Thursday, April 1, 2010

Transfer Day, St. Thomas

Yesterday was Transfer Day, a national holiday in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  On March 31, 1917 the United States purchased the Danish West Indies (St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John).  World War I began 7 days later.  In 1927, Virgin Islanders were granted U.S. citizenship but it wasn't until 1970 that islanders could vote for their own governor and, in 1972 a delegate to the U.S. Congress.
This is the historic legislature building where 15 members elected from all three islands handle the day to day running of the government. 
Though they are U.S. citizens, islanders have no vote in national elections.  Nor does the Washington representative have a vote on the floor of the house.
We decided to join in the celebration and learn a little more about the history of the Virgin Islands.  The ceremony began with the military presentaion of the colors, the U.S. and Virgin Islands flags.

Elementary school children sang the national anthem.....

... and then performed a song called "A Time for Uprising" that told the story of the slaves' struggle for freedom.

There were, of course the usual speeches from government officials.  It was interesting to see the celebration of their Danish history.  The Virgin Islands belonged to Denmark for over 200 years, much longer then they have been American.
The ceremonial lowering of the Danish flag while a National Guardsman stands by with the U.S. flag.
Folding the Danish flag before it was presented to the Consul General of Denmark.

The raising of the Stars and Stripes.
It was an interesting afternoon.  At one point a politician said "While we embrace those freedoms we cherish..... are we more American or Caribbean?"  There was also some concern for what the Virgin Islands might become if they are not careful; a place for the wealthy where the the average resident may no longer be able to afford to live.  St. John was cited as an example of that.  There is no doubt that these are U.S. territories.  You feel it as soon as you arrive.  These islands have a very different feel then the remainder of the Caribbean.  I can see why they sometimes struggle with whether they feel more American or Caribbean.  They seem to have one foot in each world.