Discover the Longwood-Lake Mary area’s vibrant Caribbean community and see how they’ve kept their traditions alive for more than 25 years
If you’ve ever visited a Caribbean island, listened to the sweet sound of a steel drum, or been serenaded by the good vibes of calypso and reggae music, you’ve experienced a taste of Caribbean culture and the celebration and enjoyment of life that is inherent in Caribbean people. The beauty of their culture lies not only in the richness of the region’s history, but also in its eclectic roots and melting pot of ethnicities.
You may be surprised to learn that within the Longwood and Lake Mary corridor there lives a resilient and thriving Caribbean community that is keeping its island tempo beating strong. From costumed Carnival parties to big Caribbean cook ups, cricket matches, and Christmas and Easter gatherings, the community and culture is ethnically rich, fun, and very alive. I would know. I spent my teenage years liming, which is dialect for hanging out, in this vibrant community after emigrating from the most southerly of the Caribbean islands, Trinidad and Tobago, a two-island republic where a majority of the Caribbean families in the Longwood-Lake Mary area originate. This movement of Trinidadian and other Caribbean families to the area, however, started long before my time.
Moving on Island Time
In typical island fashion, families lingered their way into the Longwood-Lake Mary community with just the right amount of carefree ease. It started with a handful of Trinidadian families in the 1970s who emigrated to Longwood for various reasons and opportunities. One by one, the slow and steady growth of Trinidadian families in particular, informally called Trinis, permeated neighborhoods like The Woodlands, Mandarin, Windsor Manor, along Myrtle Lake Hills Road in Longwood, and in downtown Lake Mary, where my own family put down roots. Since Trinidad and Tobago is a tiny island nation of 1.3 million people, most families were connected in one way or another, often growing up together or tracing family ties back for generations.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a Trini family in your neighborhood, because as we say in Trinidad, “Trinis are like salt. They in everything!”
By the late 1980s, a core group led by Longwood resident and Trinidadian-born Donna Blanc came together to form the Islanders Association, a membership-driven organization that hosts annual events in Central Florida for Caribbean families and friends to keep their bonds strong and instill love and appreciation of tradition in the upcoming generations.
“Little by little, families moved closer to each other,” says Linda Maingot, a Trini who moved to Longwood in 1981 as a young adult with her parents. “Word of mouth gets around. People figure out who lives where, and most Trinis want to live near people they know and feel a connection to home with. Early on, when we had our young families, we all wanted a lot of the same things, like continuing our traditions, especially for our children. We wanted them to be able to run between our homes and grow up the way we did in Trinidad.”
Since then, the community has evolved from a few families, several living up de road or in walking distance of each other, to more than 60 families in and around the area today. With the gradual growth of Caribbean families, so came an organic, supportive, close-knit community centered around family-friendly events reminiscent of home and traditional Caribbean culture.
“Now, we move en masse meaning as one big posse,” says Linda, who is also a longtime Islanders Association member living in Longwood for almost 30 years with her husband, Larry, and their four children. It was the generation of Trinidadians like Linda and Larry who decidedly put roots down in Longwood, marrying either inside or outside of the culture, and raising American-born children.
The same holds true for families like the beautiful one on our cover, Trinidadian-born Creig and Neisha Camacho, and their children Chloe (10) and Colin (6) who were both born in the United States.
“We are very blessed to be living in this country and in an area like Longwood where we are surrounded by people from our own culture,” says Creig. “Even though we’re not home, we have our own little Trinidad right here. The neighborhood feels like the way it was back home. To have this stable community of islanders here in Longwood has made the transition for families a lot easier. We have plenty of non-Caribbean friends who get involved, too, and absolutely love it.”
The Islanders Association: Every Excuse to Celebrate
“We’re all about family, friends, and enjoying our time together,” says Lake Mary commercial Realtor Chris Fojo, president of the Islanders Association. “We celebrate a melding of many cultures that make up our heritage. We find every excuse to celebrate an occasion, which is typical of Caribbean people. Even if it’s not an Islanders Association event, like a graduation or a birth, we celebrate it. We want to stay in touch with our ways and roots and continue our traditions, especially for our children who didn’t grow up the way we did.”
Those traditions include ole talking or reminiscing about the good old days in Trinidad and calling non-blood-related adults in the community Auntie and Uncle, always greeting them with a kiss on the cheek, a warm gesture of respect and understood familiarity. Much like how it is in Trinidad, the Islanders Association also puts on year-round events that line up with what’s happening back home.
Easter Egg Hunt, Cricket Match, and Cook Up: Celebrating 25 Years and Counting
This year, the Islanders Association celebrated its 25th anniversary by putting on its biggest event yet: an Easter egg hunt, cricket match, and cook up combo that brought together more than 150 people including association members and their friends.
In an open field in Longwood where many of the Islanders Association events are held, younger kids hunted down dozens of brightly colored eggs stuffed with goodies while a huge, flavorful iron pot of curry crab and dumplings simmered in the background and scented the air with the taste of home.
Teams of all ages took to the field to play one of the Caribbean’s most popular sports, cricket, a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players. The series of matches ended with a competitive rivalry game between folks originally from North Trinidad versus those from the South. For the first time in the cricket matches’ 10-year history, the North came out on top.
Creig, our cover shot dad and owner of Caribbean entertainment company Cocobean Productions, doubled as the cricket event coordinator, resident music man, and emcee. A certified entertainer and steel drum aficionado, Creig expertly kept the music pumping and the energy high.
Over the years, as children of the Islanders Association have grown, other events have evolved to suit. The annual gift-giving Christmas event was one of the original functions to get the association up and running and has since been coined Santa and a Movie, a cozy gathering for all to enjoy and be merry. At the event, families bring gifts for their children and gifts to be donated to charity.
The adult-only Carnival party is held in February, right around the same time as Trinidad’s Carnival, an internationally known two-day street party where costumed revelers take to the streets parading and dancing to local music. Like most events put on by Caribbean people, they tend to linger after hours with no specific end time in mind.
Islanders Membership Gives Back
The islanders know how to have a good time, but at the center of it all is a strong sense of community and desire to provide support where needed. At the end of every year, the Islanders Association membership decides how to use surplus money from membership fees. Usually between $300 to $900 is given to a local charity or a local Caribbean family in need. This year, the association is paying for the shipping costs to send soccer balls to a young Islanders Association member who is serving in the Peace Corps in a village in Lesotho, Africa.
The Next Generation
“The Islanders Association had a big influence on my life growing up,” says Jennifer O’Connor, an association board member. “And now that I’m older and understand how important it is, I want to continue the tradition that my parents and other founding families started.”
Outside of the Islanders Association events, many come together for their own gatherings like large family camping trips, an annual caroling tradition, men’s football (soccer) matches, and ladies’ teas.
“It’s always an intermix of Islanders Association events and our own intimate events with families and friends that keep us all so close,” says Gail O’Connor, another longtime member living in Longwood with her husband, Roger, and three children.
“With all the families around the Longwood-Lake Mary area, our parents were friends, we became friends, and our children are now all friends,” says Roger. “And that’s what we want to continue doing. We can truly rely on each other.”
While the Islanders community is steady and vibrant, it’s up to the next generation to keep it going.
“I now have my two little girls, and I’m happy that I can give them some of what I had growing up as an American, but with my parents’ culture,” adds Greg O’Connor, Gail and Roger’s son. “We have a special community here, and one thing with island people is that we’re not afraid to entertain and get a big crowd going. In fact, we love it and we’re very proud of our roots.”
A mainlander’s guide to the island lingo heard around Longwood-Lake Mary
Up de Road – Up the road or around the corner
En Masse – Together
Lime – To hang out
Ole Talk – To reminisce
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