Naina dat Rum

All this talk about the lack of adequate representation of the diversity of Indo-Trinidadian culture in the  showcase at the Fifth Summit of the Americas’ opening ceremony, has had me thinking about what it means to be a Trinidadian of East Indian descent.

Let me preface my commentary by writing (once again) that I am a Trinidadian of primarily East Indian descent.

My concept of the Indian-ness of others has been formed largely by my encounters with family, at school (primary through tertiary level), at work and of course, by the media. Those have been my points of comparison.

Remember that stereotypical forward “You Know You’re a Trinidadian When”? I’ll phrase my general observations in that fashion:

  • You are Hindu, Muslim, Presbyterian (or recently Born Again).
  • You, your Ma or some immediate blood-relative can make roti and sweets.
  • You have access to home-made curry 3-5 times a week and have eaten on more than one special  occasion with your hands from a leaf.
  • You know what are same and curry leaves and can distinguish amchar from kuchela, dabla from puchara.
  • You enjoy ZeeTV, Bollywood movies and listening to local “Indo” radio (classical, chutney, tassa music).
  • You own formal Indian wear (and women: you know how the sari, salwar kameez and garara differ).
  • You follow cricket.
  • You have been on a river lime.

Now all of these things can obviously be known / shared / enjoyed by Trinbagonians (or even non-Trinbagonians), regardless of race or heritage.

But what if you are “Indo-Trinidadian” and respond in the negative to all or most of those  oversimplified assertions?  Are you any less “Indian”?  Should you find out the answers to those questions / fake it before someone calls you on it?  Can you stake as strong a claim on that Indo-Trinidadian label due to a common history, appearance,  or origin of family name? Are there other intangible things attached to the notion of Indian-ness?  The concept of the family, certain morals, ethics, codes of conduct?

Hmmm. I don’t think so.

If not those things, then what?  There is no answer?  It is a fluid concept?

So, the issues surrounding the cultural presentation speak more about diversity and identity than anything else. I did notice the dominance of certain themes throughout the presentation, but as Mosquito said, if Indo-Trinidadians took umbrage at their comparatively small cultural presence in the showcase, what about the groups of people who were not even represented? Given Trinidad and Tobago’s diversity (race, culture…), would it have been possible to adequately represent everyone as how they perceive themselves?

If I do not strongly identify with tassa music or Indian dancing, but recognize those things as broad threads in the colourful, complex tapestry that typifies Indo-Trinidadian culture, would I have just been satisfied to see more persons who look like me?

Or here is this for logic that is not so logical, should such performances be divided according to population statistics, (region and race), span of history?  A percentage for Trinidad, a percentage for Tobago?  However much for those of African, Indian, mixed…heritage?  A chunk of time for the indigenous peoples who were here long before us and less time for the newcomers?

Artistic license aside, the organizers of such showcases need to ask themselves, how do we want the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, to be represented to the rest of the world? Can we identify the  unique elements and artefacts created here?  Is there a national culture in Trinidad and Tobago?

As far as I can see, dominant groups still seem to be holding on to the possibly unifying fusion aspects that exist here.

To make matters even more complicated, I have no doubt that the concept of the Caribbean person, the West Indian, needs further clarification on the international stage.  Have you ever tried to fill out an official form overseas and find yourself confronted with the designations of Caribbean / West Indian (as if that were a race) along with the usual Caucasian, African, Asian…?

What do you choose?  Is the Caribbean an acknowledgement of our diverse populations? Or does it refer to one group as opposed to the other?  If so, why?

Today I am Trinidadian, tomorrow Trinidadian of East Indian descent, the next day Trinidadian of mixed descent.

Most of the time, I just feel like I am the Other.

Can any one group advocate on my behalf?


P.S.  Things that got lost (deliberately so) in the fire of the draft entry:

I omitted references to political affiliation.

It just muddies already murky waters. Just this week I was having a discussion about local politics with my significant other and soon, at the losing end of the argument (he will disagree!), my race-politics connection was called into play.  Now that can make me see red!

I also left out the alcohol issue.

I am concerned for the image of Indo-Trinidadian males with all these songs on the air-waves about rum-drinking.  It is another stereotype that I do not care for, even if perpetuated by the same.  I have been trying to get others to not dance to those songs, but when a good riddim takes them, there is no holding back …

~ by mangoandmosquitoblog on April 25, 2009.

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