The Diaspora Reconsidered: A Guyanese Perspective – By Lear Matthews

The Diaspora Reconsidered: A Guyanese Perspective

Lear Matthews

Reacting to this writer’s views about the need to strengthen Caribbean Diaspora Associations, an esteemed commentator advanced the notion that “We should not bank too heavily on an unending outreach to the land of our birth. The Diaspora is a slow diminution”. (H. Williams, Guyanese-On-Line 9/14).

However, contrary to that dismal prognosis, I argue that the Caribbean Diaspora is unlikely to diminish, rather it will expand. It is not a time-phased, amorphous process that faces extinction, but will increase exponentially with continuous immigration flows.  The term Diaspora describes the dispersion of a defined group of people of similar ethnicity, nationality or cultural background. They tend to strive for a common identity, group consciousness and often collaborate on causes of interest to themselves and those they believe they represent. Contemporary social analysts have asserted that Diasporas have a significant function of sustaining strong social, economic, cultural, political and emotional bonds to their country of origin.

Because the term is often applied to immigrant groups worldwide, it would be helpful to understand its origin from the Greek words dia, meaning “through” or “across space” and speirein meaning “to sow or scatter”. Webster’s Online Dictionary (2009) defines Diasporas as “the movement, migration or scattering of people away from their ancestral homeland”. Although concentrated in North America, indeed Guyanese are dispersed throughout the world including other Caribbean countries, Africa and Australia. Diasporas emerge because of various social and economic reasons, but are characterized by geographic dispersion and cultural connectedness, with the Internet now enhancing the latter.

One of the most rapidly growing instrumental facilitating mechanisms of the Caribbean Diaspora is the Hometown Association. A preliminary survey by this writer revealed that among Guyanese immigrants in North America, there are more than three hundred (300) such associations. There is a false perception that these organizations are exclusively involved in “charity work”.  Such a characterization may have had some merit twenty-five years ago.  However, an examination of their broad functions reveals the extent to which they are located at the epicenter of development efforts, heritage connections and cultural identity. The multi-dimensional projects of Guyanese immigrant Hometown Associations beyond “charity work” presents a fascinating picture and a strong case for their continuity.  Espousing a commitment to some aspect of development in the home country, they focus on various sectors of homeland infrastructure sustenance and reform  – cultural, religious, educational, political, shared institutions, medical, and regional – in many ways epitomizing the essence of Diasporic unity.

A short list of a selected representative cross-section of these diverse organizations brings home the point: Bartica-American Association; Guyana Watch; over 60 School Alumni Associations; Council of Friends of New Amsterdam; Linden Fund; Guyana Floridian Association; Barorians; Plaisance, Buxton,Charlestown, Queenstown, Weldad, Anns Grove, Victoria, Golden Grove, Hague Cornelia Ida, and Catherina Associations; The East Indian Diaspora Inc.; Enterprise Support Group; Friends of St. Sidwell’s Anglican Church; GUYAID; Guyana Masquerade Dancers Association of North America; Guyana Teachers Association of New York; Guyana Nurses Association, and many more.

Projects undertaken include: medical outreach; computers for schools; scholarships and new curricula programs; funding community development self-help projects; sponsoring forums on social justice, civic and political issues as they unfold in Guyana; and training human service workers – some of these in partnership with local organizations.  A promising sign is an apparent increase in the number of organizations in the home country that collaborate with HTAs. With support, working in sync and reciprocal links within the Diaspora, they could effectively realize sustainable goals of local projects.  There should be no illusions about the risk of absolving the local government of its civic/welfare responsibilities or creating dependency on migrant generated remittances.

Conditioned by a historically persuasive (at times divisive) political culture, which focuses primarily on the relationship between the two major ethnic groups, an aspect of the Guyanese Diaspora that is often overlooked is its ethnic plurality.  Afro-Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese, Amerindians, Chinese, Portuguese, and Mixed ethnics are all part of the Diaspora.  On certain selected occasions they are mentioned as the collective representation of the “Land of Six Peoples”, reflecting “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” as an expression of  symbolic harmony, national pride and uniqueness. It is important to note the sustained enclave division and minimal interaction between the two major ethnic groups in the Guyanese Diaspora.

However, recognition of the country’s multi-ethnic heritage, including all of its bearers and their contribution (as promoted by the Guyana Cultural Association) should be continuously demonstrated, if indeed the process of BRIDGIN is to be realized. This will ensure a Diaspora capable of forging the bonds to effect meaningful change. It will not diminish, as predicted by our astute commentator. Like other observers, he sounded the alarm regarding the lack of interest in the home country and HTAs, shown by the second generation, 1.5 (migrated as children), and third generation (born in the US) immigrants – an assertion not fully supported by research.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On November 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you, Lear Matthews. In innumerable and diverse ways, we in the Guyana Diaspora continue to make valuable contributions towards the land that gave us birth.

    I would like to add that the Guyanese Online blog is also playing a valuable role in bringing many of us together and contributing towards shaping a better vision for Guyana’s future.

  • Quinton R-holder  On November 1, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Well written. Well said. As one of those Guyanese who left due to the dreams of my parents for a better life for us, I like the diaspora and the land of six peoples reference.
    Now in my 50s, my adult son and nieces who wasnt born in GT now talk openly to living, working and contributing to the development of my birth place. All because of the exposure and access to diaspora associations. Lets find creative ways to strengthen Diaspora organizations across the various countries.


  • By On Leaving Guyana | Three Worlds One Vision on November 2, 2014 at 5:08 am

    […] connected and engaged with the relatives and communities they left behind. In his article, “The Diaspora Reconsidered: A Guyanese Perspective,” Lear Matthews mentions some of the organizations that facilitate that […]

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