(Now that the non-Guyanese are discussing Guyaneseness, I think it’s necessary to take this article out of storage.)
March 31, 2015
“I do not know if I am East Indian, Trinidadian or West Indian.” Sam Selvon, Opening Address to East Indians in the Caribbean Conference, University of the West Indies, Trinidad, 1979
While in the beginning I have not been overly concerned with being West Indian, there have been many days when I was not sure whether I was an East Indian or a Guyanese. In fact, I was afraid to be either of these things because I did not know how to make them live in harmony inside of me.
There was a time when I could not fully nor comfortably embrace my East Indian heritage because I felt guilty; I felt as if I were somehow betraying my Guyaneseness. But then, how could I be Guyanese without my Indianness? It took me a while to realize why it was so hard to be Guyanese; I simply did not understand what it meant to be one of us.
The essence of what it means to be Guyanese is embodied in the language we speak. Guyanese Creole is a language that is a sum total of our history as a nation. It was lexified by the language of our colonial masters (English) and given structure and flavor by the languages of our other European, Amerindian, African, East Indian, Chinese and Portuguese ancestors. Together, we have given birth to a unique language that reflects a culture which belongs only to us. Hence, the language cannot be what it is without any of our ancestors; without any of us.
In the same way, we cannot be Guyanese without our Europeanness or Amerindianness or Africanness or Indianness or Chineseness or Portugueseness. The Guyanese identity is a beautiful collage of brilliant colours; it is a work of art that can exist in no other place and with no other people and this work of art can only exist when all the parts are present together in a single space.
Having understood this, I learnt that being Guyanese did not make a sacrifice of my Indian heritage necessary. It meant that heritage was a necessary part of the whole. So the Guyanese identity does not call for a sacrifice of any of our individual heritage. Instead, it calls for an acknowledgement that each individual heritage is equally necessary in the forging of such an identity.
I like that I can eat seven curry in a household that also loves Chinese food, pepperpot, shepherd’s pie, cook-up, foo-foo, sweet and sour sauce and jamoon wine. Where else in the world would I be able to experience such variety? Guyanese people does really eat good. We lucky bad.
In my earlier writings, I have examined in some detail how Guyana’s political machinery has been fueled by racism. However, something I have avoided saying for too long is that this mechanism was not created or given sustenance by a single entity. It has its genesis, perhaps, in our country’s colonial history and, unfortunately, became a tradition that was upheld by more than one group in our post-colonial history.
I believe now that the fathers and mothers of our nation could only allow such a political tradition to survive because they themselves did not understand what it meant to be Guyanese. I also believe that many of us and our parents and grandparents have also failed in this area. Had we not struggled with our identity, had we been able to understand it sooner and in greater number then we would never have allowed a rift to be created between us.
I can only hope that more of us can acknowledge the past and learn the lessons it teaches us so that we can finally begin to build a nation. Not a nation for a single tribe and those faithful to it, but a nation for the Guyanese man and woman.
Our identity is too complex a thing to be expressed in the simple mathematics of three-into-one-can’t-go. Three into one most certainly can go and the answer is 0.33. Perhaps, we should begin by teaching this to our leaders. Sometimes, a top-down approach is necessary. But the bottom line is that helping each other with our individual struggle for identity is the answer to forging a national identity and the spread of this Guyanese identity is the solution to a large part of what plagues us.