Fact: West Indians are all over the globe.
That’s the main reason for The Global West Indian – to connect the diaspora in every corner of the globe.
So for those who are in the diaspora – particularly those not living in the Caribbean – here’s a question for you:
What would it take for you to come back?
Recently, I was chatting with a friend I met attending university in Montreal when she brought this topic up.
Ushana was born in Montreal to a Trinidadian mother and Jamaican father. Her mom and dad migrated to Montreal in 1969 and 1970 respectively. “They both moved to Montreal in search of a better life. My mom’s older sister moved to Canada under the ‘domestic scheme’ of the 1950’s and then filed for her siblings. My dad just migrated to Canada on his own. He had older siblings in the [United] States,” she told me.
Now 40, I asked Ushana about life as a second-generation Trinidadian-Canadian and I honestly expected her to talk about how the “…islanders are snobs because they say that’s not really Trinidadian.” (I’ve heard this from second-gens more times than I can count. Full disclosure: but I admit to doing this my first year of university… ok, maybe every year of university. I’m sorry 🙁 )
But she didn’t. It didn’t even come up. Instead, she told me about two recent trips to Trinidad and Jamaica after nearly 30 years away, and then said this:
“Well, I’ve been saying for a few years now that our Indian and Chinese counterparts get their education here (Canada) and then return to their parents’ homeland to live and open businesses. Most of the time, they get startup funding to do it from their governments. Now, I know the Caribbean doesn’t have as much capital as India or China, but I feel like there could be more of an effort to attract us back as residents and workers rather than just as tourists. I know the work I do here is needed in Caribbean – but what’s the mechanism for me to move there? Just like a corporation would woo me for my expertise so can West Indian governments. And I would create jobs, etc. You know what I mean? Or am I being an elitist North American?”
For the record, Ushana currently works at the Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre, an organisation dedicated to providing empowering educational programming from birth to adulthood for the residents of Little Burgundy, a vibrant community located in the South West of Montreal. However, according to the website, with the highest concentration of low-income housing in Quebec and ⅔ of children and youth living below the poverty line, Little Burgundy faces challenges related to poverty, racism and a negative impression of the community by others. Tyndale offers programs ranging from early literacy programs for 0 to 5 year olds to life skills training for adults. Their website states, “Our aim is to ensure that each member of our community has the opportunity and skills needed to realise their potential.”
Explaining her role, Ushana told me:
“I’m the Family Resource Coordinator at Tyndale in the Department of Children, Youth and families which means I support the parents of the kids in our After-School and High School Programmes. So I go with them to Parent-Teacher interviews, I help find resources for their kids and the families, I counsel them, lend a listening ear, play life coach, help get their kids into good schools, anything and everything under the sun.”
Ushana is also pursuing a degree in Political Science from Concordia University to supplement and further her contributions in her specialty fields of Children, Education and Development, and Women’s Development.
The Little Burgundy’s of the Caribbean
I thought about the state of some of our communities (violence, drugs, pure idleness), and I couldn’t help but conclude that maybe we really do need more people who a) care and, b) know the psychological ins and outs of dealing with marginalized, underprivileged groups helping them to ACHIEVE their true potential. Not unlock it, or encourage it, or acknowledge it, but to actualize and achieve it.
(Politicians who like to spout “we need more entrepreneurs!” but provide zero resources to do this, please see above paragraph.)
In Barbados, after years of free education, that without a doubt has been the root cause of the impressive development of human resources on the island. The University of the West Indies and the Barbados Community College (the two main academia-based tertiary level institutions on the island) have just introduced a new fee structure that will, again without a doubt, cause said development to crumble.
Objectively speaking, the equal-opportunity framework that Barbadian education was once built on is no more. This means there will no longer be an avenue for persons who cannot afford a university education to get a university education. Your success as a teen/young adult is basically dependent on the success of your parents. If they have made it, no sweat. If they haven’t, you my friend, have got some thinking to do.
With the exception of a scholarship, what are the options? More importantly, who helps you to identify these options?
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way saying that by default not going to university means you will fail in life. But I am saying, that those who are not allowed to go through the “expected pathways of professional development” are at a disadvantage in life.
But I digress..Back to Ushana
Now, should we be worried about persons coming in and further clogging an already clogged job market? So I asked her directly: what was she looking for?
“A Secure well-paying job in already existing organisation or opportunity to fill a market need. The latter is more appealing. I’m happy to partner with government or academics as well, though this works in my field, not necessarily everyone else’s.”
I wondered if Ushana was alone in not wanting to take our jobs. Then I began to imagine a more open job market if each new resident meant at least one new job opportunity alongside their own, and I thought, “this could be fantastic”. Now enter further thoughts on implications for housing, transportation and just about everything else, and I began to second guess the arrangement.
But then she made a notable point.
She doesn’t see herself as an expat – in fact, quite the opposite and she summed up her personal views on expats in the Caribbean with no apology.
“Ideally, I’ll also need to find temporary housing for a year until I get to know the landscape and where I want to live,” she explained.
What’s a reasonable budget for housing for you? From what I can see, most who come in are brought in and taken care of.
“That’s Expat life.”
Expat life versus immigrant life?
“Yes! I look like and come from the people there and I do have needed skills, yet they would happily give these perks to the white young student [with no connection to the Caribbean] from McGill who wants to come and hug black babies so they can get into med school one day after they ultimately leave.
And then I don’t feel so bad.”
Harsh …but true, leaving nothing else to be said.
On respecting the culture & dealing with backlash as an ‘outsider’
“I would definitely want to be sensitive to the culture of the place – the literal West Indian culture- as well as the way of doing business.”
As an example, Ushana went further to explain that despite not being a religious person, she acknowledges a notable number of social activities and causes are done through or working closely with churches. “If that works, I would happily and reverently respect that.”
I also asked her about those people who will protest about “outsiders” coming in or if she thought her heritage would make acceptance easier.
“Oh I know I’ll be seen as an outsider. And I’ll take my licks. It comes with the territory. But I’m excellent at building relationships and hopefully I’ll earn the trust of the participants and eventually other colleagues in my field. I’m excellent at what I do (at least in this context up here). Hopefully I can replicate that success. And if I fall flat on my face, I’ll learn the lesson. I can be humbled.”
I LOVED this response for two reasons:
- It was honest.
- She did not minimise herself or her abilities. Because she’s right; She IS amazing at what she does, just ask anyone who knows her.
But also it showed me, as a local, this has the potential to be a great arrangement if everyone’s heart was in the same place as Ushana’s.
It was a short chat with Ushana, but it opened up a number of questions about the process of remigration to the Caribbean.
What do governments offer? Do they offer anything at all?
Do they look at the benefit to the society?
What are the cons of remigration?
How easy is this process?
Are opportunities ready to be grasped?
Will they feel welcomed?
For those who have remigrated, what was the process like for you? Leave your comments below letting us know your country of origin and country of birth/place of residence.