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St. Martin’s Secondary School: 50th Anniversary

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Fri, Oct 21. 2011

Editor: I congratulate most heartily the St. Martin’s Secondary School on its magnificent fiftieth anniversary. The school has made, and is still making, an immense contribution to individual and national development. I am very pleased that its leadership, faculty, staff, graduates, current students and the parents have put in place an impressive “50th Anniversary Programme” from October 26th to November 5th, 2011, to commemorate this significant milestone.{{more}} I urge all Vincentians to support, in practical terms, this commemoration.

I note the brief history of the St. Martin’s Secondary School which was published in last weekend’s newspapers. Our religious denominations have certainly been visionary in their provision of primary and secondary education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Currently, the Roman Catholic Church manages three secondary schools (St. Martin’s and the two “Convent” Schools); the Seventh Day Adventists run secondary schools in Bequia and Marriaqua; and the Anglican Church oversees its Bishop’s College in Kingstown. There are, too, two primary educational facilities managed by religious denominations. In the case of each school, the church’s partnership with the Government is strong, healthy, productive, and in the interest of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This partnership is accorded the highest priority in my government.

In this the “Year of the People of African Descent”, as declared by the United Nations, we ought to remember that the St. Martin’s Secondary School was named in honour of the first black saint in the Americas, Martin De Porres.

Martin De Porres was born, out of wedlock, in Lima, Peru, on December 9, 1579, to a Spanish nobleman and a mother who was an African slave, born in Panama. He became a member of the Dominican Order and worked especially among the poor and the sick. He died on November 03, 1639.

The outstanding deeds of Martin De Porres caused Pope Clement XIII to affirm, by decree, the heroism of his virtues in 1763. In 1837, Pope Gregory XVI was beatified. On May 6, 1962, or 125 years after his beatification, the Blessed Martin De Porres was canonised by Pope John XXIII. Extraordinary miracles attendant on the work of Martin De Porres occasioned his canonisation.

As a young practicing Roman Catholic in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I often read in our Catholic newspaper, which was printed in Trinidad, news and analyses of the life and times of Martin De Porres. When the St. Martin’s School was founded in 1961, the Vatican had already announced that in May 1962 the Blessed Martin would be canonised as a Saint.

Despite the apparent or contrived “invisibility” of the African presence currently in Peru (and Mexico), it is a little known fact that more African slaves were transported to Peru and Mexico, in the aggregate, than to the United States of America. The bulk of the Africans were taken to Peru as slaves between 1595 and 1640, though there were slaves before and after those years. Most of them came from Angola, but also from Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the “Slave Coast” (modern-day Benin). In the early 17th century, Lima, the capital of Peru, was between 30 and 40 percent black. Lima was essentially a “black city”.

Some scholars estimate that Peru imported as many as 150,000 African slaves. African blood runs in the veins of huge numbers of Peruvians, but there is uncertainty today about the actual number of Afro-Peruvians since the census does not have any provision to identify race or ethnicity. Estimates of Afro-Peruvians today range between six hundred thousand and three million (2 to 10 percent) out of Peru’s population of 30 million. Still, there is a growing consciousness of Afro-Peruvians about themselves in a society dominated by Caucasian, Indigenous Indian, and persons of “mixed” ethnicity. Despite overwhelming poverty among Afro-Peruvians, they are quite nationalist and see themselves rightly as Peruvians.

So, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the St. Martin’s Secondary School, let us remember, too, Saint Martin De Porres. Let us note, too, the importance of the link in our America between the Caribbean, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Latin American, including Peru. Imperialism is most interested in us

living in a permanent present without any sense of history. They are desirous, too, of keeping our nations separate and divided. In these ways, imperialism maintains hegemony.

I recommend to your readers, especially the enquiring young persons, an excellent book by Henry Louis Gates (Jr.), the distinguished African-American historian, entitled Black in Latin American, published earlier this year by New York University Press. It is particularly educational on persons of African descent in Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.

Dr. The Hon. Ralph E. Gonsalves

Prime Minister

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