June 28, 2010

What Does it Mean to be a Caribbean-American?: Malachi Smith


Perhaps one of the most difficult questions I have attempted to answer in quite a while is this one: What is it like to be a Caribbean-American? Two separate and distinct worlds colliding and combining in the thoughts of a being who also is the product of an earlier synthesis, the African/European Slave Trade.

As I began the quest of finding the answer, which seemed quite simple, I suddenly realized that it wouldn’t be as easy as I’d thought. It was the type of question that demanded brutal honesty that I would rather leave in the lines of my writings. Nevertheless, I had accepted the task and I decided to honor the commitment.

I began by asking myself the question over and over, softly, loudly, and in a whisper. A voice began answering my interrogation, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I decided to walk away from the exercise and return to the task at a more opportune time.

I turned on the television set in my living room, kicked back, and started watching the opening concert for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. As faith would have it, I caught the South African singer Vusi Mahlasela doing his set:  

“I maybe walking the streets of Amsterdam  
But my footsteps and heartbeat says Africa."

I began conquering the question. You see the realities of the upheavals in the Caribbean Basin in the seventies and eighties have contributed significantly to my new identity “African-Caribbean-American.”  I left home physically, but mentally “yard” is alive in my being.

Coming to America has contributed enormously to my intellectual growth and maturity. It has afforded me opportunities that I wouldn’t have back home. However, I feel exiled at times. My colleagues and I have been serious contributors to many groups and organizations, but when the accolades are being handed out, we are usually the least recognized or our names are conveniently left off the letterheads of the board of directors. These realities serve as constant reminders that though we are members, we are still outsiders to the club. Still, I feel honored and blessed as many of my fellow Caribbean nationals, including Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Claude McKay, were also “African-Caribbean-Americans”  

So, although I am weeping by the rivers of Babylon, my heart is somewhere in an East Indian mango tree in the Caribbean.

About the author:

An alumnus of Florida International University, Miami-Dade College and Jamaica School of Drama, Malachi was one of the founding members of Poets In Unity, a critically acclaimed ensemble that brought dub-poetry to the forefront of reggae music in the late 70s and carried it forward for a decade.  Malachi has also performed as an actor and poet, and is an accomplished writer, publishing and performing his own plays and poetry. He has also become known for his performances in other theatrical productions and on radio, television, and live theatre.

Malachi has won many medals and awards for his writing. In 2005, he appeared in New York and several venues in Florida. He headlined the International Dub-Poetry Festival in Toronto and he performed at the Love-In Festival in Miami with Richie Heavens and other greats. He also made three appearances in New York.  

In 2003, Malachi was a featured performer in Baltimore at that city’s Black History Month tribute to Bob Marley, and at the Manhattan Center in New York. For 2003, Malachi has also performed at the prestigious Broward Center of the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is scheduled for the African-Can-Do Festival in Miami on July 26, and he is booked to appear in the city of Tampa on August 1.  Malachi toured St. Kitts and Nevis in the summer of 2000 to rave reviews.

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June 25, 2010

Anancy Festival: June 26, 2010


Saturday, June 26, 2010 

Time: 1.00 pm – 4.00 pm 

South Regional/Broward College Library 
7300 Pines Boulevard, 
Pembroke Pines, FL 33024 
Telephone: 954-201-8825 


June 23, 2010

Anancy: Sins of Omission

Best Anancy

During the late seventies, Dennis Brown, "The Crown Prince of Reggae," released "What About the Half (That's Never Been Told?), and it was an instant hit in Jamaica. The song's immediate popularity was due in part to not only Brown’s singing, but also his ability to convey the disenfranchisement of many Afro-Jamaicans from the story of their homelands--both physical and mythical. Intuitively, Dennis Brown had joined a long line of writers and artists from the Caribbean such as C.L. R. James, Rex Nettleford, Ivan van Sertima, Martin Carter, and Kamau Brathwaite who have sought to give a more complete picture of Africans in the New World and the damning effects of what one of my teachers, who loved to correct my grammatical mistakes by references to Greek or Latin, would have deemed “sins of omission."

Bongo Jerry, who coined the term "Mabrak," would not have been so kind. He, like the dub poet Mutabaruka, would have called it the "white-washing" of history. Of course, the first time I heard about this so-called "white-washing" I didn't believe him or Muta. In fact, during my evangelical days, I had a spirited discussion with an old dread who said something like this: "The white man say 'The west is best,' but InI say, 'The west is a beast that is out to kill black people." I didn't believe him and thought he was barking mad. Our conversation ended with the old dread using a proverb that Bob Marley would later turn into song, "Time will Tell."

Well, time has told and the old dread was right. For the more I kept exploring our mythological/cultural heritage through Anancy stories--which along with "Big Boy" stories were staples of the "other half" of my imagination--the more I've seen how these "sins of omission" have affected my work as a writer of literary fiction and children's literature. For if the twin aims of my children's stories are to teach somebodyness and that every seeming obstacle can be overcome with the imagination, then I had to solve certain inconsistencies that were readily apparent in the trickster tales of Anancy.

And that was the first problem. Anancy was a trickster and tricksters rarely fit our neat moral categories. Anancy came to Jamaica via the Middle Passage and contrary to Derek Walcott's assertions about a "deep amnesiac blow," the spider god survived the Atlantic holocaust. Of course, depending on the dominant religion, the degree of religious/cultural syncretization differed from island to island. Despite the conflation of the legends of Anansi and Eshu into Anancy stories in Protestant Jamaica, Anancy laughed at our human silliness from the ceilings of our homes. In Catholic Cuba, Eshu was transformed into St. Anthony of Padua, but in Haiti, home of the Jacobin revolution, Papa Legba was allowed to roam the hills and valleys. What's important to note, however, is that in all three manifestations the trickster figure, a symbol of the imagination and according to Yoruba legend, possessor of `ashe, was a highly revered.

In fact, in all Voudoun and Lukumi (Santeria) ceremonies Eleggua or Papa Legba is the first orisha that is acknowledged and the last to be praised for he is the intermediary between the Supreme Being Olódùmarè and humans. And like all tricksters, he is fickle, childlike, and has an enormous appetite. For example, among the Winnebago, the trickster Coyote is renown for his lustful appetite and enormous phallus.

Thankfully, I didn't have to confront the issue of sexuality with Anancy and only had to deal with his gluttony. But how do you "tame" a trickster like Anancy for a children's book, especially when they are amoral figures? How do you justify Anancy's waxing off crocodile's children in "Anancy and Crocodile"? Crocodiles are nasty creatures and we should fear them, but in a child's imagination crocodiles have feelings too.

The only rationalization that I could give was that Anancy's gluttony was the shadow aspect of the archetypal trickster in the same way that the thuggish behavior of dancehall is the shadow of Xango.

Still, the question bothered me as continued the process of what Walcott could have called a “pathetic African phase." I re-discovered Anancy in my readings of  James George Frazer, Carl Jung, Carol Pearson, Lewis Hyde and Joseph Campbell. Slowly, the riddle of the trickster’s gluttony was solved when I read Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson: "His [Eshu's] terrifying gluttony had therefore concealed an abundant generosity…the fact that he can take anything away--or give it back" (22).

The answer had been staring me in the face all along. But I couldn't decipher the meaning--much in the same way that I had to come to America to recognize the significance of Kamau Brathwaite's poem, "Legba":

Today god came to church 
like a lame old man on a crutch.

He had fought in the last war
and has ribbons to show for

it; knows Burma, Malaya and has been
to Singapore; gets a small pension

but apart form that
not very much attention.

I had been in the same condition of the congregants and the children in Brathwaite's poem: blind to the spider god’s creative divinity. In the many stories that I had read about Anancy, the spiritual/mystical dimension of Anancy's appetite had never been explained. I was seeing only one side of Eshu's hat.

Diminishment is the first step in the process of controlling either a person or a nation. Whether by omission or commission only one "half" of the Anancy story has been told. The mystical aspects of the archetype, imagination and creativity, have been lost. We are the worse for it even as we continue to privilege western philosophies, many of which have their roots in Greek mythologies. We ignore the simple fact that all mythologies and religions (Latin religio: to link) seek to answer the basic questions about our relationship with each other and our place in the universe. Our preferences define us.

It is also interesting to note that in the Greek tradition, Hermes (a trickster), is linked to commerce. This indicates that the Greek genius discerned the connection between material wealth and the imagination. And the gods, as Joseph Campbell has argued, are the many facets ("masks') of what Carl Jung has dubbeds humanity’s archetypal "collective unconscious.”. In other words, the more we diminish these "divine" abilities expressed in culture, the more we lessen our ability to celebrate ourselves. And in the case of Anancy, our imagination and creativity.


Saturday, June 26th, 2010 
Time: 1.00 pm – 4.00 pm 

South Regional/Broward College Library 
7300 Pines Boulevard, 
Pembroke Pines, FL 33024 

Telephone: 954-201-8825 


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June 21, 2010

Book Review: Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez

“Over there in America, I’m a Caribbean-American, but that hyphen always bother me. It’s a bridge, but somehow I think there is a gap on either end of the hyphen. Sometimes I think if I am not careful, I can fall between those spaces and drown” (347).

Paul Bishop, the speaker in this section of Anna In-Between, voices the apprehension of many Caribbean-Americans about the lack of rootedness they encounter in North America and it is one of the themes in the latest novel by award winning novelist, Elizabeth Nunez. But to limit any reading of the novel to yet another treatise on Caribbean alienation in a metropolitan country would be to miss the intricacies of Nunez’s storytelling. For Anna In-Between is a novel filled with intriguing characters written by a author with a catholic literary imagination.

It is tempting to think of Anna In-Between as merely the story about a Trinidadian woman, Anna Sinclair, who returns to the island for a vacation only to discover that her mother, Beatrice Sinclair (with whom she has never been close) has breast cancer, and to watch how the family members cope with the disturbing change. But in this aptly named novel, Nunez explores nearly every variation of Anna’s in-between-ness through highly charged scenes and with characters perfectly suited to explore the ideas that Nunez presents in the novel.

As a highly literate protagonist, Anna Sinclair, a senior editor at Equiano Books and who is fast approaching mid-life, is caught between the limiting stereotypes of African-Americans, “For in America she is black, and in America the ways of black people have been defined, set in stone,” and Caribbean-Americans, “Is a true West Indian woman one who plasters her face with make-up, layering her cheeks with rouge, her lips with bright red lipstick?” (75). Anna bristles at either definition, for she is in many ways a crossroads figure and as such possesses a Janus-like capacity for being able to comprehend disparate points of view.

As a member of a privileged class in Trinidad, Anna is also caught between the democratic ideals of North America and the old colonial values that are preserved by compliance with unspoken rules of privacy and “knowing one’s place” (26). In her discussion with Singh, the family gardener, the social inequity is placed in stark contrast:

“How casually she accepts that. He knows his place. Her friends in America would be shocked to hear she thinks this way, her African American friends especially… but having a place and knowing where others are in relation to one’s place is to have the comfort that order brings, the reassurance of stability” (26).

Anna is able to parse the difference between privacy and intimacy in the relationship of her mother, Beatrice Sinclair, and her father, John Sinclair, another theme that Nunez explores throughout the novel. “This obsession with privacy” (73) is carried to absurd lengths when Anna’s father, John Sinclair, becomes aware of his wife’s cancer: “I saw blood on my vest, he says,” (57), yet John Sinclair does not say or do anything to violate his wife’s sense of privacy.

 When Anna confronts her father, whom she had always adored, she is flabbergasted by his response:

“You saw blood on a vest she wore. Blood, Daddy?”
“I knew she would tell me when she was ready.”
“But you must have known…?”
“Yes.” It is a simple acknowledgement of information he has kept to himself” (57).
Nunez’s prose cuts through many of the social hierarchies that still divide post-colonial Trinidad and the West Indies. The characters “know their place” and do not want to disturb the boundaries. Anna, on the other hand, while cognizant of the social constraints tries to break through her parents’ frame of reference because of the limits they place on her connection with her mother, who enforces colonial mores in nearly every social interaction: “In my day,” she says, “mothers did not do that; they did not hug and kiss their children. The queen…” (317).

To which Anna counters:
“She was protecting her progeny.”
“I don’t know what you mean.’
“Lust,” Anna says.
“They weren’t as lucky as we are. They didn’t have birth control. So no hugging or kissing relatives. Not even your children. It was one way to prevent pregnancy, to keep bad thoughts out of the minds of relatives” (318).
I usually develop an immediate disdain for books in which the main character is a writer or editor, but in the case of Anna Sinclair, Nunez has found a character perfectly suited to deconstruct ideas about class, race, and socio-economic relationships in the Caribbean and North America. Anna’s knowledge of literature (from Shakespeare to Derek Walcott) and music (from Bach to Nat King Cole and calypso) doesn’t seem forced and her musings place the action within a historical and cultural context. With Anna In-Between, Elizabeth Nunez, the author of many other award winning novels such as Prospero’s Daughter, has written the quintessential Caribbean-American novel.


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June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day (2010)

Dada and Anna

Sydney Philp

He always welcomed
uncommon joy in his arms,
cradling sweet mercies.


June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday (2010)

Preparatory to anything else Mr Bloom brushed off the greater bulk of the shavings and handed Stephen the hat and ashplant and bucked him up generally in orthodox Samaritan fashion which he very badly needed. His (Stephen's) mind was not exactly what you would call wandering but a bit unsteady and on his expressed desire for some beverage to drink Mr Bloom in view of the hour it was and there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes hit upon an expedient by suggesting, off the reel, the propriety of the cabman's shelter, as it was called, hardly a stonesthrow away near Butt bridge where they might hit upon some drinkables in the shape of a milk and soda or a mineral. But how to get there was the rub. For the nonce he was rather nonplussed but inasmuch as the duty plainly devolved upon him to take some measures on the subject he pondered suitable ways and means during which Stephen repeatedly yawned. So far as he could see he was rather pale in the face so that it occurred to him as highly advisable to get a conveyance of some description which would answer in their then condition, both of them being e.d.ed, particularly Stephen, always assuming that there was such a thing to be found. Accordingly after a few such preliminaries as brushing, in spite of his having forgotten to take up his rather soapsuddy handkerchief after it had done yeoman service in the shaving line, they both walked together along Beaver street or, more properly, lane as far as the farrier's and the distinctly fetid atmosphere of the livery stables at the corner of Montgomery street where they made tracks to the left from thence debouching into Amiens street round by the corner of Dan Bergin's. But as he confidently anticipated there was not a sign of a Jehu plying for hire anywhere to be seen except a fourwheeler, probably engaged by some fellows inside on the spree, outside the North Star hotel and there was no symptom of its budging a quarter of an inch when Mr Bloom, who was anything but a professional whistler, endeavoured to hail it by emitting a kind of a whistle, holding his arms arched over his head, twice.


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June 14, 2010

What is a Caribbean Classic?: Charmaine Valere

Charmaine Valere

Huck Finn in the tropics?

So I’m having a conversation with a friend about our favourite books of all time, and he says one of his is Huckleberry Finn. Now he has never studied literature in America, and his literature studies in the Caribbean were not American-bent. In fact, the books he read in school included works by Naipaul, Selvon, Rhone, and others from the Caribbean. That he not only read Huck Finn (1885), but also identified with its characters and messages, is testament to the power of a literary classic.

The power to transcend time and place (have a certain universal appeal) though, is probably the latter part of the story about what comprises a classic work of literature. A classic should first capture the essence of a particular time and place, it should express some artistic quality, it should have been around long enough to stand the test of time and to merit lasting recognition, and it should make connections between other writers and other great works of literature (i.e., show some acknowledgement of previous greats).

The caveat…

I’d have very little problems identifying and discussing the classic qualities of many of the canonized works by American writers, particularly the ones that are forever on the syllabi of literature courses in American high schools, colleges and universities, but, I don’t feel as comfortable talking about Caribbean classics. I’m also not comfortable applying the definition I give above to the Caribbean classic. I am not implying that the Caribbean classic should be held to some lesser standard of assessment; I’m simply being cautious about applying my mostly Westernized way of thinking (and way of applying paradigms) to writings that I am not ready to assess collectively in a theoretic manner.

For one thing, the Caribbean classics I can talk about to some degree are relatively new—the oldest dates back 70 years or so, and most of the others are from the 1980s—which would make them modern classics or contemporary classics. Plus, it’s questionable how well-known the Caribbean classics I’ll mention are. Some may have had more “outside” than local appeal. So, there must necessarily be at least two asterisks to applying my definition of classic to the Caribbean classic: having stood the test of time is relative to the age of the “canon,” and “universal appeal” is relative to a variety of factors concerning where and how the classic was published and shared…

(Huge mouthful for tek wha me seh wid a dose a salts.)

But on with it anyway...

I would personally enjoy discussing the classic qualities of Naipaul’s Miguel Street, Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain, or Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, but duty beckons elsewhere. My signifyin’ Guyana journey dictates that I focus on works by Guyanese writers—-a journey that is by no means over and is therefore incomplete.

Who and what amongst Guyanese writers and writing should be considered classic?

Edgar Mittelholzer, of course. He is credited with being the first professional novelist to come out of the English-speaking Caribbean. His themes, which capture a certain mood and sentiment of the Berbice area in Guyana’s history, as well as his handling of a broader condition of ethnic identity in Guyana, ethnic relations, and folklore in My Bones and My Flute (1955), Corentyne Thunder (1941), and Shadows Move Among Them (1951)--full of influences from Edgar Allen Poe and other greats of the mystery / macabre genre--would certainly earn him a place on a list of Caribbean classics.

Another indisputable classic Guyanese writer would be Martin Carter whose collection of Poems of Resistance from British Guyana (1954) captures the essence of a particular and a general colonial experience in Guyana.

Ian McDonald, described by Jamaican professor and scholar, Edward Baugh, as the Robert Frost of South America, would also be undeniably deserving of a place on a list of Caribbean classics. His poems and short stories, which span an impressive length of time—-from the 1950s to the present—-are marked with Caribbean characters and places that should be fittingly memorialized in a Caribbean canon of classic writing. So too are David Dabydeen’s characters in his early works-—particularly those in Coolie Odyssey—-deserving of a place in a Caribbean canon of classic writing.

Walter Rodney is probably best know for his political activism, and his style of sharing and developing his beliefs about race, politics, culture, e.t.c., and much of his style, his art of argumentation (Socratic mostly) can be found in his writing. His influential argument of the nature of the slave trade in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa should definitely be included in a list of Caribbean classic writings.

A major portion of Guyanese art was created to be experienced visually or aurally. Because of that much of the groundbreaking work by influential artists—poets, playwrights, e.t.c.—was never made into “book” form. Should that fact exclude them from being considered in a category of Caribbean classic writing? Some may understandably say yes. After all, any work deemed classic should be visible to all and should be in a form which can easily be passed on if it truly merits lasting recognition. Much of Wordsworth McAndrew’s work is not in collected written form, at least not yet. But we do have many anthologized sightings of his “Ol’ Higue,” which has stood the test of time as a standard form of storytelling that includes elements of folklore and the didactic. “Ol’ Higue” certainly belongs in a canon of Caribbean classic.

A major portion of stellar Guyanese writing is being done outside of Guyana. No surprise there considering migration numbers that continue to rise decade after decade. Two Guyanese writers—John Agard and Grace Nichols—have lived in the UK since the 1970s and have steadily been producing recognizably good work since the 1980s. Agard’s poem “Half-caste,” a series of musings on identity by a person of mixed ethnicity is a fixed presence on the English GCSE syllabus. His major themes of recovery from cultural / historical loss and ethnic identity have made him universally appealing, and he is deserving of being included in a list of Caribbean classics. So too is his partner Grace Nichols, whose collection I is a Long Memoried Woman (1983) won a Commonwealth prize (among other awards and praise). She has been recognized for her spirited handlings of gender, body, and identity in her works.

An abrupt ending for now...

Any list of Caribbean classics ultimately has to be the responsibility of Caribbean people wherever we are. And we’re not only responsible for creating a canon, but also for passing it on, discussing it, writing essays and dissertations on it, reading and rereading it, keeping it in print or visible in some form, and adding to it as time goes on.

What I have said here is but a small part of what should be an ongoing, multi-faceted act of preservation and pride in our art forms.

About the author:

Charmaine Valere is a literature adjunct professor at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. Born in Guyana, she writes about Guyanese and Caribbean literature at www.signifyinguyana.typepad.com.

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June 11, 2010

Back in Print: A Morning at the Office by Edgar Mittelholzer

If ever there was a Caribbean classic, A Morning at the Office is surely one of them.

From four minutes to seven, when the aspiring black office-boy, Horace Xavier, opens up the premises of Essential Products Ltd in Port of Spain in 1947 and leaves a love poem in the in-tray of the unattainable, high-brown Nanette Hinckson, to noon when the poetic Miss Jagabir is the last to leave for lunch, the reader is privy to the interactions and inner feelings of the characters who make up the office’s microcosm.

Expatriate English, Coloured Creoles of various shades, Chinese, East Indians and Trinidadian Blacks (and a sympathetically presented gay man), all find ample scope for schemes and fantasies – and wounded feelings when they think their positions on the scale of colour and class are being incorrectly categorised, or when those at the bottom are reminded of their position.

Enlivened by the inventive device of “telescopic objectivity” and a humane comedic touch, Mittelholzer’s classic novel of 1950 challenges the present to declare honestly whether his news is old.

Edgar Mittelholzer was born in British Guiana in 1909. He wrote more than twenty novels. He eventually settled in England, where he lived until his death in 1965, a suicide predicted in several of his novels.


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June 9, 2010

What Does it Mean to be a Caribbean-American?: Chris Daley

Chris Daley

A Journey from Cultural Schizophrenia to Winning Wholeness
Chris Daley

Caribbean-American, the hyphenated identity may enlarge your title, but it can give one BCS (Borderline Cultural Schizophrenia). Sure, it is easy to enjoy the spicy foods, go to the cultural events, and wear the alluring fashions.  These are wonderful external expressions. The more difficult, yet enduring quality is to possess a heart that thinks and a head that feels full with one’s personhood, shaped by our cultural influences.  It is to journey into a growing comfort and inner confidence in which we are fully alive without being a prisoner to the expectation of others.

I have a favorite story of Far East origin that I will adapt to capture the essence of finding one’s true identity.  As the story goes, an orphan lion cub was adopted by a herd of goats. He did all the normal goat stuff, eat grass, bleat their language, etc. Then one day, the king lion appeared on the scene. All the goats scattered, except the orphan cub.  The cub was not certain what he should be feeling, fear or friendliness, so he kept his head down, and continued to nibble on the grass stubs.

The king lion barked at him asking about this ridiculous goat masquerade the cub was involved in.  The cub did not know how to respond, so the king took him over to a nearby pool, and let him view both their reflections side by side.  The cub still did not get it, so the king gave him a piece of meat.  The cub initially spit it out in disgust.  The king gave him another slab of meat and ordered that he give it a fair try.  The cub gingerly complied and started to chew. His taste buds warmed to the new diet.  Finally, he started digging his claws, and wagging his tail.  The young cub finally raised his head and the jungle trembled with his thunderous roar.

As Caribbean-Americans we find ourselves somewhere along this lion-goat spectrum. Some choose to live with a surface identity, not really delving deeply into personhood, but merely surviving the life circumstances.  The mantra is, live in the land of goats, be a goat.

Then there are those who nibble grass that neither nourishes nor satisfies, but know that there is a latent roar inside awaiting its liberating expression.

So how do you get to a place of wholeness? What developmental roadmap can be used for this journey?

It has been said that 80% of what we do is directed by our subconscious mind, so we need to begin with being purposeful about our operating system.  We need to nurture our guiding system with a determination to be fully alive and leverage the strengths of our heritage.

The symbol of the coconut tree within our Caribbean consciousness gives me an object to emulate. The coconut tree possesses two aspiring characteristics: roots and reach.  We may remember the song about coconut water being good for your daughter, but O the tree!

You will find this tree striving in an environment of sand, salt, and rocks, where most other trees are absent.  When the fury of the hurricane comes, and all other living things scamper for the tall grass, there is the coconut tree, bending but not breaking under the storm’s battering force. Its lanky regal body, its flexibility while remaining rooted, its ability to minimize its exposure to the elements, and it’s craftiness in allowing the fury to pass through it which such championship qualities. When the calm and sunshine returns, it is the first to say welcome back!

We live in a world where category five storms pound our being in so many arenas of life. Our staying power will be determined by our ability to be like the coconut tree.

As a Caribbean American, I want to be fully embracing of the unique perspective my heritage has afforded me and to provide a compelling voice in a society seeking solutions to a chaotic world.

About the author:

Chris Daley is a Caribbean-American whose roots hail from Jamaica.  He is a patent examiner at the US Patent office and provides small business marketing solutions with focus on internet marketing.  He is a blogger at Jamaicans.com where he focuses on education, entrepreneurship, and profiling of individuals who are making a difference in community development both in Jamaica and in the Diaspora.

Blog: http://blogs.jamaicans.com/metinking/
Website: www.yourinternetenergizer.com


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June 8, 2010

Laurelle “Yaya” Richards (1955-2010)


Laurelle “Yaya” Richards was Herself a “Community Center”

by Lasana M. Sekou

The St. Martin folklorist Laurelle Richards, affectionately known island-wide as “Yaya,” passed away on May 26, 2010 and was laid to rest in Marigot on June 4. She was 55 years old. 

Laurelle Richards was born on April 28, 1955 in Freetown, the first of nine children to Alvira Bryan and Albert Richards. At age 14, while she was attending elementary school, Laurelle obtained her sewing diploma from Clara Mingo. At age 16, she left the Girls School of Marigot to help her parents raise her brothers and sisters—which included making the family’s clothes. At the time her father was a construction sub-contractor, and her mother worked in housekeeping at La Samanna resort.

In 1972, Laurelle began what she called her “first job training,” making pizza and serving as a waitress at the Portofino restaurant/guesthouse at Mt. O’reilly. When her mother passed away in 1974, Laurelle found employment in housekeeping at La Samanna.

In 1988, after the death of her husband and now a mother herself, Laurelle obtained her taxi license. (She was still an independent taxi driver and worked at La Samanna at the time of her death.) In keeping with a deathbed promise to her mother to “always” keep her “brothers and sisters united,” her family would gather “once a week” for dinner at each other’s homes in Freetown, a hamlet of St. Louis.

In 1990, Laurelle founded the Cultural Women Association of Rambaud-Saint Louis to promote domestic knowledge of traditional cooking, folk and carnival costuming; and how herbs, ground provisions, and fruits were used in both villages and generally on the island. Around 2006, Laurelle became a founding member of the Rambaud St-Louis Fête Association, a cultural promotion group of which she was the president. On May 17, nearly 10 days before her passing both associations joined forces to hold the annual cook-out of traditional foods that Yaya was famous for organizing under or around an ancient tamarind tree in St. Louis. She called that “tamon” tree the “community center.”

Schools and cultural organizations from both parts of St. Martin regularly invited Laurelle Richards to exhibit and talk about the nation’s folklife. In 2002, with the recital of “The Frock,” Laurelle’s poems began to evolve out of what may be called her “Spoken Word” presentations. The story-filled dress that she wore also became more characteristic of her public performance persona. In 2009, she was a special guest poet at the Poetry in the Garden series, organized in Marigot by the arts and culture department of the Collectivité Territoriale.

In April 2010, Yaya appeared at Miss Ruby’s cultural retreat in Friar’s Bay and stunned audiences with her “modeling” of the “pantylette,” stitching humor and sensual elements into an original vignette. Audience members who had seen her in Clara Reyes’ record-attendance Vagina Monologues in 2007 and 2008, were already prepared for her style of dramatizing the “private” and “ordinary” parts of traditional St. Martin with extraordinary personal affect. Essentially, as a folklorist she projected the folklore aspect of the nation onto modernity, with pride and confidence.

Carnival, UNESCO Mother Language presentation, Fish Day, Boardwalk Mas on Great Bay Beach, Christmas fête at the Waterfront, like a village chief welcoming folks to the annual St. Louis food fair, our Yaya was there  … with us, for us. When we saw her coming, her eyes finding us in the crowd, looking upon us with a warm livingroom smile, we smiled back … to memory, not in mockery nor mimicry but in that modest way of oldtime S’maatin people.

In her presence we did not have to find our way home, home came looking for us, found us, and never judged what we had become. And by the time she passed on in the procession or picnic, we knew, if only for a moment, that we came from far more grounded places than we’ve been made to believe, that we could be better than who we wanted to be when that solitary “want” was less than our best solidary selves.

Before her passing Laurelle Richards had collected her poems into a manuscript for publication by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) as her first book, which will be called The Frock & Other Poems. The team coordinated by HNP that has been working on various aspects of the Richards book include Minerva Dormoy, Rhoda Arrindell, Lenny Mussington, Roland Richardson, Sundiata Lake, Shujah Reiph, and Laura Richardson. A number of family members and friends that assisted Yaya typing the draft manuscript are acknowledged by her in the book.

When leading Caribbean Impressionist Roland Richardson painted Yaya’s image on a larger-than-life canvas a few months ago, the village griot told the painter how she came to fashion her frock out of strips of colored cloth. The pieces of cloth reminded the artist of dolls as he painted Yaya’s story about her own family and village life. The painting will grace the cover of the posthumous title.

In Yaya’s upcoming book Richardson concludes his impression of the “culture woman” like this: “I saw that Laurelle had been transformed, had become a living embodiment of these generations of tiny dolls. Enrobed in this living fabric, nourished by the stream of multiple lives, she has become a living doll, mother to them all.”  

Many of us are so saddened by the sudden passing of Yaya, one of the nation’s beloved cultural mothers. O “Death be not proud” with his one.

Rest In Glorious Peace, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards. 


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June 7, 2010

What is a Caribbean Classic?: Opal Palmer Adisa

Defining a Caribbean Aesthetic: The Making of a Caribbean Classic

By Opal Palmer Adisa

When we think about Caribbean literature, we must include the oral literature that was shared with us in the tales and folklores and which many contemporary writers revise, update, and incorporate in their poems, stories, and drama. To discount this tremendous body of work is a mindless disregard of our ancestors and we stymie our literary evolution as a people, creating an aborted trajectory.

Similarly, as we look to define and erect a Caribbean classic, we must be mindful that the whole notion of classic in the modern sense is erroneous because the Greeks are cited as the stamp. However, as educated people, we know that the Egyptians are the forerunners; their formidable library at Alexandria was raided and destroyed by the pillage of war--much like what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, of course, there is Timbuktu that also served as a foundation. History aside, or rather, history as cautionary guide, a classic is a work that sets the standard, serves as a archetype and is not restricted to a certain era --in other words, the work can be said to be timeless because regardless of how much time has passed or how things have changed, the work serves as a light allowing us to see,  understand, and make inferences not only about the time period in which the work was set, but how it continuously references and illuminates our understanding of the present moment in which we find ourselves.

Of course, with regards to the Caribbean, a classic would have to speak to the socio-political conditions of the people and be dogged in its revelation of hope and viable alternatives. It must demonstrate, to the nth degree, the Caribbean ethos, delineate our cosmology, excavate a self that is so often hidden from us, and speak with authority to the possibilities of new realities and self-determination.

Most importantly, a Caribbean classic should give us a protagonist that represents and/or identifies with the seemingly ordinary Caribbean person, yet who in someway leads an introspective life and strives to rise above her/his socio-physical surroundings.

While it can be argued and debated that such criteria for a classic, favors a specific agenda, which it does, and which all classics do, I believe as Caribbean people we have to forge an identity and standard that speak to the specifics of who we are, and even more importantly, where we want to go, even if that path is not yet defined – machete in hand, we clear the path as we go along. In addition, to the above, a classic work of literature should have literary merit: assiduous mastery of language, unique and representational characters, descriptive details, multiple layers of meanings, and for me, very personal and, I strongly believe essential for the Caribbean, a sense of hope. 

Given our young history as producers of literature, we hold our own: two Nobel laureates, Neustadt International Prize, Guggenheims, and many Commonwealth prizes. Equally as impressive is the larger number of recognized writers who continue to produce excellent work despite our economic straits, access to higher education in the region, our total population, and median age. Still, we accomplish and compete, and can say with pride we have literary works that are part of the Euro-American canon, and which also set the bench-mark for the Caribbean canon.

Consequently, I offer the following four texts as Caribbean classics, and will go so far as to say they should be included in any survey course on Caribbean literature. The History of Mary Prince serves as the first account of the life of a black woman to be published in England. Its historical merit is unprecedented, but the details and vigor of the telling is also impressive. Then, we have another autobiography, by yet another intrepid woman, Mary Seacole, the Caribbean’s own Florence Nightingale--a herbalist, and shrewd business woman whose financial acumen allowed her to travel to the site of the Crimean War and where she became a beloved caregiver to soldiers on both sides. Her explorations and brave story are chronicled in the Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857).

Moving to the 20th century, we have Edgar Mittelholzer, the first professional novelist to come out of the English-speaking Caribbean, and the author of twenty plus novels. My favorite from among his body of work and I think one of his best is, Corentyne Thunder (1941). Who can read that text and not root for Ramgolall, an empathic protagonist, if ever there was one. Lastly and noteworthy, is Sylvia Wynter’s Hills of Hebron (1962), in which Wynter speaks to and for the nation of Jamaica.

These are some of the seminal Caribbean classics that shimmer still today, and which will captivate and send future readers on a quest to learn more about Caribbean writers, culture and its people.


About the author:

Jamaican born, Dr. Adisa is a poet and prose writer who brings extensive editorial experience to the anthology. She has published 14 books, and her writings have appeared in over 200 journals and anthologies. She is also a much sought-after speaker and has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean.

She has been recognized for her work in the form of many awards and honors, among them the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for her poetry collection Tamarind and Mango Women and the Master Folk Artist Award for Storytelling from the California Arts Council. She has also received awards for both poetry and fiction from The Caribbean Writer and has served as an Advisory Board member of The Caribbean Writer since 1998. Her interview with renowned poet Kamau Brathwaite appears in Volume 23 (2009). Dr. Erika J. Waters, founding editor of The Caribbean Writer said she was "delighted the magazine was in such capable hands."

Adisa, who has a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, most recently was a professor at California College of the Arts. She previously taught both graduate and undergraduate courses at several universities including Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University.


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June 4, 2010

"Estimated Prophet: Version" by Geoffrey Philp

Estimated Prophet: Version

“The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became
blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died.”
Revelation 16:3

The prophets have abandoned us to our lies.
They’ve packed spare clothes, retreated to the Mojave
Where they can still bless wild, untamed spaces
Praise the elation of kestrels, their aerial dance
Away from smoke that poisons the brave,
Threads a man’s lungs and veins with fine lace,
Sweetens a mother’s milk that darkens her firstborn’s eyes:
Rattlers coiled under a Joshua tree have a better chance.
And it’s no use begging like televangelists for them to come back
Who’d want to listen on the “burning shore” anyway?
Everyone knows true holy lands are way across the sea
And you can’t Twitter prophecy anymore than you can save
Pelicans from the spray of dispersants or mangroves from an oil slick.
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June 2, 2010

Presidential Proclamation--Caribbean-American Heritage Month | The White House

U.S. Presidential flag, 1960-present (not usua...

Our Nation is linked to the Caribbean by our geography as well as our shared past and common aspirations. During National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, we pay tribute to the diverse cultures and immeasurable contributions of all Americans who trace their heritage to the Caribbean.

Throughout our history, immigrants from Caribbean countries have come to our shores seeking better lives and opportunities. Others were brought against their will in the bonds of slavery. All have strived to ensure their children could achieve something greater and have preserved the promise of America for future generations.

During the month of June, we also honor the bonds of friendship between the United States and Caribbean countries. This year's devastating earthquake in Haiti has brought untold grief to the Haitian-American community, many who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones as they help rebuild their homeland. These families and individuals remain in our thoughts and prayers. The United States has proudly played a leading role in the international response to this crisis, which included vital contributions from countries throughout the Caribbean. As Haiti recovers, we will remain a steady and reliable partner.

This month, we celebrate the triumph of Caribbean Americans, a diverse community that encompasses many nationalities and languages. They have become leaders in every sector of American life while maintaining the varied traditions of their countries of origin. Caribbean Americans enrich our national character and strengthen the fabric of our culture, and we are proud they are part of the American family.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2010 as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to celebrate the history and culture of Caribbean Americans with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-eighth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


Presidential Proclamation--Caribbean-American Heritage Month | The White House