The sound of steel drums filled the air of the America Building Atrium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in celebration of Caribbean-American Heritage Month recently.
The festivities included a performance by Caribbean American International Steel Orchestra, a limbo contest and Caribbean food samples including fried plantains, red beans and rice, meat patties and jerk chicken.
Army Staff Sgt. Tamar Bains, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Sterile Processing Department, demonstrated her skills in the limbo contest.. The Queens, N.Y., native spoke of her family's island roots in the Caribbean country of Haiti. She explained why she participated in the medical center's celebration.
"I've always supported equal opportunity events but also because I'm Caribbean-American," Bains said. According to the Soldier, it's important to mark different cultural observances at Walter Reed Bethesda. "I think it's important for everybody assigned [here] to see different aspects of the groups that work [here], that live [here] to see how everyone contributes," she said.
With 16 years in the Army, Bains said the June 29 event was the first Caribbean-American celebration she's seen at a military facility and was curious to see how it would turn out. The Soldier said she really enjoyed the festivities and learned some new facts about her heritage after she viewed a poster board displaying famous Caribbean-Americans.
Bains was surprised to learn that she shared her Haitian roots with American sociologist, historian and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
"I enjoyed how people were looking at the photographs of individuals they recognized but were not aware that they were Caribbean-American. They were able to identify that," Bains said.
That's the purpose of festivities such as the Caribbean-American Heritage Event, explained Sgt. 1st Class Jason Zielske, chair of the Bethesda Multicultural Committee.
"The Bethesda Multicultural Committee is committed to providing educational and awareness opportunities to all personnel on NSA Bethesda, in regards to cultural diversity," Zielske said.
"The Caribbean-American Heritage Month, along with all of our observances, is designed to provide information that otherwise might not be readily available."
The Soldier said Caribbean-Americans have contributed to the welfare of our nation and have provided a valued addition to our national heritage as a whole. President Barack Obama signed a June 1 proclamation designating the month of June as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month.
"Individuals and families from Caribbean countries have journeyed to America's shores for centuries," read the proclamation, which explained some were brought against their will in the bonds of slavery, immigrated as children, or came as adults in pursuit of a better life. "We celebrate their rich narratives and recognize their immeasurable contributions to our country," it continued.
The president wrote that Caribbean Americans have shaped every aspect of our society, "Enhancing our arts and humanities as titans of music and literature, spurring our economy as intrepid entrepreneurs, making new discoveries as scientists and engineers, serving as staunch advocates for social and political change, and defending our ideals at home and abroad as leaders in our military."
Noted Caribbean-Americans include retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, of Jamaican heritage. The four-star general is the 65th United States Secretary of State and served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 - 2005. Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hails Caribbean roots in Barbados. Holder is the first African American to hold the position.
Other famous Caribbean-Americans include fashion designer Oscar de la Renta who was born in the Dominican Republican, as well as rapper, singer and songwriter Nicki Minaj, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, along with Academy award-winning actor Sidney Poitier who grew up in The Bahamas.
For more information about activities and events sponsored by the Bethesda Multicultural Committee, call Sgt. 1st Class Jason Zielske at (301) 400-2847.