immigrants tended to be wealthier than their largely white counterparts, even at a time when this was rather unfathomable. So, this suggests that race was not enough to suppress Afro-Caribbean immigrants and elevate Latin-Caribbean immigrants. There was another factor at play: probably the ability to speak English. Suzanne Model (1991) compared the incomes of people from each country in the Caribbean and found that everyone’s income was about equal unless they came from a country that did not have English as its first language (Model 1991). She concluded that the ability to speak English was invaluable in the American job market and may have been just as helpful as being white. Her findings are reflected in my graphs. Jamaicans usually spoke English, which explains the presence of middle-class Afro-Caribbean immigrants in New York in Figure 3. Latin-Caribbean immigrants in New York saw lower economic success because Cubans and Dominicans did not typically speak English as a first language.


My research shows that since Afro-Caribbean immigrants were predominantly black and while Latin-Caribbean immigrants were predominantly white, it is not far fetched to consider them different demographics. It is important for scholars to view them as such so that they do not make generalizations about the entire Caribbean, either racially or otherwise.

I also found that race affected the occupational choices of immigrants from the Caribbean. Afro-Caribbean Floridians were really the only people to work in farming, forestry, or fishing. Florida was more geographically predisposed to those kinds of jobs than New York was, but that is not a full explanation. Race was also at play. That would explain why Afro-Caribbean immigrants, no matter their state of residence, were more likely to work in service jobs than their Latin-Caribbean counterparts as well. These trends became salient because I acknowledged the dichotomy present in the Caribbean.

Since Latin-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean immigrants were largely of different races and had different occupations, they also had different income distributions. For example, Afro-Caribbean immigrants used to be significantly poorer than their Latin-Caribbean counterparts. Conversely, Afro-Caribbean immigrants to New York had higher incomes than Latin-Caribbean immigrants. This suggests that there was another factor separating Afro-Caribbean and Latin-Caribbean immigrants. That crux was likely the ability to speak English. Therefore, the Caribbean is not entirely homogeneous, since Afro-Caribbean immigrants were deeply affected by race while Latin-Caribbean immigrants were deeply affected by the language they spoke.

Overall, the data show the highest incomes among Afro-Caribbean New Yorkers, then Latin-Caribbean Floridians, then about equal rates among Afro-Caribbean Floridians and Latin-Caribbean New Yorkers. This basically means that Jamaicans saw the highest incomes, followed by Cubans, and then Dominicans and Haitians were tied. Despite this, it is important to acknowledge that the cost of living in most areas of New York were higher than the cost of living in most areas of Florida. So, even though certain groups see higher incomes than others, that is not a barometer of success. All groups saw higher incomes as time progressed, which is a success in its own right. My research highlighted that while race marginalized Afro-Caribbean immigrants and language marginalized Latin-Caribbean immigrants, they each saw higher incomes each decade. The next area of future research would definitely be to delve into the effect of language spoken on one’s income. The census did not consistently measure language spoken in the time period I studied, which made it difficult to prove that this was the crucial factor barring Latin-Caribbean immigrants from higher incomes. My next step would be to prove this beyond reasonable doubt.


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Cooper, Dereck W. “Migration from Jamaica in the 1970s: Political Protest or Economic Pull?” The International Migration Review 19.4 (1985): 728-45. Web.

Model, Suzanne. “Caribbean Immigrants: A Black Success Story?” The International Migration Review25.2 (1991): 248-76. Web.

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