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What did we celebrate last Sunday?

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I was really moved by the number of people I saw dressed in the national colours, many of them, I must say, beautifully designed. Then, there were those proclaiming their patriotism and reminding themselves that they were true “Vincies”, including some forced to live outside of the country.{{more}}

As I reflected on the meaning of Independence, I wondered about the purpose of our celebration. Then I came across an interesting comment from a young lady. It read as follows: “I won’t apologise for not seeming patriotic. A lot of U (you) posting SVG dis (this) and SVG dat (that) r (are) d (the) ones who make it a hard place to live. Where is the brotherly and sisterly love to make it feel like d best place on earth? Why are some ppl (people) above the law or too low beneath it to be helped? How does this make it our beloved homeland? If we’re so independent y (why) do we need so many handouts and western union transfers and our imports far exceed our exports which are basically nonexistent? Freedom of speech is now a myth and making 2 (two) ends meet a dream. Pardon me for not seeming patriotic indeed…feeling cheated.”

This person is a recent graduate of the University of the West Indies Open Campus, I believe. I was really impressed. One does not have to agree totally with everything she said, but what is important is that she is critically examining the state of our nation and people. This is something that is a scarce commodity. If only we could see more of our university graduates doing this, using their education to do a critical examination of our society! There are many things worthy of comment from what she says. Of course, that’s how she sees things 34 years after independence.

Hopefully, we are all true “Vincies,” but a week after independence you would realise that you had been subjected to a lot of posturing. The people who profess their love for country become different beings. One lady tastefully decorated in national colours I recognised as one I have seen begging discreetly on the streets. I wonder about her celebrations, since this is where the journey has taken her! Independence for many of us means freedom. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak or think freely.” Is it that we feel compelled to glory in this supposed freedom where presumably we act and speak freely! After 34 years of independence, if we are honest with ourselves, the operative word is “Fear”, not “Freedom”.

In 1838 when the slaves obtained their freedom, I could well imagine that many were acting and thinking this way until the reality struck them. They still had to contend with the planters who owned most of the land and the colonial power that decided their fate; that same colonial power that had earlier sanctioned the exile of Chatoyer and his people and brought King Ja Ja here, exiled from his Opobo homeland. As I contend, Independence is supposed to be the beginning of a journey to liberate ourselves and develop this land for our living. We supposedly got the freedom to restructure our society and let it bend to the interests and hopes of all our people. So, what is needed is not the exultation of phantom concepts of freedom and independence, but a reality check on our journey. Many of those who have been forced to live overseas have to ask themselves why they were forced overseas. Is it because they had the freedom to do so? What were the circumstances that forced them out? Of course there are many reasons why people move abroad, but I am targeting those whose freedom and independence did not allow them to earn a living here.

My disappointment 34 years after independence is about the journey on which we are embarked. Do we know where that journey is supposed to take us? We have to look critically at where we are going. Our writer asks, if we are so independent, why do we need so many handouts and Western Union transfers and our imports far exceed our exports, which are basically non-existent. There are certain realities expressed by our writer. Many of the persons in those long lines are totally dependent on money from overseas. They move directly to the supermarkets when they collect what was sent to them. What are we really exporting these days? We all complain about the amount of begging taking place around Kingstown, but how many of us complain about the amount of begging that is done at the official level? The writer asks to forgive her for not seeming patriotic, but she is among the most patriotic, of us, exercising that freedom that we were supposed to have gotten 34 years ago.

We have, always, to look critically at things. This is what one should expect from people who are free and independent. This is the essence of our patriotism, shaping the country to serve our people. We all don’t have to agree with our assessment of the state of our ‘union,’ but we owe it to the country not to placidly accept what is told to us and try to convince ourselves that wrong is really right. We all have to be part of charting the direction, for the country belongs to all of us and we have to make sure we are on top of things. That is, all of us who inhabit this space and all Vincentians, wherever they are, who are prepared to make a contribution to the land of their birth.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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