Living in the Virgin Islands it seems like every other week there is a holiday. Particularly because we celebrate all the traditional US Holidays, but there are also some important and historical USVI holidays in the mix. Each March 31st we celebrate Transfer Day in the US Virgin Islands.
So what the heck is Transfer Day anyways?
Since Columbus encountered and named the Virgin Islands (he landed on St Croix on his second trip in 1493 at Salt River), many countries have planted their flags on our shores. St Croix switched hands the most of any of the Virgin Islands and has a rich cultural past having flown seven flags over the island: Spain, England, Holland, France, the Knights of Malta, Denmark, and finally, the United States. In 1733, France sold the islands to the Danish West India Company and Denmark ruled the island colonies for almost 200 years. Because of the many different influences on the peoples of St Croix, you’ll find a rich tapestry of cultures woven together and reflected in Crucian food, customs, the local patois, and the beautiful historical architecture of downtown Christiansted and throughout the islands. The strong Danish influence is still celebrated with many Danes visiting throughout the year and the “Friends of Denmark Society” holding annual festivities. The WDY Cultural Dancers are often seen across the island sharing this joyful melange of culture through traditional dance.
On March 31, 1917 the Danish West Indies were officially transferred to the United States for $25 million. Ceremonies were held simultaneously on St Croix and St Thomas at 4pm on the date to commemorate the transfer. The negotiations began almost 50 years prior during the Civil War when the United States recognized that the islands provided a strategic outpost for the navy (fueling ships and protecting interests in the Panama Canal). The St Croix Landmarks Society posts an interesting and in-depth background of the historical significance of Denmark’s allegiance to the Union during the Civil War.
Today, because of the transfer, the United States Virgin Islands benefit from several conveniences for travelers from the US. We use the US Dollar $, the official language is English and US Citizens do not need to carry a passport when visiting the USVI. All persons leaving the territory via plane will pass through US Customs, so if you have a passport – we still recommend carrying it to make the process that much faster.
U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR’s) who travel directly between parts of the United States, which includes Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), without touching at a foreign port or place, arenot required to present a valid U.S. Passport or U.S. Green Card. However, it is recommended that travelers bring a government issued photo ID and copy of birth certificate. – U.S. Customs & Border Protection
During the transfer of the islands to the United States, an agreement was put together called the Organic Act which allowed the US Virgin Islands, as a territory, to retain some autonomy and control (this was replaced by the Revised Organic Act of 1954) and also afforded residents of the islands United States Citizenship. One of the perks of the Organic Act is that our goods are allowed to be sold duty-free. Today, visitors are also allowed to carry back with them 6-bottles of alcohol (spirits are much cheaper here, especially since our world-famous Cruzan Rum and Captain Morgan and the new Mutiny Vodka made from breadfruit are both distilled on St Croix) as long as 1 bottle was distilled in the Virgin Islands. Because rum is such a part of our culture and economy, our Department of Tourism has a deal with the airlines and though you’ll check your box of adult goodies, it won’t be charged as a checked bag nor count towards your bag allowance.
There are many reasons to celebrate America’s Paradise, the US Virgin Islands, every single day – but today is the official one!
Read Virgin Islands acclaimed author, Tiphanie Yanique’s epic generational saga of a Virgin Islands family Land of Love and Drowning: A Novel. This intriguing, almost mythological, tale is woven with historical moments like the Transfer of the Virgin Islands and the creation of the Open Shorelines Act of 1971 that allows for all beaches in the USVI to be accessible by everyone. It’s a great read that I highly recommend!
Tiphanie has also authored a delightful children’s book I am the Virgin Islands that celebrates the kaleidoscope of people and places found in the Virgin Islands. Guaranteed to make you smile!
Update March 2021 – While the USVI is part of the United States and those born in the USVI are US Citizens, like the rest of the Insular Territories, US citizens residing in the USVI have no vote for President. In this day and age where voter’s rights are at the forefront of many conversations, it’s time for us to take a hard look at the disenfranchisement of millions of US citizens residing in five U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Below are links to some important information to open the dialogue regarding US voting rights across the United States and its territories.
- The Second-Class Treatment of U.S. Territories Is Un-American, The Atlantic March 11, 2021 by USVI Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett
- The Strange Case of Puerto Rico: How a series of racist Supreme Court decisions cemented the island’s second-class status. Slate OCT 09, 2017