By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 14, 2017
Last week I argued that there was something disingenuous about the suggestions put forward by Sat Maraj, Stephen Kangal and the UNC about sending money to Dominicans but making sure they did not enter our country. The UNC declaimed that none of its members said anything negative about the Prime Minister’s plan to bring Dominicans to T&T, but none of them had said anything positive about the plan, not even Rodney Charles or Wade Mark.
Hurricane Maria was as devastating to Dominica as it was to Puerto Rico and the island of Vieques. Eric Platt of the Financial Times, in an article entitled “Puerto Ricans Consider Departure,” reported on the damage Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico and Vieques and the necessity of relocating some of the affected people to the mainland. He reported: “As a coastguard vessel docked and began to unload emergency supplies, Ms. Navarro [a native of Vieques] was asked if the islanders wanted to stay and rebuild, or instead join an exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. ‘Families who can send their kids to the States—who wouldn’t, with schools now closed here,’ she replied.”
“Economists and policymakers warn that the humanitarian crisis will accelerate a downward economic spiral and fuel a migration crisis that has already sapped Puerto Rico of more than 300,000 residents-nearly one in 10 of the population—since 2010” (October 2).
It is legitimate to suggest that Dominicans should stay and rebuild their island. However, to argue as Kangal does that “an unregulated influx of Hurricane Maria refugees from Dominica will have the effect of decimating and draining much-needed current human resource capital of Dominica” is going overboard.
When Kangal used the participle “decimating” to describe the consequences immigration will have on Dominicans, he did not take into consideration that the verb “decimate” denotes “destroying a large proportion of something” or, as some linguists suggest “to put do death or punish one of every ten” (Oxford Dictionaries). At the very least, he ought to be careful how he uses the English language.
In my article I suggested that the reluctance of the Indian-based UNC and its supporters to endorse the possibility of housing Dominicans—mostly Africans—under their roofs had more to do with the question of race than it had to do with any genuine feelings for Dominicans as Caribbean brothers and sisters.
I also questioned how the UNC interpreted “nationness” (as Benedict Anderson used the term) and how they conceived the nation state, a question I addressed at a Multiculturalism Conference that was sponsored by GOPIO on January 29, 2011 (see “Multiculturalism and Its Challenges in Trinidad and Tobago,” triniceneter.com March 9, 2011).
After Kamla won the national elections in 2011 she went to Maha Sabha headquarters and declared T&T would follow a national policy of multiculturalism. This demand was driven by her conviction that Hindu groups were not given as much funds as African groups and Sat’s fears of the “doularization” of the Indian population.
Speaking with Jason Edward Kaufman, a foreign reporter Kamla invited to attend the Diwali celebrations in November 2010, Kamla said she wanted to see “the emergence of ‘a new national mind.’…I want Trinidad and Tobago to be the best example in the world of diversity.” She claimed that while the previous government “did not pay much attention to the Hindu population, her government would.” Anand Ramlogan philosophized: “People think of Trinidad as a predominantly African country. We want to rectify this mis-perception” (Jason Edward Kaufman, Artifino, November 17, 2010).
Winston Peters, the minister of Arts and Multiculturalism, articulated the first expression of this policy at a conference, “Towards a Multicultural Policy” on October 13, 2010. This policy came about, he said, because “a large portion of the citizenry feels itself alienated from sharing in the development of the nation.” Multiculturalism, he said, “was meant to foster “a climate of inclusion, equitable distribution of resources and recognition and celebration of cultural diversity.”
Given this love of diversity, one would have thought that Kamla and her surrogates would have been dying [no pun intended] to welcome these displaced Dominicans into our society. Instead, they are more concerned with the violation of the country’s immigration laws. While I respect their positions, I think we need to talk a bit more about what we mean when we call ourselves Trinbagonians and how that sentiment manifests itself in the day-to-day lives of our citizens.
I don’t know if Kamla and her surrogates still endorse their multiculturalism policy and feel that Indians are alienated from the mainstream of the society. Sooner or later we will have to ask, Are we a conglomerate of people living separate lives even though we occupy the same space? What qualities bind us together as a nation?
Whatever answer we give, we cannot go too wrong if we allow the Archbishop’s words to guide us: “Let love of our [T&T] families spill over and embrace them [the Dominicans]. Let us do for them what we would have them do for us if the circumstances were in reverse” (Express, October 3).
Therein lies the foundation of a true T&T love of self and of nation.