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Hartford kicks off West Indian Celebration Week with pure Caribbean vibes

Brendaliz Cepeda, dancer and singer for the band Bomba de Aqui, dances for the crowd at the Caribbean American Heritage Festival.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Brendaliz Cepeda, dancer and singer for the band Bomba de Aqui, dances for the crowd at the Caribbean American Heritage Festival on June 5, 2023.

Hartford will begin its West Indian Celebration Week Saturday, Aug. 5, with the Taste of Caribbean and Jerk Festival on the city waterfront from 1-9 p.m. Local leaders say it’s a chance to highlight Caribbean residents, who make up nearly one-fifth of Connecticut immigrants, according to census data.

The city celebration has been held almost every year since 1962, when the first West Indian countries gained independence from Great Britain.

“These other countries basically [were] colonizing the Caribbean Islands, and when that was severed, this was a reason for celebration,” said Shirley Surgeon, a Hartford city councilwoman who is of Jamaican descent.

“But the farm workers who came to Connecticut back in the 40s were celebrating West Indian Day long before that,” added Natasha Samuels, director of public relations for the Hartford West Indian Social Club.

Over the years, more events have been added to the schedule and the event has grown into a weeklong celebration — the first of which, this year, is the Taste of Caribbean and Jerk Festival. The festival will include live music, food and activities for children.

“Sixty percent of our city has roots in the Caribbean,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. “We are a city with one of the largest, strongest West Indian communities in the entire country. And we are so proud of our West Indian community.”

The weeklong festivities end Saturday, Aug. 12, with a West Indian Independence Day celebration in Bushnell Park.

“We are very proud to present our first cohort of costume makers from our first official youth costume workshop,” Samuels said. “And you will get to see those youths wearing those costumes next Saturday in the parade.”

The Independence Day celebration market will feature over 40 vendors.

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