When one thinks about the Caribbean, an image of dancing to steelpan or reggae music in the sunset, cool island breezes sweeping through the mountains with a rum soaked drink in hand immediately comes to mind. How sweet life is dong in de islands! This archipelago, famed for its beauty and tranquillity is more than just a paradise. It is a mealting pot of different ethnic groups; their backgrounds, beliefs, religions and culture and trying to create a fusion of the lifestyles into a homogenous socitey. It is about the fight to figure out who we are and where we are heading as a region. Are we followers of our colonial backgrounds or are we a unique people with our own culture, music and being Caribbean?
Identifying myself as being from the Caribbean means I understand and appreciate the sacrifices our ancestors have made. The struggle and ultimate decimation of our indigenous peoples to the foreigners who invaded the lands they have lived on for thousands of years are forever a reminder that the first peoples were stripped of their way of life and suffered greatly, all in the name of wealth. The enslaved Africans, who were thorn from all that they knew, coralled and beaten like animals and forced to endure cruel and inhumane deeds for nothing in return. The East Indians, who left their behind the meager life of suffering and poverty and journed to a distant land, not knowing the trials and tribulations they were to be faced with that was no fault of their own, as well as the minority groups – the East Asians, Middle Easterners and the Merikins who arrived and etched out a living far away from their home lands, just with the hope to make something better of their situations.
One must not forget the Europeans who started it all, for without them the Caribbean may have remained a mystery. Their sacrifices were noble too, as the Caribbean shares a familiar colonial legacy, encompassing all the opportunities and problems it presents to us today. The West Indies is portrayed to the world as a happy place, where the lifestyle is of a relaxed and easygoing nature. While all this may be true, the Caribbean is just as a person is, struggling to find its identity As Geoffrey Philip, a Jamaican writer said, ‘Within this archipelago, we have people from all over the planet meeting and trying to live here together without resorting to genocide…” How true are his words!
While the Spaniards and other European empires have surely developed the region into the comfortable place we now enjoy, the prejudice and racial attitude towards those that were not Caucasian is still very much prevalent in today’s society. The superpowers beginning with the 16th century played games with all the enslaved beings, brainwashing them to believe that they are not human and not worthy to have emotions or identities. This rift between the different ethnic groups existing at that period have continued to the dismay of many into present times and has transformed to further widen the gap to defining racism.
The genetic makeup of humans is remarkable; we all have the same physical attributes, the colour of of blood is the same yet, individuals are still wrestling with questions of identity and race. Identity and talking about one’s identity is a shaded idea, manipulated by politics, history, social status and religion. These factors contributed to the division of the different enthic groups and as such, each group have based a negative ideology of the other according to what they were taught by the Europeans. The Trinidadian society has become to an extent, tolerant of interracial relationships. The idea of a girl of East Indian descent in a relationship with a boy of African descent or vice versa is frowned upon in certain communities in our country. Some people of African descent despise persons of East Indian descent because of what has been promoted by the slave owners; a new group has come to take away your livelihood and been given land to do so. That concept alone has changed the way of how the society was to become – jealous of each other, distrusting and not wanting to understand the culture or background of each other.
Personal experience has shown how narrow minded people are about belonging to a certain ethnic group. I am in a relationship with a gentleman of African descent, yet my family who resides in rural South views me as a disappointment. The point, according to tradition is that you go to school, find a nice Indian man to marry, settle down and have children. It bothers me that the human construct of race is continuing to cause cracks in families and the negative ideology of one’s race will always be present.
This division in society because of ignorance have left the West Indian people searching for an identity. History and the effects of colonialism has hindered the way the Caribbean people see themselves. Yes, we understand that being from the Caribbean means to recognize and value the sacrifices our ancestors have made, but how do we identify ourselves? I believe that to truly grasp what out identity is, we must first appreciate where we come from and appreciate the sacrifices the other ethnic groups have made as well. We must learn about our religion, our beliefs, our customs, as well as those of different ethnic groupings and notice the similarities we share as a people and use it to build OUR culture, our Caribbean culture. When we are able to call ourselves Caribbean people, then we can truly say that we have found our identity.
I know I have found mine.