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Celebrating Indian Arrival Day *LINK*

Having been here for 160 years, the Indo-Trinidadian community now does not need the "Indo" prefix save as a convenient ethnic marker. Indeed, it is a sociological irony that Indo-Trinidadians can trace their Trinidadian family ancestry further back than most Afro-Trinidadians. This is mainly because a higher proportion of the Afro population are descendants of small islanders who emigrated here up to the mid-20th century. On the other hand, more Indos have great - and great-great grandparents who were born in Trinidad.

Even so, Afro-Trinidadians have more readily seen themselves as Trinidadian than many Indos, especially Hindus. The reason for this is that regional culture is recognisably woven out of European, African and purely Caribbean strands. But Indian culture, with its unfamiliar language and Oriental musical rhythms and vegetarian diet, was always perceived as alien by the wider society. And, although Indian food has been part of mainstream Trinidadian cuisine for over four decades now, it is only in relatively recent times that Indian music has emerged as an indigenous form which draws on both its ancestral and local roots.

As a result of this integration, the term "East Indian" is now falling out of common usage, and even "Indian" is often used as convenient descriptive shorthand rather than a meaningful label. After all, even the few Indocentric demagogues amongst us complain that "Indians" in this society are not a monolithic group. The presence of such demagogues, however, serves to remind us that we must not take our racial harmony for granted. The tendency for people to cleave to group identities is ingrained in human nature, so tolerance is something which must be taught, promoted, preserved, and always renewed. To assume that the average Trinidadian’s easy-going ways makes him or her immune to racism (outside party politics) is to embrace a dangerous naiveté. It is the racial interaction that occurs in sports and all-fours clubs, in businesses, in professional associations, and in romantic encounters, which preserves our social harmony. But, as is obvious from the racial rhetoric on both sides of the divide, there are always individuals who will try to fan the flames of prejudice for their own narrow ends.

However, persons of Indian descent in Trinidad have never been as extremist as their counterparts in India or Sri Lanka. Here, caste distinctions rapidly decayed, the ancestral Muslim/Hindu enmities were subsumed, and the Indian group accommodated itself to the majority Afro populace. And, as is the case with Indian-descended groups in different societies all around the world, Indo-Trinidadians have distinguished themselves, moving within generations from agricultural labourers to business persons, professionals, and academics. This has nothing to do with race, but with history and culture. Trinidad and Tobago is thus all the better off for being a "dougla" society.

Which is to say that our plural nature will help us negotiate the way forward in an increasingly complex world. But this can happen only if we use our cultural mix to our advantage and do not let it divide us.

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Celebrating Indian Arrival Day *LINK*
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