WATCH: It’s Caribbean American Heritage Month — a time for cassava, callaloo and curry

NEW YORK — June is Caribbean American Heritage Month, an 18-year-old observance that came out of a proposal from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California.

It’s a time for the country to absorb the cultures brought to the United States by the 13 million Caribbean Americans from 26 countries counted by the census. Food is a big part of this observance.

It’s this kind of celebration of Caribbean culture that led William “RanDe” Rogers on a path to run Sisters Cuisine, a Caribbean restaurant in Harlem, New York, first opened by his mother, who is from Guyana, and her sister and cousin 28 years ago.

​Rogers was born and raised in Harlem and Sisters Cuisine has always been one of his greatest connections to a culture he has mostly learned about anecdotally. Each spice, every dish, and every Caribbean customer in the restaurant offers a glimpse into one of Guyana’s most cherished treasures – its food. 

​The experience of connection to culture through food isn’t unique to Rogers. For many, food serves as a cultural bridge connecting immigrants and successive generations to their homeland.

​“I have been back to Guyana a couple times,” Rogers said. “They were all powerful and awesome experiences getting close with my cousins and things like that. But, day in and day out, week in and week out, this restaurant is really my number one touch point and my number one anchor to my Caribbean roots.” 

For Kiara Ross Paige, whose has grandparents from Belize and Trinidad, Caribbean dinners with her family were an indelible part of her childhood. The New York-based choreographer remembers how the kitchen smelled of spices distinct to Trinidadian and Belizian foods. But it’s not just a nostalgic memory. It’s a reminder to keep that heritage alive.

​“If we as Caribbean [people] don’t appreciate our own culture, how can anybody else appreciate it?” Paige asked. “We have to make sure that we protect it and share its authenticity so that the next generation doesn’t feel so disconnected.”

Paige, the founder of the CarNYval Dancers company, said it can be too easy to let those ties slip away as life in one’s adopted country takes over. 

​“You know, your kids grow up, go to school, and so there is that erasure there where it’s just like, ‘Don’t worry about your culture, you’re in America. This is the dream,’ ” she said. “But no, I want to be tapped into the culture.”

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