January 29, 2007

Where are we now?

Dear Mikey,


In the last few posts, I have been trying to answer your questions. And while it may seem like a roundabout process, I needed to give some context to my answers which are a modified form of a Kantian method that CLR James once used: What do I know? What can I do? What may I believe?

I’m also going link my answers to the comment you made: “These are things that keep haunting me, even more, as I approach middle age and beyond.” I, too, am haunted by these questions. I will be forty-nine this year, so we have much in common. I may just write a totally self-indulgent post about how these concerns have been reflected in my work, but we’ll see.

I also understand your impatience, but the process of decolonizing our minds, hearts, and bodies is a slow process to which, as Fanon has warned us, "Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it."

Think of colonialism and slavery as a virus that has infected the minds, hearts, and bodies of the colonized. Each generation must have the responsibility and presence of mind to administer the necessary dosage of self-scrutiny and change to keep the virus from taking over the body. If the generation fails, then the virus (which is very cunning and sometimes masks itself as part of the body’s natural defenses) mutates/replicates into more virulent forms to which the host finally succumbs.

What do we know?
Our leaders have failed us. I don’t think I am one of those Jamaicans in the diaspora to which Francis Wade alludes, but if ah so, ah so.

Unlike the leaders before Independence, our current leaders have not articulated a vision/mission that our artists, intelligentsia, and people can embrace. Instead they have embraced the status quo of thirty years ago while ignoring the new challenges. See Nicholas Laughlin’s exasperation with CARIFESTA this year.

I realize that it is difficult to lead a movement when there is no recognizable enemy, but that’s what leaders do. If you can’t do the job, don’t apply.
I also realize that while the issues of identity facing Norman Washington Manley’s generation were important, we have inherited them and many more challenges in defining our identity:
  • The breakup of our families and migration—the new Diaspora. This has disrupted the generational transmission/ affirmation of skills and values; lack of learning/mentoring/continuity within the culture.
  • The trauma of the civil war of the seventies: Michael Manley, Eddie Seaga, Democratic Socialism, Cold War, Communism Capitalism, Fidel Castro
  • CARIFESTA, CARICOM, and regionalism
  • Reggae
  • Rastafari
  • Dancehall
  • Drug trade: Dons, gangs and the murder/crime rate
  • The relationship with Africa
  • The relationship with Europe/UK
  • The relationship with the US
  • Generational identity: What is the mission of our generation?
  • Gender Identity and Homophobia
  • Language: The Queen’s English, Nation language, Patwa, Jamaican, Rasta Speak, American
  • Class, color and connections: Black, Brown and White in the Caribbean
  • The environment and our relationship to the land
  • Denigration (devaluation) of the local in favor of the foreign
  • Add yours, Dear Reader, in the Comments
The work of our leaders has also been complicated by the following challenges within the culture:

1. Conservatism of many Jamaicans (See B.Art: “Everybody is a closet right winger in Jamaica!”)
2. Our conservatism may be due to the history of colonialism and slavery which defined change on the same level with the death penalty. Humans don’t like change—we resist change. Add the natural human fear of change and the death penalty mentality about change, and you have patterns of behavior in Jamaica that has been woven into our ways of thinking and acting. Old habits die hard.
3. Religious Conservatism: Our religious leaders preach, “Change will only lead to chaos, slackness, and nastiness.” If you disbelieve me, read the Gleaner.
4. Lack of education and miseducation. Once the British left, there should have been an overhaul of the educational system. This does not mean tossing out the Dead White Guys. Because we have not reformed the system, individuals and their children who are versed in the ways of the “Old Massa” have continued the policies of control and the eradication of individuality. The result is that many have embraced (without thinking) Jante Law (Thanks, Professor Zero):
  1. You shall not think that you are special.
  2. You shall not think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. You shall not think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don't fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. You shall not think that you know more than us.
  6. You shall not think that you are more important than us.
  7. You shall not think that you are good at anything.
  8. You shall not laugh at us.
  9. You shall not think that anyone cares about you.
  10. You shall not think that you can teach us anything.
Ask yourself, I-dren, how many of these “laws” have you unconsciously adopted into your life? And if you, who are relatively free, have believed some of these in the past, imagine the downpression of those who don't have enough time as you do to stop and think about these things. Now click on your mp3 of Sparrow’s “Dan is the Man in the Van” or Peter Tosh’s, “You can’t blame the Youth,” and you will see how far we have slipped.

*“Old Massa” does not have to white person as Frantz Fanon showed us. Worse, when he exists in your own mind, and you follow the “Jante Laws” without thinking, you are heading for a showdown.

5. Social promotion/ economics over questions of identity—“No money nuh inna it!” Because there isn’t any “reward” for asking these questions, many think there is no need to pursue these questions. This, again, is a human impulse. (Read Mathew Arnold’s excoriation of British Philistines.) To almost every “negative” human impulse add “black” and “colonialism” and you will have an idea of what we have to overcome. And it’s not just a matter of “getting over it” as some have suggested. Nor is it dwelling on the past to project oneself as a victim.

BTW, as Keith Nurse has pointed out, there is money in it, but because we continue to devalue the local in favor of the foreign (by 5 to 1), we don’t see the material benefits.

6. Lowered expectations. We don’t see ourselves as thinkers—leave that to white people or those who know and “run tings”—the “us” of Jante Law. We continue with the “Likkle Man Syndrome” and this has been disastrous in our national life and in the arts.

What can we do?

1. Elect leaders who have articulated a generational mission/identity. If we elect someone to the highest office, s/he should have these qualities:
  • Be able to articulate a generational mission that reflects our identity
  • Have a track record of encouraging/ creating/ greater ownership
  • Protection of the weakest members of society by promoting individual, human rights: (“Help the weak if you are strong”)
  • Adherence to law and order. Any politician who is tied to gun violence has forfeited his/her right to lead.
  • Have a track record of creating opportunities in the economy, education, and the arts, which will lead to greater optimism
The last part is very important, and if this seems a bit facile, it is not intended to be. The importance of the arts cannot be underestimated. And while I am not suggesting that culture alone is a panacea for the ills of a country (the Nazis played Wagner and Bach as they marched Jews into gas chambers), neglect of the arts points to a serious deficiency in a culture.

The arts are an invaluable part of the emotional and psychological education of a culture. As John Baker norms of feeling.” pointed out in a recent post, “Art affects life because it teaches us how to see, how to hear, how to feel; because it has the capacity to create for us what we might term
This occurs because the production of a work of art comes from various sources:
  • The artist's probing into his/her unconscious as a representative of the culture's unconscious tendencies
  • Events in the life of the artist or the life of the community and how they relate to the artist’s perspective on the history of his/her culture
  • The artist’s work in relationship to the work of other artists inside and outside the culture
The work of the artist is not to provide a solution. Sparrow in "Dan is the Man in the Van" merely showed us how miseducation could be dangerous. The examination by the artist brings the issues up to a conscious level so that they don’t remain in the festering darkness of the unconscious.

2. Support the work of those who are articulating generational mission(s).
*Two simple proposals to create opportunity, optimism, and ownership of the arts in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Since we value money so much, any leader who talks about cultural development should immediately adopt this proposal:

1. Regional prizes of $50, 000 (TT dollars) each for the best novel, best book of poetry, choreography, etc). This money can be raised by a combination of public and private contributions following models that have been developed in the UK and US.

2. Contract negotiations for any textbook adoption for CXC exams or at any grade level by any Ministry of Education must be tied to promote the publication of living writers. The contracts with the publishers would be on a sliding scale depending on the size of the business. Small publishers could publish one or two titles per year while large publishers could publish ten or fifteen titles per year. The governments wouldn’t have to spend a penny because they are providing the market—the impressionable minds of our children.

It’s that simple.

So, here are my answers your questions, Mikey.

Why do we allow others to define us? Why are we still thinking as if we are on a plantation and have to wait for others to do/think for us?
  • Many of us have not thought about our identity, and our failure to act has led us to accept the definitions by others which are outdated and unhealthy. This discussion of identity must take place on a community and national level so as to create a critical mass/synergy.
  • Our leaders have failed to offer us a coherent vision of ourselves and have failed to manifest the creation of models that will sustain development in education, the economy and the arts.
  • We have failed ourselves by not questioning ourselves and having lowered expectations of ourselves and our leaders.
  • Failure to support those who may be offering answers to questions of identity and mission.
  • Still suffering from the trauma of slavery/colonialism and the civil war of the seventies.
  • Lowered expectations based on color, class, and connections. “Likkle man Syndrome.”
And why bother with these questions?
  • Wholeness of our minds, hearts and bodies. A feeling of ownership, opportunity and optimism in our own land.
  • Slowing the flow of diaspora because sometimes, it dread in America.
  • Money inna it. Imagine if all the money we spent on foreign books, music, etc. stayed in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
  • We can resist false claims to our identity individually and collectively. It’s easier for a nation to have a collective purpose/identity when these skills are being practiced on a individual level.
  • We better start thinking about these issues because whether by will or default, we (the majority of those born in the fifties) will soon hold the reins of power.
I know I have painted a bleak picture, but I am still optimistic. The next few posts will give a few reasons for my optimism.

Next post: What may we believe?
Related Posts:

January 26, 2007

A Terrible Beauty is Born: Jamaica in the Seventies

Ten years after Jamaica gained independence, the island seemed poised for success. A newly elected Prime Minister, Michael Manley, (nicknamed “Joshua,” but more like Xango) was increasing opportunities and ownership among the formerly disenfranchised, largely black, populace. We were talking loud, “bigging up” ourselves, and walking with a swagger, like Ivan incarnate. 

When we stood still, we realized that we were standing at the crossroads of the Caribbean with our arms akimbo. We had every reason to be optimistic. There was so much happening:

  • We were witnessing before our very eyes the birth of Reggae—from ghetto music to World music. And there were always performances by Big Youth, U-Roy, I-Roy, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Bob Andy, Judy Mowatt, Lloyd Parks, Rita Marley, Cynthia Schloss, Marcia Griffiths, and Jacob "Killer" Miller.
  • Bob Marley had grown from a local star to an international superstar.
  • Perry Henzell’s, The Harder They Come, had opened to popular and critical acclaim.
  • Rastafari and the Twelve Tribes of Israel, proponents of Black dignity/pride and the Caribbean connection to Africa, were changing the Jamaican story by questioning identity and introducing a new vocabulary, Rasta speak, with its emphasis on the individual and his/her connection to the indwelling God with the use of I-man and InI.
  • Radio DJs were giving up their American accents, and trying to sound more Jamaican every day. They all wanted to be Errol “ET” Thompson.
  • Trevor Rhone, Dennis Scott, Norman Rae, Buddy Pouyatt, Paul Metheun, Trevor Nairne, Louis Marriott, Tony Gambrill, and Alwin Bully were opening plays at The Barn, Little Theatre, Creative Arts Centre, Garden Theatre, and Centre Stage.
  • Poets in Unity were in full swing all over Kingston.
  • Honor Ford-Smith and Sistren were performing in Jamaica and abroad.
  • Third World was not only creating great music, but they were also staging Explanitations.
  • Attendance at Reggae Sunsplash proved that Reggae could be marketed successfully.
  • Rex Nettleford and NDTC staged Court of Jah and other visually stunning and complex choreography.
  • Karl Parboosingh, besides creating great art, was making trouble at the Olympia.
  • Jamaica School of Drama students such as Stafford Harrison, Noel “Godfather” Walcott, and Malachi Smith were growing from students into directors, actors, and performers.
  • Inspired by Kamau Brathwaite, writers such as Mutabaruka, Mikey Smith, and Oku Onuora started a new genre of writing: dub poetry. I remember going to the first reading that Oku Onuora gave at the Tom Redcam Library after he had been released from jail due to the intervention of Mervyn Morris and PEN.
  • John Hearne was at the Extra Mural and publishing Creative Arts Review.
  • Dennis Scott had won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Uncle Time.
  • On any given day, you could see Kamau Brathwaite loping across the UWI Mona Campus, Mervyn Morris driving his white Peugeot, or Eddie Baugh strolling across the Mona Commons.
  • Add yours, Dear Reader, to the Comments section.

And then, Manley playing on the theme of exploitation and control of our destiny, tried to levy a bauxite tax. He also said the word, the totally unnecessary word, that no Caribbean leader should ever say in a post-McCarthy era: socialism.

Did he have the right? Yes, he had every right.

Should he have had the right? Yes, he should have had the right.

Should he have known better? Yes, he should have known better.

Manley knew the US history in Haiti, Chile, and Cuba.

And with all of that, with all that he knew, he said the word.

Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State, did not like that word. Henry Kissinger hated that word. That word made Henry Kissinger stay awake at night. That word gave Henry Kissinger hives.

Henry Kissinger, who knew how to use the CIA to destabilize even far more stable economies than ours, merely glanced at Jamaica, and we started to crumble. And, of course, there was also internal resistance.

Every Jamaican is born a Maroon.

And Manley should have known that too. He should have known that sometimes a leader, especially a Caribbean leader, needs more Anancy and less Xango.

Then, the bangarang started.

The politicians who had been in bed with the gunmen turned their boys loose and they’ve never been able to control them.

We lived through Orange Lane, Green Bay and other horrors.

The violence crept from downtown over Torrington Bridge and came uptown.

“Everywhere was war.”

The only solution was escape. We were back at the harbor with the slave ships and we weren’t waiting for the Black Star Liners. We began leaving to the Cayman Islands, New York, London, and Miami, and another diaspora began. We left for Miami on the famous “five flights,” and we left a hole in the economy and in the life of the country. A few of us have gone back, but most of us are still leaving.

“Everywhere is war.”

We’ve never really recovered from the war. It’s still going on. It was a blow to our minds, hearts, and bodies and we’re still staggering.

It’s like we were being punished in the slavedom days, and old habits die hard.

We started doing what we did during the colonial past. We’ve put social promotion and economic interests ahead of authenticity and questioning anything because on national level, we’re afraid to promote anything that will assert our collective identity.

“We don’t need no trouble.”

We’ve stopped talking. We’ve become voluntary mutes.

We’re afraid of saying anything that will upset the Big Massa because if he comes back, who knows what he’ll do this time?

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January 24, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Independence

On the night of August 6, 1962, when the Union Jack was lowered and the Jamaican flag was raised, many people woke up the next morning looking at the auction blocks of the slave trade from slightly different perspectives. Not all whites were on the European side, and not all blacks were on the African side. And within the region, the status of so-called “brown” people, who were always held suspect by both sides, brought to the fore the idea of “hybridity.” The political climate was changing and by the late sixties, and the relationship between blacks and whites was beginning to fray despite the fact that multiracial coalitions had fought for independence in many Caribbean nations.

During this period, the work of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott dominated the literary discussions of the relationship of Europe and Africa in the Caribbean. Although both poets used imagery that was drawn from the Caribbean landscape and they were consciously involved in restoring the value of the local, they held differing views on the question of "hybridity." For whereas Brathwaite’s poetry made a direct link between the Africa and the Caribbean--the Atlantic as "bridge" rather than barrier--Walcott preferred the ambiguity inherent in the question, is a West Indian black or white?

The signature poem of Walcott that illustrated his uneasiness with a monolithic racial identity was “A Far Cry from Africa,” with the confessional line, “How choose/between this Africa and the English tongue I love?" which Heather M. Bradley discusses in “Conflicting Loyalties in "A Far Cry from Africa." For Walcott, the question of a fixed racial identity in a multiracial region could never be resolved. This is not to say that the question was resolved in Brathwaite’s work. In “New World A Coming” the speaker asks, “Whose/ brother now, am I?...Whose ancestor am I?”. 

It seems obvious now, but at that time when many academicians were spouting theories about the Middle Passage and the deep "amnesiac blow" to the consciousness of New World Africans, Brathwaite staked his reputation as a poet, scholar, and historian on the connection between the Caribbean and Africa. Because of the racial tensions surrounding these writers, and what Maureen Warner-Lewis in “Africa: Submerged Mother” describes as “negrophobia,” Brathwaite’s work in “re-integrating Africa into the paradigm of Caribbean history, culture, and academic concern," was regarded as the polar opposite of Walcott's. And although both writers were involved in the issues of exploitation, resistance, control and their relationship with the community, Brathwaite was seen as more Afro-centric and "relevant." Nothing could have been further from the truth. The work of Brathwaite and Walcott exists in a continuum within the body of Caribbean literature and viewed against the writings of their contemporaries such as Eric Roach or Andrew Salkey, the patterns become clearer. 

But there are also distinct differences. Brathwaite’s experimental use of African history, myth and Jazz rhythms in The Arrivants was groundbreaking and markedly different from Walcott’s more formal explorations. But Walcott’s, Another Life which explored the birth of an artistic career, the relationship of the writer and the community, and his metaphorical use of the “amber light” of the Caribbean had its own grandeur. The similarities between their works can be seen now, but at that time, the relationship of Africa and Europe to the West Indies was perceived as a binary opposites and poets, politicians, members of the intelligentsia and the populace were taking sides.

Yet while the heady literary and racial battles of the late sixties were being raged, a Jamaican poet, Mervyn Morris, was steadily putting together a remarkable body of work. In the poem, “To An Expatriate Friend,” he describes the tensions that surrounded relationships across the racial divide.

To An Expatriate Friend

Colour meant nothing. Anyone
who wanted help, had humour or was kind
was brother to you; categories of skin
were foreign; you were colour-blind.

And then the revolution. Black
and loud the horns of anger blew
against the long oppressions; sufferers
cast of the precious values of the few.

New powers re-enslaved us all:
each person manacled in skin, in race.
You could not wear your paid up dues:
the keen discriminators typed your face.

The future darkening, you thought it time
to say good-bye. It may be you were right.
It hurt to see you go; but, more,
it hurt to see you slowly going white.

Certainly, there is humor, and ambiguity in Morris’ poem. But here is also a sense of integrity which pervades Morris’ poetry. In both tone and style, Mervyn Morris’ poetry displays a sense of fairness and authenticity and his was a much-needed voice when others it seemed were ready to plunge headlong into racial warfare.

The poetry and fiction that came out of Jamaica and the Caribbean during the late sixties/early seventies reframed identity in the context of race and many of the other concerns were subsumed into this paradigm. The question of identity was becoming more complex and the binary oppositions of white vs. black which had also alienated many Indo-Caribbean writers would be further complicated in the revolutionary seventies.

Next post: “A Terrible Beauty is Born: Jamaica in the Seventies.”


January 22, 2007

The Half That’s Never Been Told: A Fractured History

As the first New World Africans stood on the auction blocks and watched the slave ships leave the harbor, they realized that the life that they once had was now gone, and whatever new life that awaited them would never be equal to the life that they had lost. Standing on the other side of the auction blocks, the slave owners watched the same ships and knew the life that they had left behind was still out of reach, but if they exploited the land and the Africans, then they could return to the motherland as fine English “gentlemen.” From both sides of the racial divide and coupled with the human belief that life is always better somewhere else, the genesis of original sin and redemption in Jamaican culture was born: escape from the island was the only salvation. Coupled also with the deeply human desire to “make the best of a bad situation,” the two races followed a similar path of estrangement from the land. The New World Africans resisted the claims of their masters to their identity, and the masters used coercion and propaganda to control the minds, hearts, and bodies of their property. Over the next five hundred years as New World Africans and would-be English “gentlemen” eyed each other over the fence, the themes of escape, exploitation, resistance, control, and the relationship between Africans and Europeans were woven into the collective story of the island’s identity. Many of these patterns of behavior still persist and they would become especially troublesome between the decades leading up to independence and in a postcolonial Jamaica.

Colonies exist to provide cheap land and labor and a transfer of wealth to the homeland. In order to insure that this would continue into perpetuity, the British Empire and its architects drawing on their history of resistance against the Romans, Normans, and French and their study of Greek and Roman civilizations, erected an vast system of coercion and propaganda to enslave the minds, hearts, and bodies of the colonists. This along with institutionalized racism in the West Indies proved to be particularly effective in Jamaica. Resistance was crushed immediately and barbaric forms of intimidation were employed to crush any hope of freedom. Monuments to failed uprisings, whether they were the gallows, marks of the whip or amputated limbs, practically guaranteed that the “natives” would think twice about mounting an insurrection. To gain power and status under colonialism, one had to pledge allegiance in body, heart, and mind to the Empire and devalue anything that was local. In other words, to advance under the British Empire, one had to be a traitor to one’s family, community and culture. Behind all this was the belief that white bodies, minds and hearts were purer, freer, more beautiful and intelligent. These betrayals of identity led to a increased sense of separation from the land which was viewed as a product to be exploited, and in turn to an even greater sense of estrangement from their own minds, hearts, and bodies.

This combination of British colonialism and brutality also fostered the belief, which was rewarded by social and economic promotion, that British intellectual and aesthetic standards were the only measure of culture/civilization, and anything else was a pale comparison. By simultaneously robbing the colonists of the ability to defend themselves by outlawing self-defense as a threat to the Empire and by imposing foreign standards of beauty and wisdom, the “natives” found themselves in an unnatural situation. Everything that they desired (food, clothing, shelter and sex) was vulgar, base and taboo, and if they asserted their natural human dignity to defend themselves, this was seen as criminal behavior or in the other social settings as being “uppity” or in the catch phrase of Jamaican matriarchs: “Out of order!” This system of reward and punishment that favored the foreign over the local continued for at least two hundred years until political changes in Africa and India led the Empire to rethink its strategies in Jamaica which was once considered “the jewel in the Crown.”

Leading the charge against the Empire, leaders such as Norman Washington Manley realized that the belief that we were Englishmen in black skins was an insult to our bodies, minds, and hearts. Along with other regional political leaders, artists, members of the elite and the intelligentsia, Manley began to change the story about what it meant to be a West Indian and thus began the movement to decolonize the minds, bodies and hearts of West Indians. Of course, other leaders such as Marcus Garvey who had a pivotal role in the funding of the Harlem Renaissance had failed, but Garvey's failure set a precedent that would have world wide implications, especially in Africa.

Much of the pressure to change Colonial policy during the thirties through the fifties cane from an allegiance of political leaders, artists and intellectuals and began as a regional struggle with luminaries such as Albert Gomes, Alfred H. Mendes, CLR James, WT Barnes, Frank Collymore, AJ Seymour (Kyk-over-al) and Edna Manley, and they asked these questions: Is self-rule by the colonies possible? Are the “natives” capable of intellectual achievements? Can anything local be considered beautiful? Who or what is a West Indian? Jamaican writers such as Roger Mais, Andrew Salkey, Claude McKay, Louise Bennett Coverly, and George Campbell responded intuitively to restoring the dignity and value of local culture and their were equally as revoltutionary as their political counterparts. For whereas the politicians articulated the will of the people, the writers and artists captured the imagination of the people by creating works that appealed to the emotional consequences of remaining vassals of England. Manley and his cousin, Alexander Bustamante, persuaded the British that self-rule was possible while stirring up local agitation and with the artists and intellectuals changed some aspects of the Jamaican story to include indigenous characters.

By articulating the great cause/mission for their generation and providing the means/possibilities for their cause/mission to grow, the leaders united the populace, artists and intelligentsia into a single minded purpose of ridding themselves of British rule and the manifestations of British colonialism. Harnessing the power of the minds, hearts, and bodies into believing that a vision of freedom was possible and that this cause was greater than their individual lives, they became a formidable force, so than by the late fifties and early sixties, despite the history of failed uprisings such as the Morant Bay Rebellion, many Jamaicans were now willing to die, if necessary, to be free of British rule. The questions had been answered and the Crown government after making calculated political decisions and also involved economic choices, granted Jamaica independence on January 6, 1962.

The generation of leaders, artists and intellectuals that had fought to wrest power from the British had won, and the politicians became cultural icons in the story of Jamaica. Years later, Norman Washington Manley would say at his retirement, “I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica. To win political power which is the final power for the black masses of my country from which I spring. I am proud to stand here today and say to you who fought that fight with me, say it with gladness and pride: Mission accomplished for my generation.”
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January 19, 2007

The 3 O’s of Overcoming

As I thought about what happened to me at Super Perros and Mikey Jiggs’ questions, and based on my readings of Marcus Garvey, I came to this conclusion: Alex exemplifies the 3 O’s for Overcoming: Optimism, Ownership, and Opportunity©.

  • Super Perros began as a dream/ intention which Alex has nurtured through his faith, and has now been brought to fruition.
  • Part of Alex’s optimism is drawn from the story of his life, his family, and culture which he has constructed and has drawn upon to make it through the rough/bleak times.
  • Alex is willing to tell his story which will become part of the story of Colombians/immigrants who have made it in America.
  • He is willing to share his story by using bumper stickers, T-shirts, marquee, and he's not afraid to use technology to tell his story.
  • Without his faith that he could rise from selling hotdogs to one day owning the pizza store, Alex would have given up a long time ago. If he had thought things would never change, they wouldn’t have.

  • Alex’s personal initiative is what drives all of his actions. If anything is to be done, it begins with Alex. He picks ups the garbage around his store.
  • Alex values his work and his place within his family and community. This is reciprocated by his family and community.
  • He values cultural icons.
  • By his will and imagination (fed by his culture), he has constructed an identity within his story and the story of his people which has manifested itself in everything that he says and does. This identity allows him to use the positive (growth-affirming) elements in his culture and to reject the false claims to his identity—drug dealer. Even the jokes about Calenos are used positively because he punctuates his story with, “Si, claro. Yo soy un Caleno”—“I am a Caleno.”
  • Alex has chosen a vocation about which he is passionate, and he has worked hard—sometimes impossible hours.
  • He has high expectations of himself which have been nurtured by his family, community, and culture.
  • With the support of his family and his community, who have invested time and money into his business, Alex has been able to grow and expand. He’s thinking of opening a Super Perros in Jacksonville, Florida. He fosters these strong relationships.
  • Alex believed that in America he had the opportunity to better himself economically. This is part of the American story that it is the “land of opportunity” –it is part of the American fabric. He made use of the banking system and credit to help him along the way.
I will never forget the story that one of my students told me about when he as in his country. An American kid had come to his school and after being in the class for only a month, the American kid decided that he was going to be the class president when they held the elections.

Everyone was shocked.

The nerve. These Americans. Everyone knew that Little so-and-so, who was the son of Mr. Big So-and-So, was going to be the class president, and no one dared to oppose him. Little so-and-so was ordained to be class president. 

Unfortunately, no one told the American kid.

Of course, the American kid lost.

But it taught my student something about Americans and about himself. All he had to do was dare. The world didn’t come crashing down. It was a lesson he never forgot.

  • What are the stories that we believe about Jamaica/the Caribbean?
  • Are these stories true?
  • How did these stories that we believe come about?
  • Who started them? When were they started? Why?
  • Why do we believe them? Were they ever true?
  • If the stories are not true, why do we continue to tell them?
  • If the stories are not true, what are the benefits for us to continue believing them?
  • How can we apply ownership, optimism, and opportunity to the situation in Jamaica and the Caribbean?
  • What other questions, Dear Reader, have I missed?

The next few posts will briefly recap how Caribbean storytellers have attempted to tell our story from the early fifties until now, and some of the difficulties and triumphs of this journey. Naturally, it will be a history that reveals my biases. Full disclosure (and not the Full Monty) next week.

Have a great weekend.
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January 18, 2007

Quincy Troupe @ Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Presented by

Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Inc. in partnership with Old School Square Cultural Arts Center

January 24-27, 2007

Old School Square Cultural Arts Center, 51 North Swinton Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444

Call Crest Theatre Box Office for Tickets, 561 243-7922 ext 1














Underwritten by

Morgan Stanley, The Palm Beach Post, WXEL-Radio & TV,

The Palm Beach County Cultural Council and Books & Books


Third Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival
January 24-27, 2007

Tickets now on sale at the Crest Theatre Box Office
51 North Swinton Avenue, Delray Beach, FL 33444
Call 561 243-7922 ext. 1

Schedule of Public Events

Wednesday, January 24

8:00-10:00 p.m. Quincy Troupe & Dorianne Laux Reading*

Thursday, January 25

10:00 a.m.-12:00 noon Craft Talks*:
"The Marriage of Music and Meaning" by Dorianne Laux
"Love's Artifice and Fernando Pessoa" by Stephen Dunn

8:00-10:00 p.m. Thomas Lux & Heather McHugh Reading*

Friday, January 26

3:00-5:00 p.m. Florida Poets Reading: Barbara Hamby & David Kirby*

8:00-10:00 p.m. Alan Shapiro & Mark Doty Reading*

Saturday, January 27

10:00-10:30 a.m. Palm Beach County High Schools
Poetry Contest Awards Ceremony (Public free event)

10:30 a.m.-12:00 noon Reading by Workshop-Participant Poets (Public free event)

3:00-5:00 p.m. Favorite Poems by Others Read and Discussed by
Mark Doty, Thomas Lux, Heather McHugh,
Alan Shapiro, Quincy Troupe, & Ellen Bryant Voigt*

7:30-9:30 p.m. Ellen Bryant Voigt & Stephen Dunn Reading*

9:30-11:30 p.m. Coffee House where jazz, art and language meet:
Featured readers: Jeffrey McDaniel & Patricia Smith**

*Denotes Crest Theatre ticketed event open to public;
** Denotes Vintage Gymnasium event, admission payable at door.
Book signings follow every reading.

The Third Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival is presented by Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Inc.
in partnership with Old School Square Cultural Arts Center.

Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Inc. is a Florida nonprofit corporation, tax-exempt pursuant to Section 501(c)(3)
of the Internal Revenue Code and is a member of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.
All donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law


Picture of Jamaican Poet, Tony McNeill

Jamaican Poet Tony McNeillFirst, give thanks to Mervyn Taylor for sending me this picture of Tony McNeill, one of the most talented poets to emerge from Jamaica and the Caribbean. (See also Fragano Ledgister's updated livication)

I have been scouring the web and other places trying to find images of Tony, and finally Olivier Stephenson suggested that I ask Mervyn. I did and here it is.

There may be better pictures of Tony out there and if they are, please send me the link. You know I will give you the credit. One of the aims of this blog is to preserve the work and images of poets like Jamaican/Caribbean poets like Tony McNeill. Especially, Tony McNeill.

I hope Mervyn will forgive me for quoting from the note he sent me:

"Where is my Tess? referring to his series of poems concerning Tess (Tess of the D'Ubervilles) as the elusive quintessential woman. He remained always "deep in poetry"... Tony obsessed with language and poetry to the point of provoking laughter, so removed he was at times was from the world. But no one ever could deny the intrinsic beauty and deadly accuracy of his poems (as in "The Lady Accepts the Needle Again").

One Love.

January 17, 2007

An Open Letter to Mikey Jiggs

Super PerrosDear Mikey Jiggs,


Mikey, you may be wondering what this picture has to do with anything, but on December 15, 2006, you asked me some questions that have bothered me into 2007. I’ll try to answer some of the questions in a way that I’ve always used to figure things out. I’ll tell you a story. This picture is part of the story.

Last year when my daughter, Anna, graduated from FSU, our tribe (my wife, our three children, abuela, and three aunts ) visited a little Colombian restaurant in Tallahassee, Florida. I’d told my daughter that we wanted to eat in an inexpensive restaurant, but the food had to be good. Anna said, “I know just the place that you’re looking for,” and she took us to Super Perros.

As we pulled up to the restaurant, it wasn’t exactly the kind of place I’d thought about celebrating my daughter’s graduation, and Anna sensing my trepidation said, “Don’t worry, Dad. It will be all right.” I trusted her judgment, but I wanted to know some more about the restaurant. I asked her how she had discovered Super Perros, and she told me that whenever she and her friends wanted a place to sit, eat and enjoy some music, they always came to Super Perros. She also thought it was a good place for her abuela, who is from Colombia, to try some of the dishes such as papa criolla, empanadas, and arepas made Colombian style. Abuela loved the idea.

We parked the cars and walked inside the restaurant and it was like we had been transported to a small restaurant in Colombia: the sights, sounds and smells overwhelmed us. The owner, Alex, talked with us as we ordered the food, then escorted us out to the patio, and then asked us if we’d like to listen to any special music. My wife suggested the Carlos Vives CD that we had in our car, and Alex put it on his stereo system.

By the time Alex came back, we had already started eating, abuela asked about the papa criolla—it didn’t taste like the ones she’s had in Miami, but tasted more like the kind she’s eaten in Colombia. Alex told her that many restaurants used either the canned or bottled papas (potatoes), but he imported most of the ingredients from Colombia. She was impressed and asked him about the cost and how he got started. Alex was only too willing to share his story.

Super Perros started as a dream in Alex’s head. He sold hot dogs and hamburgers outside his house and soon ventured to other locations. Every day as he passed by a pizza store where Superperros now stands, he told himself, “One day. One day.” He said he worked like a dog for six months pushing the cart and nothing was working, and he thought of giving up. His wife said one word, constancia (consistency). He went back to work and redoubled his efforts.

Soon word spread about the great food that this Colombian guy was selling from a hot dog stand. Two customers became four; four became eight and so on. Soon Alex had enough money for a down payment to buy the pizza store and give up the hot dog stand about which some of his friends had teased him. Alex is from Cali, Colombia, and there is a joke that if you go to the middle of the desert, you will find a Caleno with a stand selling something.

Alex redecorated the store with photographs of Colombia, Botero prints, and indigenous ceramic sculptures. He also sold T-shirts with Hecho en Colombia (Made in Colombia) on the front and Super Perros on the back. Abuela bought a T-shirt that she now wears proudly. Alex is proud of his accomplishments and that pride is extended to other Colombians and is reflected in the way he advertises his business. In addition to the marquee, Alex has Super Perros signs on his car, a small sign at the entrance, and the web site.

And, of course, the food was scrumptious. We devoured the papa criollas, arepas, drank Colombia beer and soft drinks while we listened to Carlos Vives.

As I sat there listening to the vallenatos, I asked myself why can’t we do this in Jamaica? Of course, I knew people like Albert Lee and several other entrepreneurs had done this in Miami, but why couldn’t these results be replicated in Jamaica?

As I was wondering about this, my thoughts were interrupted by a group of Colombians, Anna’s friends, who had come to Super Perros to celebrate their daughter’s graduation. I had to stop slouching, thinking, and drinking beer. People from Bogota, Colombia are very formal. When I was in Bogota, the man who cut the lawn took off his shirt and jacket to cut the lawn, and when he was finished came back to the front door in his shirt and jacket.

Abuela greeted them and after the introductions, my sister in law talked with one of the parents who had just come back from Colombia about life in their country, the drug dealers and the continuing effects of La Violencia. They exchanged stories, gossiped and laughed. When they left, I went back to slouching and thinking about the Philps and the Patinos who have been united by histories of civil wars, drug dealing, spiraling murder rates, and creativity. And I thought about your questions, Mikey. I wondered how I could translate this “event in consciousness” into language.

Of course, I’ve chosen to blog about it and this is one way about talking about your questions, which are really questions about identity.This story is merely to set the groundwork for the discussion, and an example of how a choice in creating an identity can have a positive result.

In the next few posts, I’ll try to answer these questions from the perspective of the three subjects that have shaped my life: my family, my country, and my writing. Your questions are also similar to the concerns raised in Olivier’s post: Who are we? Where have we been? Where are we going? Why have we stopped asking these questions?


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