Reminder to politicians


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 07 Apr 02

This weekend, regardless of the outcome of Friday’s sitting of Parliament (I write this before the event), we are once again thrown back upon our own resources as a people, flung against a wall by the politicians, to reconsider who we are, take a stand.


But perhaps it is a good thing to ask ourselves at this time, regardless of that atavistic moment in the polling booth when we briefly revert to type, who we are as a people in these tiny islands in the New World. Because whatever it is, our complete selves are not being represented in this absurd 18-18 pantomime being acted out in our politics and Parliament.


Last weekend, endearing schizophrenic people that we are, we celebrated Easter, Phagwa and the Baptist holiday, in one shot.


Now, more than ever we need to remind ourselves that there is absolutely no need to be backed into a corner, no need to define ourselves by narrow boundaries of race.


We need to remind ourselves that we are a complex, intelligent, peaceable people who analyse each of our political representatives by merit, rather than a simple lot who are willing to unthinkingly swallow a large package that may be contaminated here and there; that our colours run into one another, that at some level, the experiences of colour rubbed, splashed onto skin, the child with the pretty Easter bonnet, the swirl of white robes dipping into a clear pool of water, are collective, belong to us all.


Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate put it to us this way last year at the Central Bank’s 15th Dr Eric Williams Memorial Lecture:

We are all individually involved in identities of various kinds in disparate contexts in our own respective lives. The same person can be of Indian origin, a Parsee, a French citizen, a US resident, a woman, a poet, a vegetarian, an anthropologist, a university professor, a Christian, a bird watcher and an avid believer in extraterrestrial life and in the propensity of alien creates to ride around the universe in smartly designed UFOs. Each of these collectivities, to all of which this person belongs, gives her a particular identity that is variously important in different contexts. There is no conflict here.


However, he went on to stress that in the quest of determining our mutating identity as a New World people, we have choices as well which we need to exercise. Most importantly, we have a choice regarding the importance we attach to our different identities. Invoking the notion of identity does not provide an escape from reasoning or justify any ethical argument based solely on a narrower identity, such as that of community, nationality, class religion or sect.


At a time when varying races and religions invoke their particular rites of spring, rejuvenation of the human spirit, we must remember this is what we have been doing right all along.


It is this intelligent reasoning that has been our salvation, our passport to a peaceful, stable society that has paved the way for economic growth, allowed us to exercise our social responsibilities seriously.


A simple letter of yearning from a Trinidadian living abroad made me realise more than anything that perhaps without knowing it, we are already there. We may vote according to race, but we are so much better than that. We now, people of all races, citizens of this country, already have a sense of ‘home’ that is so much bigger than the parliamentary pantomime. It is articulated in this letter I received:


Dear Ira,

I sit in a high-rise building apartment in Chicago reading your article about home, and the longing that comes from having positive memories to reflect upon. The imagery you highlight in the article...sights and sounds are very clear.

I also long for home, but being involved in my grad. studies, I know there is no alternative. Sooner or later, immigrants all develop a dual personality which allows for acceptance of sounds, sights, and smells of the new location.

In a way, we become hybrids, forming a new construct which allows for functionality and survival in the urban city. The joys of the life back home are never reconstructed, though, and the longing never truly goes away.




So this is home - safe, familiar, loved. We all view home from different angles, depending on many facets of our identity, our ethnicity, our social and economic circumstances. But it is home, nonetheless, to Trinidadians and Tobagonians everywhere. It remains a place that is longed for.


So we must be glad. Our stocktaking has yielded a rich harvest. We have not gone down that slippery slope of either Fiji or Guyana. We are unable to comprehend the Hindus and Muslims butchering one another in India over religion, or in Israel, over race, land and power. It’s time to remind our politicians when they use our votes to squabble over 18-18 as TS Eliot put it, “That is not what I meant at all.”

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