People and Culture
The Virgin Islands are diverse—residents hail from nearly every Caribbean island, plus Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. Although both Virgin Island territories have administrative links with western countries—the United Kingdom and the United States—these islands and their people are distinctly Caribbean.
Three-quarters of the people in the U.S. Virgin Islands and some 83 percent in the British islands are black, descended from African slaves brought to Caribbean islands during the plantation era. In both territories there are Indian, Middle Eastern, and white minorities.
Both territories are made up of highly mobile people. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, some one-third of the population is foreign born, with most of the foreign immigrants coming from other Caribbean islands. The British Virgin Islands are highly dependent on immigrant labor in both tourism and financial service fields—the latest figures suggest that more than 60 percent of the labor force in the BVI is foreign.
The presence of such a large number of immigrants has led to some degree of xenophobia in both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, although it is stronger in the BVI. There are distinct “rungs” of the local society, beginning at the bottom with newly arrived immigrants and ending at the top with prominent local families whose ancestry is traceable in the Virgin Islands all the way to emancipation. Virgin Islanders are astute catalogers of people: They know, seemingly by instinct, who is “from here,” who is “born here,” who is “come here,” and who is just passing through. Don’t think for a moment that you can just blend in.
Virgin Islanders in both territories have strong ties with the United States, due largely to widespread outward migration that took place during the first 75 years of the 20th century. Many Virgin Islanders still travel to the United States to attend college—some do not return home. When you talk to Virgin Islanders, do not be surprised to learn that they are far more familiar with your country than you are with theirs. Although British Virgin Islanders are U.K. citizens, with the right to live and work in the U.K. and entire European Union, the destination of choice for British Virgin Islanders seeking opportunity abroad remains the United States.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Virgin Islands, 4th edition