The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then – by Elizabeth Jaikaran

The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then

by Elizabeth Jaikaran

The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then

To be precise, I am an Indo-Guyanese-American: The mother of all hyphenated identities and an illustration of a historic journey from India to the Caribbean. This heritage is commonly packaged in a number of different terms, all of which are heavily used as referential identifiers: Indo-Guyanese. Indo-Caribbean. Caribbean. West Indian. Indian. It is most aptly described as the Indo-Caribbean experience—an experience that is shared by Indians living throughout the Caribbean diaspora and thus serving as the blueprint for my existence.

This unique cultural disposition is why the Indo-Caribbean are able to culturally identify with public figures ranging from Hasan Minhaj to Nicki Minaj. It is why bursts of Caribbean intonation in Rihanna’s voice blanket me in the comfort of home, while the ballads of A.R. Rahman awaken pained demons within me, crying to connect with a history that was ripped from my hands long before I was born.

Read more: The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then

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  • Sawak Sarju  On 12/07/2015 at 12:32 pm

    Sent from Windows Mail

  • N D Tewarie  On 12/07/2015 at 4:24 pm

    Ms. E Jaikaran, Excellent Article. Here’s my piece
    Norman Datt
    (Pickering. Ontario)


    As stated before when
    I went into the coolie den
    There wouldn’t have been any Guyana
    Without any coolies from Mother India
    Our dharma is the best in the world
    Made us and as others blood curled
    Very proud Coolies in that clime
    Our forefathers had a rough time
    From Brahmins to Musahar
    Chatris and Madrassies so far
    They came bare without luggage
    They left all their bias baggage
    When they boarded the ships
    They made lasting kinships
    Yes they have become jahajis1
    Thank the Lord they did this
    They’ve passed on their robust genes
    And have developed unique cuisines
    Good broughtupsy and etiquette
    Maybe it was ordained as kismet
    Some call it discipline or broad leather
    Knock heads, bramble licks Oh brother!
    Also known as cut rass
    Which you get in class
    We did not need anyone to teach us about the truth
    Respect for other people’s property and being couth
    We all went to school and yearn
    Be attentive to our teachers to learn
    Not to yap on the phone
    Or to moan and groan
    Not to play video games
    But focus and have aims
    Not to disrupt classes
    Like confound asses
    From birth we were keen
    About personal hygiene
    Our parents took much care
    Let us use clean underwear
    Wash your face and at a very early age
    Brushing teeth even with black sage
    Wash your hands before you eat
    And after you touch the toilet seat
    Take your shoes off at home on entering
    Never wear them to bed when sleeping
    Cover your mouth was real turn-off
    Especially when you have a cough
    It was a way of life
    Free from all strife
    Talk about being a spendthrift
    Always preached to not to drift
    You’re told to always contend
    Only afford what you can spend
    Buy something only for cash
    To avoid any budgetary clash
    What you don’t have wait until you can
    Obey the unwritten laws and be a man
    We build our homes maybe not paying rents
    Sometimes we make do living with parents
    We never owe the sharks or the banks
    And to our coolie parents we say thanks
    We’re never caught in a financial quagmire
    Thus leaving others conspiring to admire
    Cause we’ve become the best
    Keeping fathers in the nest
    Spending their last cent educating their children
    We’ve built villages and cities becoming free men
    Which stand out from the rest becoming linguists
    Becoming teachers, lawyers, doctors and dentists
    Learning English, Hindi, Urdhu and Patwa
    Still singing old time songs of Mother India
    Play the harmonium and dhantal
    Dance when the tassa drums call
    Can belt out our chatneys at social gatherings
    Topping it off with Allah’s or Ram’s blessings
    And live our life to suit us
    As others making a fuss
    We belong to faiths of Hindus, Muslims, Christians
    Coming a long way from being treated like heathens
    We celebrate all holidays like Eid or Pagwah
    Christmas with our nanee, nanah, agiee or ajah
    Hindu temples sit near Mosques and Churches
    With coolies from all over of different ages
    To live and let live not like a gaggle of geese
    But to show other nations how to live in peace

  • nisha  On 04/12/2016 at 4:04 pm

    I’m a little late in the game on commenting on this but, I just found this, and as such will pretend I’m not. This article was beautifully written, and as someone who’s also mixed with Indo-Caribbean, I identify with it so strongly. I think it’s so important to note language as a means of barriers between “Indo-Caribbean” and “Desi,” if that makes sense. As someone who didn’t grow up knowing Hindi and who had to rely on subtitles so strongly, there’s a deep sense of shame intertwined with that when you’re watching Bollywood movies with Indians who have emigrated directly from India itself.

    You capture the experience of living kind of caught between two worlds so beautifully. I’m sure this comment isn’t super clear, but it’s so rare to me to find something that puts what I’ve thought and felt for the majority of my life into words that completely makes sense and really resonates with me. There’s so much joy that’s found in the Guyanese culture, but at the same time, there’s a shame to be connected to this rich historical background once you’ve left the society of Guyana.

    There’s the harsh rejection of any semblance of being Guyanese, something that I personally haven’t experienced to the same extent, but one that my father wears as a burden. He emigrated from Guyana to New York in the early 70s, and now identifies not as Guyanese, or Guyanese-American, even, but just American. Full stop, nothing more to it, rejecting my culture entirely American, and for me, growing up it was really strange, because my mom is a loud and proud Indian woman – not Indian-American, or just American, but Indian. There’s a disparity between the shame that my dad connotes with his culture and background and the pride that my mom holds in hers, which, undoubtedly, is a very personal thing, but I think it’s noteworthy that while Indo-Caribbean people sometimes reject this heritage, most Indians I’ve met (and coming from the Bay Area, it’s a lot, believe me) embrace it fully.

    (Also weird that, with the exception of my dad, a lot of my relatives on my paternal side is quick to show just how “truly” Indian they are, whatever that means).

    Again, this article is so incredible relevant to me, and I’m so appreciative that someone could take experiences like mine and articulate them in a way that’s so compelling and powerful. Thank you.

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