By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 2, 2017
Like the Prime Minister, I want to tell the naysayers against his proposal to house our Dominican brothers and sisters to shut up but for different reasons. I couldn’t see how decent men could speak of our neighbors as though they were aliens (“refugees”) who have no place in our land.
Dominicans ain’t no now come. They have participated in the making of this society. In 1814 there were 25,717 enslaved Africans in the island. Between 1813 and 1821 Trinidad received 3,800 enslaved Africans “of whom nearly 1,100 came from Dominica and nearly 1,200 from Grenada” (Eric Williams, History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago).
In 1824 Dominicans were about 5 percent of Trinidad’s African population and roughly about 2.6 percent of our overall population. In today’s terms, this is about 34,000 people, or 45 percent of Dominica’s present population.
In 1814 Sir Ralph Woodford offered the following rationale for bringing East Indians to Trinidad: “The cultivators of Hindostan are known to be peaceful and industrious. An extensive introduction of that class of people accustomed to live on the produce of their own labour only, and totally withdrawn from African connections or feelings, would probably be the best experiment for the population of the island.”
Dr. Williams pointed out: “The first suggestion that India might replace Africa as the source of labor in Trinidad involved the use of Indians not in a state of semi-servitude, working on the plantation for wages, but as small farmers cultivating their own land.”
Dominicans were here before the Indians arrived in 1845. They were among those who welcomed Indians when they arrived in those dark and desolate days. Common decency demands that all of us reciprocate this kindness during their time of need. Hindus use the term “nimakoram,” to describe people who turn their backs on those who have been kind to them.
Sat Maraj, Stephen Kangal and UNC leaders object to our opening our doors to Dominicans. Sat says, “We should be extending financial and other support to them rather than bringing in more refugees here because we have about 60,000 refugees already” (Newsday, September 23).
Kangal’s objection disguises itself as humanitarian generosity. He argues that this “unilateral decision taken by PM Rowley…to an unregulated influx of Hurricane Maria refugees from Dominica will have the effect of decimating and draining the much-needed current human resource capital of Dominica” (trinicenter.com).
How does providing shelter to those who choose to come to Trinidad result in decimating the people of Dominica?
He suggests we mount “a concerted T&T Humanitarian Rescue Mission” to “show our humane solidarity with them [Dominicans] rather than bringing them to T&T to exacerbate the current health, housing and education delivery debacles.”
How do we show “humane solidarity” when we do not even want Domincans in our land; when we prefer to leave them in Dominica to die?
Sending money to Dominicans to keep them in their island does not hide the racial motives behind these “generous” gifts that are being offered. In 2016 Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, conscious of the anti-immigrant and racist sentiments of her people and sensing she may have been in trouble politically, contributed £570 million (US $625 million) to the World Food Program (WPF) to support the refugees from Syria. Germany was “WPF’s second largest donor in this crisis following the United State (World Food Programme, February 4, 2016).
These monies were used to prevent Syrian refugees from going to Germany. It did not stop the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), from getting 13 percent of the votes cast in the recent election. Exulting in the election results, Alexander Gauland, one of AfD’s leaders, told his supporters: “We will go after them. We will claim back our country” (New York Times, September 24).
Sat, Kangal and UNC leaders displays of generosity hide sinister motives. The First Peoples said of their invaders: “Beware! They speak with ‘forked tongue.'” David Abdulah, leader of MSJ, was on target when, in responding to the naysayers’ remarks, he noted: “These statements are xenophobic. They are no different from President Trump and the white supremacists in the US talking about immigrants coming from Mexico or from Latin American countries, or the rightwing in Germany that just got 30 per cent of the votes” (Trinidad Guardian, September 26).
While UNC fumes that “no Opposition member has made any negative announcement on the issue” raised by the PM (Express, September 29) none has offered any positive comment either. Do they regard Dominicans as their brothers and sisters, worthy of lying beneath their roofs? Are they still committed to Governor Woodford’s proposition that Indians are “totally withdrawn from African connections or feelings?”
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson defined a nation as “an imagined political community [or communities]” that are distinguished “by the style in which they are imagined.” I wonder if Sat, Kangal and/or UNC ever see Trinbagonians as part of a larger Caribbean community or do they always see us as Indians, Africans and/or Chinese existing in the same land? Do they ever see us an organic, non-racialized community?
The PM needs to keep on speaking out on this issue. Our survival as a nation depends on it.