We Are Grenadians, Who Are You?
By N Oji Mzilikazi
Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 22
November 15, 2012
I’ve been a member of Montreal All-Fours Social & Cultural Association since 2004. The club meets every Friday night at the Cote-des Neiges Black Community Association. This past January, our All-Fours session started at 10 p.m. rather than at 9 p.m., because the space was being used by the Grenada Association.
Its members were using it to practice, to hone their dance routine for their commemoration of Grenada’s Independence in February.
Arriving early, I decided to take a “look see.” And there were these women, some of them elders, and for surety grandmothers, dancing and twirling holding their flowing skirts in hand and the like.
I immediately had flashbacks to “home” – Trinbago, and folk dances, maypole dances, Better Village and the like. And simultaneously felt regret that of the multitude of “Trini” organizations that have existed in Montreal, there is not one actively ensuring the survival of those cultural elements in the Diaspora.
In addition, I was blown away by the beauty of the song to which they were dancing – Casimir Pitt, “Grenada May God Bless You.” Though recorded in the early 70s, it was the first time I heard the song, and I must confess it raised both my pores and spirit.
Upon completion of their session, I asked them for a replay of “Grenada May God Bless You” so I could soak up as much of its rays as was possible.
The patriotism the song invoked was such; I couldn’t envision any Grenadian refusing to sacrifice his/her life for country if the nation was fighting a foreign invader and the song was being broadcasted.
What really got to me was the infectious line: “We are Grenadians, who are you?” The positivity of self-identification, of knowing oneself spoke volumes and opened up a world of thought. There and then I felt “We are Grenadians, who are you?” deserved a philosophical treatment. But first, I needed a copy of the song.
It took me five months of scouring the Internet to find “Grenada May God Bless You,” upon which I could’ve beaten myself. I could’ve saved myself a lot of time and energy by asking DJ Starlight Joe, a Grenadian national, and someone I’ve known since the early 80s.
In August, repair work at NDG local in which the Grenada Association meet had them returning to Cote-des-Neiges on Fridays to practice. Once again, “We are Grenadians, who are you?” left footprints in my feet, heart, and soul.
Since October, teens from the Grenada Association have been using Cote-des-Neiges on Fridays to practice their routines for the November 24, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique Masquerade and Fashion Show extravaganza.
Given the failure of many community organizations to attract youths, lamentations from same about “our” youths not interested in continuing their work, and our young being politically, socially, and culturally lost, the participation of male and female teenagers and pre-teens with Grenadian roots doing their thing to R&B and hip-hop flavoured music points to the continued transmission of island pride by a healthy and vibrant Grenada Association. Respect is due!
Youthful participation and Grenadian parents/adults in attendance at sessions made it clear; I could no longer delay my long-intended treatise.
When in “Grenada May God Bless You,” Casimir Pitt intones “We are Grenadians, who are you?” I see “Grenadians” as referencing much more than the nationals of the “Spice Island.” I think of it as transcending island tribalism and representing both the cultural consciousness of the West Indian Diaspora and West Indian collective.
I think of its rhetorical question phraseology as asking both West Indian born persons and their progeny if they have any real sense as to who they are. If they have any understanding of the otherness they represent, and the need of a united face and united base, if as a people West Indians abroad are to be economically, politically and socially empowered.
West Indians are a “callaloo” people and it matters not if their roots and or ethnicity are Syrian, Lebanese, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Spanish, English, European, East Indian or African. The various narratives and overall history of the region left its inhabitants with “an indelible and irreducible thing” and several unique flavours.
That uniqueness, an otherness in its own right, set West Indians apart in spite of our intra-racial and “island” differences, and the disgust some members feel when identified from the “wrong” island. That otherness allowed for West Indies communities abroad to sustain and feed the soul of its members.
Even when West Indians are visually “white” or “Chinese,” their phenotype, shade of colour, language style and pronunciation of certain words still identify them to the larger white and Chinese community as other. The same goes for East Indians.
That “irreducible thing” in West Indians made it impossible for us to run from ourselves – though many have tried to pass as or become another. And though we became Canadian, British, and American citizens by naturalization, marry others, have children born and socialized in their metropolis, or we ourselves were born here, a cultural and culinary otherness still massage our heartstrings, define us, and have us most comfortable when among us.
Our otherness makes us special as well as gives us advantage. We can eat with knife and fork as well as with our fingers and from a fig leaf. Celebrating Christmas, Eid, and Divali, giving prayers, having a thanksgiving, going to a pundit, seer-woman or obeah man for their special insights give West Indians a heads up on religious tolerance. Our mating makes us multicultural.
We know the ways and history of others while they remain ignorant of ours. We are able to speak perfect French and perfect English and still drop patois that only island insiders understand. We can appreciate and play classical music yet get down to dub, bubble and wine.
Much of the social misbehaviour, disconnect, and poor academic performance of our children could be traced to our failure to transmit certain imperatives of our culture as well our history. Thus, they having no knowledge as to who they are, and their aping many of Black America’s cultural negatives.
It must be pointed out that in “Grenada May God Bless You,” Casimir Pitt name checks Guyana and every West Indian island except Trinidad and Tobago.
Given that ever since Africans were transported in the West Indies, Grenadian, as well as Bajan and Vincy roots run deep in the soul of Trinidad and Tobago, and that many “great Trinis” have Grenadian roots, Pitt’s omission was deliberate.
While the omission in no way, shape or form detracts from my take of “We are Grenadians, who are you?,” it underlines anti-Trini sentiments.
While people are free to be ignorant, myopic and xenophobic, and there are individuals back home given to holding anti-island sentiments and positions, we in the Diaspora cannot afford to do that, given the commonality of hurdles faced by members of the diasporic community.
To engage in island tribalism, to discriminate against people who look like us because of their birthplace or the flag they wave could only disadvantage and impoverish.
Lest we forget, our people back home do not face the sort of obstacles we do here. Race constructs, racial profiling, and the criminalization of communities on account of ethnicity do not grease their machinery of law and order and isn’t mobilized against the people as is wont to occur here.
Secondly, the people back home look just like us. Many are highly educated, wealthy, propertied, and are in positions of power in every field and sector of the nation. And even though colorism exists in pockets, institutional discrimination and racism and being treated as “last class” outsiders that many of us experience here are totally out of the question.
Clearly, attitudes and/or beliefs that might be accepted or cool back home could very well be obstacles to progress, have no place in West Indian communities abroad.
Furthermore, when one considers the scope of our sexual interactions with different islanders, the multifaceted nature of identity and island identification make for complication.
Unfortunately, the new found West Indian nationalism in the diaspora, the love of national identity, pride in island representation in garments and fashion accessories, and the proud display of island flags, island colours, symbols and the like on vehicles is bringing on a chill, and building division between the many kinds of West Indians that comprise our community.
Eddie Charles is an internationally known soca artist out of the twin Islands of Trinidad and Tobago. He was in Montreal for its Carnival festivities – rocking the house at every event in which he appeared. He was also one of the thousands who attended the July 2012, “Vincy Day” – St. Vincent and the Grenadines picnic at Brown’s Bay Provincial Park in Ontario.
Other than a gospel singer out of the U.S., the acts on the SVG stage were local. With no thoughts as to financial remuneration, Charles’ Montreal “man of business” felt Eddie performing on their stage would be a boon and boost.
He was rebuffed three times. The reason – “they” didn’t want any Trini on their stage. The telling confirmed to me by Eddie Charles himself.
It is Trinidad and Tobago that gave the world pan, calypso and soca. Trinbago’s Carnival allows artists from every Caribbean country to come and “eat ah food.
Many artists from other islands can attest that appearing/performing in Trinidad and Tobago during Carnival was the catalyst for international success and acclaim. Yet, a Trini, a professional exponent of soca, and someone who has performed on numerous international stage wasn’t good enough to be on that Vincy stage – “free, gratis, and for nothing.”
Island people abroad need each other. There aren’t enough nationals of any one country to support their functions and grow the businesses of their entrepreneurs. So while you go about waving your national flag remember small-mindedness stunts growth, and prevents us from seeing the “Grenadian” in us all.
Divali Greetings to our Hindu Community.