African American Studies
Helen Miller, a nurse living in Harlem, grew up in Antigua in the 1950s and ’60s. She first moved to New York in 1968 to pursue a better education. However, she returned to Antigua, after her cousin warned of a lack of principle and discipline in New York City schools. Miller eventually made her way back to New York, and resided in the Bronx until she was married. Those leaving Antigua were often received by friends and family in the Bronx. The Bronx was and continues to be a center for Antiguans in New York City.
Miller explains that the Antigua in which she grew up was Americanized. On the island, she listened to Motown, and ate American food. Her mother purchased items from the Sears catalogue. However, much of her cultural upbringing was strictly Antiguan. Antiguans carried specific foods, stories, proverbs, and pastimes with them to the United States. There was great stress placed on education in Antigua. Corporal punishment was acceptable in school. Many Antiguans, like Miller’s cousin, found American schools to be in disarray. In Miller’s time, however, several were forced to emigrate because of a lack of higher education opportunities in the West Indies. Miller and many others maintained their Antiguan culture in the United States.
Since the early twentieth century, various social institutions have been in place to help Antiguans transitioning to New York. Miller discusses churches and the Antiguan Progressive Society. Informal establishments, such as clubs and bakeries have also provided for social networking among Antiguans. Miller’s father owned a club on 225th Street frequented by many Antiguans. Her family started making traditional Antiguan rice pudding in the 1970s, for which many continue to swarm to Cholo Bakery. There is much socialization in the neighborhood of Cholo on weekends. Antiguans who have moved away from the Bronx return for the food and people. Such informal social gatherings provide Antiguans the opportunity to see who is returning to the islands. Miller explains that when people have important things to send home, it is preferred to send them by person than by mail.
Antiguans often return to the island, and many retire there. Many return for specific seasons or holidays, such as Cricket, Sailing, and Christmas. Whenever Miller returns home, she is asked to bring back certain foods or seasonings and music albums to the United States. Miller believes that with each new generation of Antiguans in the United States, the culture is slowly being lost. Discipline in education is still there, but other aspects such as the preparation of specific foods are being forgotten. Miller hopes to return to Antigua to open a nursing home.
Miller, Helen. 8 September 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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