We Cannot Erase Who We Are!
Your existence is dependent upon how you define yourself. University undergraduates are commonly asked, “How do you know that you exist?” Undergraduates usually provide a response that is related to their religious beliefs, and not necessarily an argument that is grounded in psychological or scientific facts about human consciousness. This question is asked to encourage critical thinking, objective responses, and fearless research. The question is asked to encourage a sense of identity, as knowing yourself is a core ingredient for individual success.
How do we know who we are without knowing where we came from? The Caribbean countries are often described as a product of colonialism. These nations that stretch along the borders of the Caribbean Sea have been described as disenfranchised. Their resources have been abused by the nations of the Western world, with no benefits to the original ancestors of the land. Our region despite being ‘independent’ still has a need to borrow or lean on the stability of first world countries. Is this justified? It might be, given that first-world nations previously depended on our land to ensure their comfort as they progressed.
Can we trade our history and create a new history for ourselves? There are symbols that exist in our country that represents the hardships that our ancestors faced. Some of our ancestors would have benefited greatly from the sacrifices they made, whereas others may not have received anything for their hard labour under harsh inhumane conditions. The generations that followed either succeeded or by social standards would have been declared as failures. Statues, buildings and festivals are all built on who we are as a people. If we were to destroy or abolish these, would it truly change who we are and escape the description as a product of colonialism?
The international community is stumped! They cannot fathom how Trinidad and Tobago has been able to manage the spread of COVID-19. We told our international colleagues that we followed the information provided by the World Health Organization. We were provided with the same information that other countries had access to. The question arises, if we followed the same measures, how were we able to manage the spread. Indeed we had scores of imported cases, but we never saw evidence of community spread. We only saw a few sporadic cases.
What shaped our resilience during this pandemic? Was it our mindset? How did we achieve this mindset? Did we have a lot more to lose than to gain if we did not follow instructions? Where did we earn the capacity to follow instructions? Is the ego of our country beyond that of a super nation or does humility run through our veins with respect to international diplomacy and affairs? Is it because of our unique position on the world map? In fact, a study conducted in October 2019 ranked Trinidad and Tobago #8 as the best place to be during a pandemic. You can take a look at the article here. The study used factors such as physical location, natural resources and political harmony.
Similar to the virus, it is hard to pin down what really made us this successful. A widespread pandemic such as COVID-19 is hardly any luck. It required a different level of discipline, sacrifice, commitment, and drive. This was not only expected of our leaders but also of the citizens that live in this country. How did we become so compliant? What makes us so different from the rest of the world? Our capacity for resilience is not just shaped by what our leaders can do, but it is also shaped by what we can do for ourselves. Resilience has been based down from generations, and it is because of our uniqueness we will always prosper.
We are considered a developing country. We do have access to as many resources as compared to other nations. Our lands have suffered as a result of overexploitation. This continues today, but some may consider overexploitation incomparable to our colonial days. Singapore and Trinidad and Tobago gained their independence in the early 1960’s. Over fifty years later, Singapore is known as the technology capital of the world. This in no way hinders our progression. Angostura produces our bitters that are used by world-renowned chefs and bartenders. The Moruga Scorpion Pepper is one of the hottest varieties available in the world today. Our cocoa is known to make the richest chocolates that have propelled international brands to the forefront.
Our skilled professionals that choose to leave our shores and work elsewhere have been tremendously successful, climbing the corporate ladder faster than their peers. We have an innate desire to prove ourselves against the world. This desire stems from the disadvantage we were born into. We will always have a need to prove ourselves against our international counterparts, whether we consciously decide to acknowledge it or not. A clear example of this was the sheer jubilation when West Indies first beat England in 1950 during a test cricket tour. It was considered as a national achievement, more so because the West Indies had beaten their former colonists at their own game.
This desire to prove ourselves has made us as a people resourceful. We rarely give ourselves credit for how resourceful we can truly be. A good example would be the annual celebration of Carnival, where our true creativity is tested. Costumes are made as elaborate as possible, with a carefully considered budget, so that it can be profitable to the mas maker and add value to the individual portraying the mas. In fact, without our colonial past, Carnival will not exist. Carnival is an exaggerated imitation of the masquerade balls held by oppressors prior to the Lenten season. Without our history, this part of our socio-economic fabric that earns us 1 billion dollars every year would not exist.
Capacity to Communicate
Our level of language, gesticulation and animation gives us a true advantage in the manner in which we communicate. Our history is defined by the Spanish, the French and the British. This has allowed us to capitalize on their cultural influences through our norms, practices, food, art and music. We are truly a diverse group of people, with several influences that bolster our creative spirit. We see the world through a different lens and can anticipate the next move, the next utterance or the probable cause or occurrence of an action. These valuable communication skills were not gained over night but were passed down from several generations before us.
We are commonly referred to as ‘trickidadians’, as we are infamous for finding loopholes in every system and selling ice to Eskimos. Our individualistic nature makes ‘talk’ lack value. We are quick to question, argue or belabour a point to find out the details of every investment or life-changing decision. Our stubbornness protects our opinions and at times our openness empowers us. It is difficult to discover where we got our wit, our charm and our combative nature. It is deeply embedded in the historical/ cultural experiences our ancestors have passed down from generation to generation. All of which influences how we communicate with each other, and the manner in which we communicate to the world.
Who are we?
It is difficult to answer this question. It was best described in an opening monologue by Peter Minshall in the song “Dear Promoter” by Kes & Voice.
I am not a European,
I am not an African,
I’m not an Indian,
I’m not Chinese or Syrian,
I am not Amerindian, I am not American,
North or South.
I’m none of these
I am all of these
I am a rare hybrid,
I am a richly textured, multi-layered creature,
Precious as a pearl
The world is my oyster,
I see the world clearly from my island vantage
I do not harbour the vanities of some big city dweller
Or somebody form a large vast continent
I am at the tip of the spear that leads into the future
I am a Caribbean!
They say the Caribbean is a sea
Yes. I am an island in it
Much blood.. has.. spilled.. in.. that.. sea
All the waters of humanity wash my shores
I am a Caribbean!
I am a Caribbean!
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