A Friendly Guide to Identify a Trini
Posted: Wednesday, September 7, 2005
What's A Trini? How would you know one if you saw one? A User Friendly Guide to navigating among the world's most cordial people.
by Linda E. Edwards
You are walking down the aisle in a busy mall, or at a convention, or in a supermarket, and you hear two people talking. You stop and listen for a minute, then ask, "Excuse me, what part of Trinidad are you from?", and the beginning of an instant friendship is formed. You have found your home-person. Another Trini. There is a rapid-fire exchange of names, and places and phone numbers, or business cards. This quick bonding of people of vastly different races and appearances is often puzzling to outsiders. They watch in amazement as an instant cordiality emerges between an Indian and a Chinese, a Chinese and an African, an African and an Indian, or any of these and a European looking person. "How come you are from the same place?" They ask in wonder. "We are Trinibagonians," is the reply. We then correct to say that the country is called Trinidad and Tobago, but everyone is a Trini.
In the 'howdy' town called Houston, that may not seem too weird, as people here say hello to perfect strangers all the time. But in the far frozen north, where the people are more frosty, customers in the back of the line wonder what's going on, as clerk and customer stop to chat, while the line piles up behind these long lost friends who, just a minute ago seemed perfect strangers. In Missisagua, Canada and Massapequa, Queens and New Orleans, it's the same. Our need for community causes us to reach out to those who sound like us, who form Trinidad and Tobago's most popular export: its cordial, fun loving but serious people. Sometimes, they are not from there, but from nearby: from Grenada, Guyana or Barbados. We embrace them as our people anyway, for we share a common history, a common language; and sports and the University unites us. There are no conflicts between Caribbean people that cannot be resolved over a drink on a Sunday morning (never mind the occasional posturing of politicians from independent mini-states.)
Trinbagonians can teach the world the model for tolerance, despite recent attempts by some Trinis at home to rent apart the fabric of our oneness; attempts that are fueled by perceptions of inequality fostered and festering over more than a hundred years.
You will find us in every walk of life; in every position of prestige in the US, including Congress. We were there dying alongside the rest of the world on 9/11, and was the last to be pulled alive from the rubble of our collective security. We were there to subdue the "shoe bomber" on that flight from Paris to Miami. We often go unrecognized because we are too secure to wear our badge of nationality as a club or a flag to wave at others. We hold our own as professors in American universities from Wellesley College's Tony Martin and Selwyn Cudjoe, Oberlin's James Millette, Minnesota's Theodore Lewis, to senior positions at Prairie View and Texas Southern. We are there in public education, from kindergarten to high school, and at two-year colleges. We are there in business in the City of Houston, and the Keith Spooners, Faizah Assads and Glen Johnsons hold their own in Medicine. We carry the torch for academic achievement for Africans of the Diaspora, and for people of mixed races everywhere. Even as far away as Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, I found a Trinidadian, chairing the department of Urban Geography. We make a difference every day in the lives of North Americans. We are known for our capacity to get along with people from every place under the sun. Call a place name on the map of the world, and a Trini would recognize it. If he/she seems puzzled, mention what it was once called, before the new name, and we can go to the map. We know there, we have people there; someone from there is married to a relative. We are like that. Everywhere. We are the only people in the world who can throw a party where every person born on earth can fit in and feel welcomed.
We are a people of music. The drum is our heartbeat. The steelband, the tassa and the shango drums, descendants of the Tom-Tom; the message-carrier of Africa is in our blood, and reverberates in all of us. We are a people of acoustic guitars and cuatros that echo through our consciousness from one parang season to the next. Our times of year are defined by music. We are a people of "oui" and "Papa God" and "Papa Bois"; of "bon jour, madame", as well as "fetes" and "cafes", and are English speaking, and everyone knows that "pani" is water and a "bilna" is a rolling pin. We are like that.
We seek out in Houston, supermarkets that serve the Chinese/Asian and Hispanic communities because they serve us well also; and when we serve Sunday lunch; not dinner, but lunch; we are more likely to serve Chinese, Indian and African food on the same table than people anywhere else, including Africans, Chinese and Indians, who serve their own food; not others.
And, despite our love of fete, we are a serious people, serious about politics… world politics. Our leaders are dreamers who put dreams into action. We were led to Independence by an Oxonian scholar, Eric Williams, recognized as one of the 100 most influential men of the twentieth century by Time magazine, and another, A.N.R. Robinson, helped create the International Criminal Court - influence for the third millennium. Our C.L.R. James was recognized as a major thinker of the twentieth century, and we have produced two Nobel laureates in a decade. Derek Walcott (1992) born in St. Lucia, educated at UWI who found and polished his dramatic voice at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, and V.S. Naipaul, (2001) QRC's old boy in denial.
Our music soothes and energizes the world, and also comments on our politics. So you can have in one album by David Rudder a pean to Trinibago's blessed music, and two pleas to the world called "Jaffa Road" and "Jerusalem" which ought to be required listening at any future peace talks between Israelites and Palestinians, so they could learn to live together as Rudder puts it, "Just as they do it on my islands".
We are not a trigger people. We laugh, and "fire one" - a drink, to ease tensions, where others fire bullets, or threaten with guns on a national scale. We use 'picong' to prevent physical conflict.
We are a unique people whose uniqueness undergoes constant change, but remains unique. We are an oil-rich nation, reviewing how our oil money can best serve our people, as well as the world. We are friends with Britain, Cuba, India, Nigeria and USA, and we vote our conscience at international forums. We are "Trini to the bone", proudly blending the best of all worlds, and remaining entirely 'us'.
So, when next you see someone stop in the middle of an aisle to strike up an instant friendship, know that it is a Trini meeting another. The world stops for us. We are about peace and harmony. We could teach the world not only to sing but also to dwell together in unity.
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