|Having a sense of where we came from|
...more than a people defining themselves, there must be a better understanding of who we are and not allow political allegiances to mark out lines of segregation - Dr Kris Rampersad.
Interview with Dr Kris Rampersad, Media Cultural and Literary Educator
By Marcia Braveboy in
Caribbean News Now Senior Correspondent
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- Indian Arrival Day is being celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago on 30th May. On the eve of the occasion we are summoned once again by our foreparents to contemplate this burning sense of our past that engulfs our thinking with sparkles of thoughts about who we are and where we really came from.
This gentle meliorism by a conscious people whose gaze is set only on progress, must through active aspirations wonder into the deep and beyond the stars to find answers of a sometimes forgotten past, to reconnect the links for future generations.
The flames of 200 years ago by our ancestors and predecessors refuse to go out under a people it still challenges to define their purpose on this journey to a better Trinidad and Tobago.
Writer, author, journalist Kris Rampersad says that, more than a people defining themselves, there must be a better understanding of who we are and not allow political allegiances to mark out lines of segregation among our peoples and for the removal of denominational and ethnic inhibitors to national development and to see the dream of a people becoming one come true.
“We as a country and a region are losing so much of understanding ourselves when we define and confine ourselves through all kinds of narrow allegiances, and that is not to downplay the value of identity to all of us.”
Rampersad is a Caribbean woman. What that means is that she takes a keen interest not just in Trinidad and Tobago but also in our regional neighbours and the importance of that interconnection to each other as a Caribbean people. She sits on the UNESCO executive board in Paris representing Trinidad and Tobago and has been working across the Caribbean to build resilient communities through heritage and culture; developing policies, infrastructure and institutions while at the same time involved in journalism and new media as an independent media operator.
But first, she is a Trinidad and Tobagonian national, passionately wanting us to celebrate our people-hood. She has just issued a call for artistes to produce nonviolent content in their music and she is working towards producing music and songs for the soundtrack to a biography film to highlight the life and times of assassinated Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal. Rampersad hopes to use this brand to help music producers define spaces for non-violence with their art.
“The dimensions of crime, for instance, in our societies cut across ethic identities; to address those problems we have to be able to look beyond those lines.”
Many Trinidad and Tobago nationals have been pulling at the skirt tail of governments to abolish the various celebrations and establish just one national holiday and call it “Arrival Day”, the thinking is that we all came, and it will be a true representation of the rainbow country that is Trinidad and Tobago. Kris Rampersad has a different view:
“Do we need one arrival day? If an arrival day is important to people they should have their day - separately or together - I'm not sure I have an opinion on that. I celebrate all of them: how could we not?
While Indian Arrival Day places the Indian community on the radar on such an occasion, the celebration of that day, like Emancipation Day, symbolizes the amalgam that is a ‘Trini’ (as they say in local parlance); a productive and talented people, as Rampersad describes the people of Trinidad and Tobago. It seems, however, that as citizens too much has been relinquished through old systems. While the British gave this twin island its independence, the people held on firmly to the institutions left behind by that British system, Rampersad declared.
“As a counter to the erosion of identity the colonial system imposed on us, self-governance following independence sought to repair the damage with such national days. But the challenge of governance is really minimising the sense of threat to identity that has
“Because of our recent history and the striping of self esteem and identity of post slavery and indentureship, part of the post independence process of regaining self, involved establishing these national days of recognising the presence of various groups, but as our society evolves; as we strengthen our national fabric and if our governance system can assure each group of its self identification and of equity in treatment – there is so much insecurity in our system you see – that would become less relevant….”
The author and journalist sees Trinidad and Tobago as a country that is full of talent and flowing over; a country that is replete with individuals who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps – generations building on the struggles of the previous one – like the now assassinated senior counsel Dana Seetahal and others like her who fully occupied their own spaces, doing what they do best, when all the frames and structures and institutions mitigate against that -- that is what Carnival and Phagwa and Baptist Liberation Day represent, Rampersad believes.
In spite of its avalanche of talent and skills flowing in this twin island Republic, the islands remain underdeveloped. Kris does not like that.
“We may feel now that we need to celebrate days like those, but my concern is that we -- as a society – by trying to define ourselves by those parameters we are also narrowing our vision of ourselves in silos rather than the collective strengths that we are. The insecurity that makes celebrations necessary forces the kind of chest thumping in trumpeting such national days – to, beyond colonial pains and hurts to trumpet the glorious ancient civilisations that are behind us. But it is also a divisive championing, that can limit us celebrating all the mother cultures that contribute to our national being.”
What about those who define us by our ethnic and cultural antecedents?
The multiethnic as well as multi religious society that Trinidad and Tobago is makes it equally a beautiful and complex society. The fight for space in every sphere, especially economic, political spheres creates antagonism primarily between the African and Indian groups.
“Our jostle for space here, represented in the so many different celebrations, is depriving us of the opportunity to fully explore and appreciate the larger sense of self. To do so, we need to level the playing field and create an environment that is more secure for people’s self-identification before we can start thinking of relinquishing those isolated symbols of identification,” Rampersad explains.
She thinks governments can turn the wheel of understanding in all the right directions once they exercise the will to do so.
“The governance processes since Independence have been challenged to do so and hence so often seems to be going in the opposite direction to creating the kind of society we envision ourselves as – ‘rainbow country’, multicultural, diverse, ‘every creed and race finds an equal place’, et al.”
A scholar in her own right and of East Indian descent, Dr Kris Rampersad sees herself simply as a Trinidad and Tobago national and a reflection of all Trinidad and Tobago nationals of different creed and races.
“I am the sum total of being born and nurtured in Trinidad and Tobago but also of all the people I have encountered, all the places I have visited and lived in and all the experiences I have. Every travel, every encounter, and every experience changes and alters us in some way. I feel blessed to have been given such opportunities to meet, work play and share ideas with so many different people. I feel somewhat that I never return to Trinidad the same person I was when I left on some meeting or the other having been enriched by those experiences.
“It is an ancient wisdom, to embrace life as a journey, a series of journeys; a continuous process of departures and arrivals. The arrival of Indians and each other group, including the ‘Banwari’ people more than 7,000 years earlier, here, ought to be seen in that context, as a universal experience and not as the be all and end all struggle it becomes in a political context; in a context of a society built on insecurities and pitching one group or one ethnicity against the other, each vying for national space when equitable policies and approaches could address all that,” she said.
Dr Kris Rampersad has authored three books: “Finding a Place”, which traces development of a literary sensibility among Indians who migrated with their own languages and cultures, through writings in newspapers, education and production of a Naipaul: acclaimed lord of the English Language.
Her second book: “Through the Political Glass Ceiling” looks at the race to prime ministership by Trinidad and Tobago's first female holder of that office – Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar -- and explores the socio-cultural and political situation that gave rise to the country's first woman prime minister in the context of the 2010 general elections.
In her third book: “LiTTscapes” (Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago) Rampersad features more than 100 works by more than 50 writers through visualising in photographs fictional representations of Trinidad and Tobago's landscapes, cultures, lifestyles and more. Look her up on Facebook to see the photos and to journey through her other works.
Published on May 31, 2014: Caribbean News Now!: Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago: Having a sense of where we came from
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Naipaul was no Fluke
Mapping the Literary Imagination
Book on TT Heritage
Through the Political Glass Ceiling
Cutting Edge Journalism
Caribbean Literary Salon
|Sunday 1st June, 2003|
|Dr Kris Rampersad|
After 50 years have we come a long way?
By By Essiba Small
The ascension of Kamla Persad-Bissessar to the highest office in the land was chief among the milestones for women of T&T since the country became an independent nation.
In the last 50 years women have progressed in the fields of medicine, education, law and politics. Like activists Elma Francois and Claudia Jones who went before them, women have articulated their presence and voice to issues of national interest.
None of this came easy.
"Everything we have gained as women has come through struggle and negotiation," says Dr Gabrielle Hosein, assistant lecturer at UWI's Institute for Gender and Development Studies.
"In the last 50 years women have made a number of important advances that should not be negated. In 1980 we witnessed feminism in T&T which shaped movement building. Women's organisations made changes in the country in terms of the consciousness of women's rights and they challenged the family pattern."
In the field of education women have also made strides. There was a time when women had no access to free education. When that changed, women still had to jump through hoops to gain a university education.
"To be admitted to the University of the West Indies women had to score higher marks than men in their final examinations," said Dr Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, chairperson of the Coalition Against Domestic and Gender-based Violence.
University education afforded those women a chance to get better jobs with the number of women in the workforce moving from less than 30 per cent pre Independence to 50 per cent post Independence.
"Domestic workers were able, for the first time, to take cases to the Industrial Court, the increase of the minimum wage and the state's recognition of common-law marriages have also benefitted women," Mahabir-Wyatt said.
There has also been an evolution of women's roles, Dr Kris Rampersad, writer, researcher and gender development advisor observed.
"In terms of how they are viewed and presented in national life, women have really come into their own in the public sphere as they have in the private sphere for decades where Caribbean women, and the women of T&T have always held significant power and leverage – think of the women in the canefields, in the markets, in the domestic and small industries who have supported, not just supplemented, family incomes for generations – though this has not generally been acknowl- edged."
Poet, playwright and cultural activist Eintou Pearl Springer, while joining in the celebration of achievements made by women, said she couldn't divorce the milestones from the scenes that continue to play out on a daily basis in depressed areas.
"As an African woman I feel invisible and undermined and I am concerned about the African woman and my community. I say that with no apologies."
Springer said 1838, the year of Emancipation from slavery, is her watershed rather than 1962.
She said in the post Emancipation period women have been the burden bearers of the race but that position of women shifted in the generation after hers.
Springer witnessed Independence as a teenager, went to the first Government co-ed school and got an exhibition to high school. Through it all, she has always been surrounded by strong women.
"Even though the men were absent, uncles helped out as women took charge of the family. "Today, when I look at my community, women seem to have given up. They seem to be looking for their own fulfillment to the detriment of their children.
"The words of the stickfight lavway, 'mooma, mooma, yuh son in the grave already, take your towel and band yuh belly', come to mind. Women are grieving for their sons and their men. "
Catherine Kumar, CEO of the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce, who has broken a few glass ceilings, attributed the missing generation syndrome to the lack of balance between career, family life and social life.
"There was a time when grandmothers were the backbone and took care of grandchildren. Not so today.
"With grandmothers now working, this support has diminished and children are being left alone or at places where they are not being challenged to think or taught sound values.
"This I believe contributes to some of the challenges in society- delinquent youths. There needs to be greater support in the work place and infrastructure generally to support working women."
Domestic violence and the lack of gender equality continue to be grey areas for women.
"There needs to be a turnaround in the domestic violence figures," Mahabir-Wyatt said. She believes that couples could benefit from mediation, problem solving and negotiating arguments in relationships.
That violence against women is no longer glorified in our calypsoes, as it once was, is a huge advancement Hosein said.
"There has been a serious shift and now the woman is seen for who she is, a human being who needs to be respected."
The ideas pertaining to gender continue to be static in this country, according to Professor Patricia Mohammed.
"There is an aberration of some norm that women will somehow go back home and take care of the young, old and their husbands and that men will rediscover their rightful place in society as leaders. This was never the case, some women have always forged ahead, and there is no fixed mould for gender."
Mohammed said she would like to see a change of gender ideas.
"We have to have the gender policy passed and accepted. Men and women both have to see themselves as equal nurturers, caretakers of families and society as both will invariably always be sharing the economic burdens and responsibilities of same."
Looking ahead, Mahabir-Wyatt wants to see more women commanding heights, to quote her.
"A few women have broken the glass ceiling but I want to see more of them as chair of boards."
Springer wants to see a refocus on the African lifestyle.
"African women in this country lack a sense of self and so they are opened to negativity."
You've come a long way baby, the theme of feminism and women's liberation used as a marketing slogan by Virginia Slims cigarettes, played its part in empowering women all over the world. Could the same be said of women in T&T? After 50 years have we come a long way?
"Of course we have, a very long way," Professor Mohammed declared.
"Women can virtually do anything they wish to at present — but there will always be room for more progress for as soon as we reach goals, the goal posts change."