The Caribbean represents many things to different people: white sandy beaches with clear blue water, dreadlocks and reggae music, cruise ships, Cuban communism and Fidel Castro, sugarcane, steel bands, or perhaps even offshore financial havens. For Americans, none of it is geographically very far away and yet most of it remains little known. There is much material poverty, but the region is a cornucopia of colorful and dynamic cultures. Despite a history of colonial brutality against the native population and of slaves being forcibly brought from Africa, the mixing of different peoples occurs more easily there today than practically anywhere else in the world, and this mixing has produced tremendous cultural and artistic energy. Tiny islands have developed stentorian cultural voices, producing music appreciated worldwide. Most readers likely will have heard steel band music, calypso, soca, reggae, and some form of Afro-Cuban music.