Kahila Miller, originally from the Carribean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, has lived in Pittsburgh for 29 years and has always tried to introduce people to Caribbean culture during her time in the city.
From her first venture, “African-American Caribbean Village,” a memorabilia store of various the Caribbean and African Nations “Tek-kit-Eeze with Love,” a restaurant. Her current business is “Caribbean Village,” located in Monroeville Mall, a memorabilia store just like the first business. “If you ever took a vacation and forgot to pick up a souvenir for a friend or family member, we’re your backup,” said Miller, while setting up a mannequin.
On July 13th, she is holding her 2nd Annual Festival Gastro Caribe from 3 pm to 11 pm at Mellon Park in East Liberty. The festival’s goal is to introduce the food, culture, and pastimes of the Carribean.
The first festival was recognized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania State Representative Edward C. Gainey, for their efforts in connecting the Carribean culture to Pittsburgh.
“We were very pleased with that,” said Keywanda Battle, Administrative Partner for the Festival Gastro Caribe. “It gives us the impetus, and it encourages our future vision for inclusion and success for Caribbean people and their place in Pittsburgh.”
The idea for the festival came from the other heritage festivals that happen annually in Pittsburgh, her time living in Brooklyn, New York, a hub for people who share her heritage and other Carribean festivals like the Caribana in Toronto.
“My dream is to have the same thing happen in Pittsburgh,” explained Miller. “We have a lot of West Indies people, [another name for the Caribbean], in the surrounding states that will attend our activities.”
Carribean traditions like games of Netball, a basketball-style sport that women from the islands play will be a part of the festivities and entertainment like dance groups and drummers are an attraction as well.
There are plans for a museum at the festival of all the Caribbean nations so people can learn more about other countries.
“We plan to have a roundtable and have people introduce themselves [and where they are from],” said Miller. “We can show that we have quite a few different islanders live here.”
Nations like Antigua, Trinidad, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas will have vendors showcasing their nation’s food.
“I can’t bring you the sunshine, I can’t bring you the beaches, but I can bring you the foods & cultural feel,” said Miller.
Miller and Battle are excited about this year’s turnout vendor wise. Many of their vendors from the first event, their “anchor vendors” are returning and new vendors are hoping to become regulars.
New vendor, Kendrick Brown was born in Cat Island, Bahamas but was raised in Coconut Grove, a Bahamian neighborhood of Miami, Florida. He grew up around learning the traditions of the Bahamas.
“I started cooking with my grandmother she started me off with Bahamian cuisine,” said Brown. “I went to culinary school, and I went back to my roots.”
Since moving to Pittsburgh in January 2015, he had been looking for ways to bring Bahamian food to Pittsburgh. He met Miller at her store, and she told him about the festival, and he was interested in signing up for it. He lost her contact info but thanks to a co-worker’s internet search, he feels he’s on the right path.
“I want to bring a little Bahamian culture as far as I can go with it,” said Brown. “At some point, you’re probably thinking about going to the Bahamas, so I want to be able to bring a little bit of agriculture to you.”
Brown says he’s cooking conch, a type of meat that comes from a conch shell. Not many people know that the shell, usually a souvenir has edible meat. When cracked out of the shell, it can be served raw or cooked in a variety of ways. He plans to fry the meat, put it in salads and many more.
“It’s well worth the try,” said Brown. “I’m hoping people come out and try the taste of sunshine!”