“We share a common culture. We celebrate the ties that bind us,” St. John Administrator Leona Smith said.
Every speaker and many of those who attended the event echoed those remarks, with several from the U.S. territory speaking about their family roots across the water.
“My mom is from Virgin Gorda, my dad from Tortola and my wife from Tortola,” St. John resident Jose Penn said.
Visitors from the BVI were greeted at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Cruz Bay by steel pan music. The celebration started at Cruz Bay Park, where students from Julius E. Sprauve, Guy Benjamin and Gifft Hill Schools sang several songs. It spilled out to the street for a small parade featuring the Sprauve School Gulls band, the Rainbow Dancers from Gifft Hill, the Love City Leapers jump rope team, and others.
As those at the celebration enjoyed a buffet breakfast in the park, BVIers and those from the U.S. territory mixed and mingled.
League of BVIers President Charles Martin was on hand to celebrate. He said his group’s goal is to foster the relationship between the territories.
The activities shifted to the V.I. National Park’s Annaberg Plantation, where organizers had a slew of cultural demonstrations set up among the ruins.
While some of the speeches struck a serious note, it was also a day for fun. Gov. John deJongh Jr., BVI Acting Gov. V. Inez Archibald and BVI Premier Dr. Orlando Smith were among those showing their stuff in a group dance led by the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers from St. Thomas.
Drake’s Passage, Tortola and other BVI islands served as the backdrop for the remarks by officials from both territories.
“We are just a stone’s throw away,” Archibald said.
Archibald spoke about the territories’ shared history, including those days when ancestors in both places worked sugar plantations. Looking around at the old stone ruins showcased at Annaberg and at Ajax Peak behind it, she said slaves were kept on the hill to keep them away from others so they couldn’t foment rebellion. And she also noted that the first slave rebellion in the new world took place on St. John in 1733.
Smith said economics brought the BVI and USVI closer together, and suggested that a third of those living in the U.S. territory population have BVI roots.
While family connections were a common theme, deJongh discussed how issues in the U.S. territory and the BVI impact each other. For example, he said that when crime happens in the BVI, it affects what happens in St. Croix.
He also suggested that the BVI might consider a joint marketing campaign with the USVI.
On the heels of Tuesday’s USVI-BVI Inter Island Council meeting on St. Thomas, Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis noted how important the council is to territorial relations.
“But today we’re celebrating friendship and we’re celebrating families,” Francis said.