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SVG – Ready for the Future? Growing the Seeds of Caribbean Unity…

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by Alana Gumbs

Caribbean unity has never seemed as imperative as it does in today’s environment. With economic pressures climbing from both natural and unnatural disasters, we, as Caribbean people, must stand together on the world stage as one people or quite simply face annihilation.{{more}}

There are a few examples that simply exemplify the need and the possibilities for Caribbean Unity.

Hurricane Ivan

Let me begin with a few quotes collected in the Ivan aftermath.

“The lesson Hurricane Ivan has taught us is that the beauty of the human spirit, which shines in times of disaster, must be allowed to flourish in our everyday lives as citizens of this Caribbean civilization, and result in a truly united Caribbean nation.” (Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves)

“The Grenada Government and the Opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) have agreed to join forces and work in the interest of the country… The once bitter enemies have decided to shelve their differences and agreed to work shoulder to shoulder for the speedy return of normalcy…” (SEARCHLIGHT)

“When one thinks of the Caribbean, the word Community comes immediately to mind. When one member of a community needs assistance, the entire community comes together to lend a hand.” (A friend during fund-raising efforts for Grenada in Toronto)

Caribbean people, these are words that we must let resonate within us every day as we find new and meaningful ways to turn them into action. For example, let us be sure in SVG that such an agreement, for Government and Opposition to work together, exists every day and commences long before a natural disaster. Let us position ourselves so that we speak of “bitter enemies” as a distant memory. It is only when we can work together within our nation that we can even begin to work together among nations.

Our Prime Minister must be commended for immediately recognizing the plight of our Caribbean brothers and sisters in Grenada and stating very early that all focus needed to be on Grenada first. The irrationality of any Vincentian who said that we should look after our own first before helping Grenada was quite frankly beyond human comprehension. With our Caribbean brothers and sisters at that time filled with hunger and thirst, surely the only explanation could be ignorance of the facts?

It is time to wake up and look around us. We do not have the wealth of a Grand Cayman whose banking and tourism industries will assist them greatly in a speedy recovery from Ivan. We need to work together to raise one another up. Selfish attitudes will sink us fast! Hats off to everyone who continues to put their hearts, souls, efforts and pocketbooks into helping Grenada! A speedy recovery in Grenada could easily become the testament of an effective Caribbean community working together at home and in the diaspora.

Olympic Games

Let’s switch gears to the 2004 Olympics held in Athens, Greece. How many people realize that the Caribbean (English, French and Spanish) earned 37 medals in these Olympics, which would have placed it 6th, tied with Japan, were it to compete as one entity?

How many newspapers in the Caribbean wrote of the glory of the Jamaican athletes – not many outside of Jamaica! We all complained about the disgusting American centric coverage but as one wise friend cautioned me, “…what are we doing as a Caribbean force to ensure that we have the coverage we need”? Perhaps if we were to participate together as one entity and celebrate together as one family we would be a lot closer to being less dependent on America coverage? It is not only what America is doing that is of great concern, it is what we are not doing that should be the cause for alarm. Control after all lies within and not outside of us all.

Imagine the benefits of a united Caribbean team: focused and coordinated funds; equal opportunities for athletes with regards to coaching, facilities, scholarships, etc.; coordinated Caribbean sports coverage; millions of adoring Caribbean fans; international recognition and rewards for the Caribbean brand and talent. Now couldn’t that change some of the American coverage of our athletes from, “…that is XYZ from a small island in the Caribbean…” to “…that is XYZ from the Caribbean, one of the premier sports civilizations in the world…”?

The Diaspora Experience

I strongly believe that the model for Caribbean unity exists in the diaspora. Many of us will attest to the fact that in many ways we became Caribbean in the diaspora. It is in the diaspora that we live and work side by side with our Caribbean neighbours. It is within the distant culture that the Caribbean bonds are tightly formed, as united we must stand in our strange new home. It is here that we share stories of our similar Caribbean upbringings and learn of our culture, of the different names for the same fruits; it is here that we break bread together, drink corn soup together, laugh, talk, and dream together; it is here that we act together! It is here, through our longing of the homeland, that we re-discover Caribbean literature that seemed like a chore when we had to read it in school in the Caribbean; when we were too busy looking outward to America and were more interested in pop music than the latest calypso song. It is ironic but true; it is here that we finally become Caribbean people!

I speak of this model not to discount the great institutions in the Caribbean, e.g. UWI, where similar experiences are everyday occurrences, but I speak of this model to illustrate the depth and breadth of the collective experience available for Caribbean unity-building efforts. The huge advantage of the diaspora model is that it covers the entire socio-economic Caribbean structure. Let’s face it, in the Caribbean, unless you were fortunate enough to go to university or participate in a Caribbean organization, you probably have had very little exposure to your Caribbean brothers and sisters. Chances are you watch primarily American TV and you are much better informed about what happens in Ohio than what happens in your neighbouring island. Chances are you vacation in North America and haven’t been to see the Tobago Cays or St. Lucia yet. Food for thought, perhaps?

The question of course is how do we analyze and transplant the appropriate components of the diaspora’s Caribbean model. The first step is consciousness. Having just returned from the annual pilgrimage to Miami carnival where the Caribbean meets the diaspora literally, I find myself again struck by the possibilities. This is where Caribbean and diaspora connectivity is at its highest worldwide. Miami plays host to Brooklyn, Toronto, Barbados, St. Vincent, Bahamas, Atlanta, London and on and on. Some will smile at my conviction (for various reasons), but carnival and soca music are among the most powerful forums that the Caribbean has in its “unite the nations” worldwide efforts.

I firmly believe that the Caribbean carnival, especially in the diaspora, is the embryo of our Caribbean civilization. When we are jumping in a sweet soca fete worldwide under each Caribbean flag, let us always remain conscious among the various distractions. Look at how beautiful the flags look together! Taste the foods! Build a social and business network! Look at how we get along! Look at what we can create every day if we continue to work together like we party together! Look at the possibilities for social and economic Caribbean activity that a Caribbean carnival generates both at and far beyond the event!

It is time for each of us to ask and answer serious questions about the form of Caribbean unity we want and what we are prepared to do and to sacrifice to get there before it is too late. At the strategic level, do we want political unity, economic unity, social unity, sports and cultural unity, all of the above, etc.? At the tactical level, we have various policy and personal decisions to make before we can begin to claim progress towards Caribbean unity. When we approve a television or radio station are there enough policies in place to promote a united Caribbean civilization? When we decide where our next vacation destination will be, have we considered the Grenadines or St. Lucia or Martinique? I urge everyone to discover the Caribbean, one island at a time; discover the beauty, the richness, the similarities, the differences, the potential of our truly unique Caribbean civilization.

Attempts at Caribbean unity failed before in our history. Let us make sure this is never repeated in our lifetime. Together, we all hold the key to opening the door to Caribbean Unity. Together we must harness and leverage the collective experiences, both at home and abroad, in the building of our Caribbean civilization.

Let us release the Caribbean spirit! We are a people with history rooted in farming. Let us leverage our farming expertise to grow Caribbean unity, one seed at a time! My Caribbean brothers and sisters, it is getting stormy outside. Let’s put up the Caribbean umbrella and shelter the rain together!

• Alana Gumbs is a Toronto based Vincentian, working in Management/Business Solutions Consulting.

Comments on this article and other topics in this series, “SVG – Ready for the Future?”, are welcome via email at [email protected] The series is devoted to promoting constructive ideas and dialogue towards the advancement of our nation.