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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