So you are Trini to de bone. Are your kids going to be?
If you live in the place where you associate your roots to have been established like I do, this question may seem to have an obvious answer – but don’t judge so fast.
With the internet bringing the materialistic “kim k” culture, one reality show fight at a time, to living rooms and palms with just swipes on a glass covered electronic device near you, raising children to know and appreciate all things Trini may not be as easy as you initially thought. Of course, it is somewhat easier to teach about Independence, Republic Day, Amerindians, Caribs and callaloo if you live where your navel string was buried.
But alas, not everyone is this lucky.
According to the US Census Bureau, In 2014, approximately 4 million immigrants from the Caribbean resided in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of the nation’s 42.4 million immigrants. More than 90 percent of Caribbean immigrants came from five countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. 706,000 Jamaicans in the US? We damn lucky Bolt did not leave Jamrock ‘in search of better’.
These stats in hand, I was inspired to finally investigate the stories of how we are keeping our culture alive – albeit by proxy – in the generations of Caribbean children living far, far away from the breezes of the Caribbean.
A Bago-American NE Parenting Experience: 220,000 Trinis live in America, Ingrid is one except, like many born in Tobago that I meet, she’s much more likely to say Tobagonian than Trini. Having lived in America for almost two decades, Ingrid, like many readers of this blog can appreciate, hustled, studied, landed a great job and married later in life. #normelnormel
Now she’s a parent, not of a Caribbean child by proxy as I call it, but an American by circumstance and a ‘Bago boy at heart.
‘As an immigrant in the US, one is always at a crossroad in a number of situations related to your child’s upbringing,’ she says. ‘Attempting to raise a child in a foreign culture while trying to maintain what you believe to be great values is a daily dilemma.’ He comments on public school in Washington, D.C. being a melting pot for all things uncommon in the Trinbago culture she grew up in were so easy to understand.
They don’t even say the word math like we do. “Mats, What is that mom? Are you trying to say Math?”
Her son is five and I assure you he still has all his teeth.
Though her son’s accent is American, you can here a little ‘island spice’ in there. “From birth, he has heard us switch constantly between proper English and dialect but the challenges that our accented English brings is fodder for constant humor.
One day, in conversation, my son said ,’Mom, please don’t kidguy me!’ I was baffled. what is a kidguy. His response was, But you always say to stop mamaguying you?! So you need to stop kidguying me!’ We were on the floor. Thus began our journey of explaining our dialect words and phrases.”
Like many in the diaspora abroad, Ingrid has made her home not far from other relatives and friends that live in the ‘D.C.’ (District of Columbia). “Uncle is 5 miles up de road (not NE of our city) , Cousin Dee is straight up route 1 and my brother is jus’ round so, I don’t find it particularly difficult to raise my son with exposure to things Trini and Gonian.”
At 5 years old, Ingrid’s son has already been covered in mud for Jouvert, and been a part of carnival in various “North American reproductions of Carnival” (loved this quote). He knows when Trini holidays like Independence and Divali are. He’s well steeped in our food too – especially pelau – his mom reports.
While her son’s life is therefore punctuated with limes filled with people who speak like mom and dad, Ingrid knows that her work to ensure he is exposed to pan, calypso and soca (no they are not the same) will be an uphill battle as he gets older and the D.C. ‘Go Go’ culture attempts to woo him. “Our greatest hope is to raise a young man that can jump like Shadow, play pan, cook and travel (like his relatives), excel in college like his cousins and love like his mom and dad.”
Trini-TexMex: My sister is a born American. Having lived in Tobago and Trinidad for less than 18 months total in her life all before she was 18, Alyss understandably has small vestiges of her parents’ accent but less logically a fondness for ‘home’ (Tobago) that is admirable. “Tobago will always be home to me,” she says. Even with her love for island life she once knew though, it’s impressive that her sons have embraced same with even less time in sweet T&T.
Dallas Texas ain’t Brooklyn. You’re more likely to see a confederate flag than a Caribbean flag of any kind. And it’s better now than when my sister moved to Texas – more than 20 years ago. ” I had no Caribbean friends at all at school.There just weren’t any. Hell, few even looked like me back then,” she says. Other than her mom, she knew 2 other Trinis – her aunt and uncle who lived within a half mile from their house. “Trini culture was home. It lived in pots, accents and words like “lime” that ceased to exist in many ways once you left our home because nothing outside our homes (she counts her uncle’s home here) reflected our culture.”
Fast forward twenty years, a wedding in Tobago and two boys, now grown teenagers (ok one is 21..that’s scary), she gets her Trini music in via the occasional You Tube search or Facebook post from family and friends. Her sons though? How about one wore a Trini necklace to school the day I spoke to her on the topic of “Tex Mex Trinis”.
Her sons spent one month in Trinidad with their grandfather when they were 9 and 12, that month shaped their lives apparently. My father is really pretty close to totally local – a whiff of the aroma of his chow, curried crab and stewed pork could make a homesick Trini weep upon scent. The food and limes of that trip clearly worked – my nephews are now officially Tex-Mex Trinis – Trini by choice and generation rather than birth or passport.
Through food, travel and the occasional bout of music, her younger son has determined that his perfect woman would be one who would be ‘ok’ moving to Tobago.
I can’t make this stuff up.
In summary, for my nephews;
Tobago = family. Culture = family. Conch = gross though and roti = good.
When Cultures Collide and Relationships End: Life is not a fairy tale. Relationships don’t always work. Children born to cross cultural parents who break up end up in a really interesting space – born between two cultures and, often, raised in two countries.
Matthew (name changed for privacy) is one of those parents. Trini born and raised in T&T, fresh out of university, a lusting relationship ended when his beautiful platinum blonge, green eyed baby daughter was born- in Wisconsin. When the relationship ended, he moved on – physically, to another state closer to family, rent free living to give him a start and warmth (Georgia). “I see her every summer,” says Matthew. “Every summer, she’s more American than the last when she arrives but by the time she leaves the music and food are closer to her heart.”
Matthew, now living with his partner of 11 years (a man) in North Carolina. Coming out to his family meant losing them as they neither accepted nor understood what they viewed as a choice. “I can’t take her home to visit because I have no one at home who embraces us. So I recreate as much of Trini culture as I can.” His home is checkered with Trini paraphernalia he says and his car, his ring tone and anywhere his phone can pick up a blue tooth signal is filled with soca – especially when his daughter visits. “I ensure she knows she’s named after the world’s largest round about and not a place in Georgia,” he laughs. “I learned to cook Trini food, we celebrate Independence every year with a red, white and black lime and I even have her try the SEA practice questions to challenge her with her studies when shes here (with him) on holiday.
He has drawn out moral squares in chalk on the pavement to try to teach her to play and has done his best to help her learn how to play the aspects of elastic he remembers his friends playing in primary school. They cheered on T&T at the Olympics this ‘summer’ and she tasted his first callaloo with real dasheen leaves this August. He’s brought her a Naparima girls cook book, he added Private Ryan’s last three years of mixes you her You Tube play list.
He’s praying that Trini culture does not get rejected by her as his family and her mother have rejected his lifestyle. “I’ll keep Trini-ing her up, one visit at a time,” he says.
Miami Vice: Ayanna (name changed for privacy) was born to Trini parents but never lived a day of her life in either of the “t’s”. There is a Trini flag on her car and her three sons all love soca music. She’s a single mom. Her parents moved back to Tobago and her kids visit rarely – its expensive. “I do my best through music and food to teach them about Trini. Culture is so important – to help them be well rounded. I wish I knew more about Trinidadian culture so I can pass on what I lean to my children.”
Jolly Old Trinis: One sentence into a conversation with Nathan or his wife and you know you have met two full-fledged personifications of all things Trinbago. They, as we say, real serious about their culture. Neither has lived in T&T for almost 25 years.
Nathan is from a huge family. When I say huge, his dad was one of 16 siblings. Yes. 1 6. Tobago was clearly nice in the 1940s. It may be because of the flurry of constant family visits and limes that Nathan’s home in a ‘must stop’ for almost every Trini I know when they visit England. When you stop by, the Trini-ness of the home seems to exude from well below the British sod it is built upon.
“I have always been adamant that my children be very aware of their Trini culture even though they were born and are at present growing up in London, UK,” says Nathan, a restaurant manager for a great but totally non-Trini restaurant in London proper.
“They (the children) are exposed to the culture by taking part (although not every year) in Notting Hill carnival,” he says – which is, one can imagine the benefit of living in a city known for its large Caribbean immigrant population. “Nicole’s (his wife’s) great uncle Russ Henderson (who passed away last year) was one of the pioneers of Notting Hill carnival and they are very much aware of that.” Again, another common thread for raising Trini’s by proxy – family and importance thereof.
Another thread that’s common? Trips home and music. “They have been to Trinidad and taken part in carnival there also. Michaela played pan for a semester in her school and she also made it very clear to the teacher where pan came from!!!” You read correctly, he said pan in school – something that even here in T&T can be a struggle to find without an extra lesson!
Almost too familiarly he says “we cook Trini food all the time and I am always playing soca and calypso at home.’ However, when he added what his family does on a Sunday, I damn near felt compelled to turn in my passport for not being Trini enough! “They also hear Paul Keens Douglas stories on a Sunday and laugh when Nicole and I are reminiscing about the good “ole” days.” (see what I mean? Not surprisingly, their home is a ‘hive of Trini liming’ which they are very comfortable with and have explained the meaning to all their friends.
Third Culture Kids: Debra, a proud graduate of Bishop Anstey High School in Port of Spain has found herself in a most interesting position. She’s parenting in the Middle East – as an expat wife. While this may not seem amazing to some of you, as an ex Bishop’s girl myself, the fact that she’s an expat wife is pretty – un-Bishops-stereotype-like (let the Bishops women laugh here, all others if you don’t get it, we are ok with same 🙂 )
A parent of two fabulously traveled girls now in the ‘tween’ years, Debs feels she has not had to make a concerted effort to expose them to Trini culture as it just comes naturally. “I want my kids to be proud of their Trini heritage because they are international ambassadors whether or not they fully appreciate the role.”
She cooks Trini food at home and helps them showcase Trinidad for the annual International Festivals celebrations and projects at the International School they attend. They know when its Independence or another Trini holiday if members of the UAE Caribbean diaspora host events. “Having lived most of their lives abroad, (they are now 11 & 13) they are certified ‘Third Culture Kids’ i.e. Kids raised abroad who do not identify with the culture of their parents nor of their host country but with a third ‘international’ culture.” While the girls enjoy celebrating their culture and visiting Trini for the food and family time, “they have made it quite clear that they have no interest in moving back home.”
They just don’t fit in Trinidad any more.
Debra shares that one ‘summer’ they came home and enrolled the girls in not one, but three camps. Each camp was rejected because the girls were just used to something “different.” They were rejected “owing to their ‘otherness'” she says.
My university learnings of Burke’s exotic other theory were conjured up. We either like or reject that which is different from ourselves. Interesting.
The 13 year old is teasing her parents about their Trini accents. Again, interesting – but then, which of us did not laugh at how our parents said something or the other when we were growing up?
This post was an emotional one for me. The stories have so many common threads but the most important is one that many of us at home need more us – national pride. Love who you are and where you are.