Stories from Quick Reads and Caribbean
The reclaiming of history as an ally of marginalized groups is key to their very survival. This is especially true in a colonial context such as Puerto Rico, where history has been and continues to be used as a means to justify inequalities and deny visibility.
In the spirit of doing justice to the men and women who have contributed greatly to Puerto Rico, and yet have been sidelined by years of official history, the digital magazine La Respuesta, which focuses primarily on the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States, recently published a short post titled 10 Afro-Puerto Ricans Everyone Should Know, which briefly highlights the legacy of people such as pro-independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos, literary critic and lawyer Nilita Vientós Gastón, and intellectual leader Arturo Schomburg.
Despite the recent arrests of FIFA officials due to indictments laid by the US Department of Justice, the world football governing body has said that its elections, which it calls the 65th FIFA Congress, will continue as scheduled today. Current FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who headed the organisation while the two-decade siege of corruption, bribery and money laundering was allegedly taking place, is seeking a fifth term at today's congress. Blatter has refused to resign amidst the scandal, despite several calls for him to step down.
You can watch the live feed of the FIFA elections here.
The economic gap appears to be widening in Bermuda and one blogger has been paying attention. A week ago, after the Bermuda Telephone Company announced that it was considering introducing new – and more expensive – residential high speed broadband internet products and a high-end restaurant launched a $1000 per plate “private dining experience”, BeachLime.com noted that “the disconnect between big-ups and the common man remains steadily high.”
In a follow-up post at the beginning of this week, the blogger suggested that “once again, the less well off have to make up the slack.” He was referring to the government's decision to increase bus and ferry fares in an effort to take a bite out of the national debt, saying that it has “the undesired effect of targeting the people least able to handle further dents to their savings or earnings”:
Yes, on the surface it's probably not a substantial cut; a 5 dollar increase in a book of 15 tickets isn't a killer move, but when it comes to who gets to pay more, think about it. Who catches buses on a regular basis in Bermuda?
According to the blogger, the rate hike will have the greatest impact upon students, the elderly, the disabled and low income earners:
The people who are more likely to be able to afford a small dent in their earnings are the ones less likely to use that service!
Sad situation all around. Meanwhile the politicians continue to find ways to inconvenience Bermudians just a little bit more, every time.
While Trinidad and Tobago is in the midst of political woes and police try to determine the identity of the country's latest murder victim, at least one blogger thinks that mainstream media is doing its level best to ignore these pressing issues and capitalise on the pre-Carnival frenzy. (Trinidad and Tobago Carnival takes place on February 16 and 17).
aka_lol accused the leading national daily of “us[ing] its precious mind-swaying front-page to highlight a suspected personality flaw in the country’s top, home-grown, international Soca superstar, Machel Montano”:
Maybe it was because his alleged bad attitude took place at a town school fete is the reason it was given grossly exaggerated importance or some other ulterior or political motive – I don’t know. I doubt the newspaper is being paid off by some Big Men with shares and money to distract the public from the real issues that are, have always been plaguing the nation for some time […]
That Mr. Montano might be throwing temper tantrums all over the place for some very good reasons and a couple bad ones is not new, news or close to headline news. However, the discovery of a decomposing body which might be that of the missing Caribbean Airlines director is depressing and frightful thus should be fitting as a the main headline and a lifesaver given the need to alert unsuspecting visitors merrily flocking our shores for Carnival.
Christmas isn't quite over yet, but Trinidad and Tobago is already in the throes of its Carnival season – that frenetic period of masquerade, soca, celebration, creativity and revelry that some say is unmatched by any other carnival in the world.
One blogger is thrilled to bits that the much-anticipated Carnival is here again – Trinidad Carnival Diary, who takes her moniker from the festival itself. Over the years, her posts has evolved from a small mas’-lover's blog to a full-fledged website that is regarded as one of the authorities on all things Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. She's done a delightful post outlining 10 reasons people love the festival so much. It's worth a read, but to whet your appetite, it involves infectious music, an incomparable sense of freedom, lots of partying with kindred spirits, incredible costumes and a real sense of togetherness.
According to reports from Spanish newspaper El País, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) found the government of the Dominican Republic guilty of discriminating against Haitians and descendants of Haitians born in the country in a ruling issued on Wednesday, October 22.
The CIDH, based in San José, Costa Rica, understood that the Dominican government had violated the right to nationality of hundreds of thousands of descendants of foreigners following the 2013 decision by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic declaring that all people born to immigrants who entered the country illegally since 1929 are foreigners, which affected several generations.
The CIDH ordered the Dominican government to make reparations and rescind any regulations that arbitrarily deprive a person of his or her right to a nationality.
Jamaican author Marlon James’ new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, has been released to such fanfare that even hard-hitting literary critics cannot use enough superlatives in their reviews. Michiko Kakutani, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The New York Times, described James as a “prodigious talent”, calling the novel “epic […] sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex.”
Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul apparently beat international mainstream media to the punch, however. In this post, Paul reveals that she kindly took down an initial interview with James so as not to “[break] the [US] national embargo on information on Brief History and its author”.
The plot of “Seven Killings” uses the real-life assassination attempt on reggae icon Bob Marley a few days before he was to perform at the free One Love Peace Concert in Kingston in December 1976, as a jumping off point from which to discuss issues of race and class in Jamaica, as well as the entangled political relationship between the United States and the Caribbean region.
In her “exclusive interview” with the author, Paul talks to James about his process, admires his seemingly effortless use of Jamaican patois “in a way that outsiders can grasp” and wonders if there might be a sequel. Read the whole interview here.
As the United States-led international coalition forges ahead with its fight against ISIS, the Al Qaeda offshoot which has come to control large parts of Iraq and Syria using brutal and violent tactics, Bermudian blogger catch a fire shares his thoughts about this “new war”, which he believes will only compound the problem:
It […] seems rather hypocritical that the West is suddenly taking action against ISIS, but failed to take any actions against Israel with their recent war crimes, but I digress…
Waging a new war only creates new martyrs, fertilising a while new generation of extremists who bastardise Islam. It does nothing to address the causes of this extremism in the first place – a lack of hope, economic and social collapse and the lack of democracy […] If we really wanted to defeat ISIS […] we need to address these root causes; we need to address poverty and stop supporting authoritarian regimes on the basis of Western interests.
The post goes on to list a number of alternative ways in which to handle the situation.
Esta Vida Boricua [This Boricua Life] is a digital storytelling project which explores the past and present of Puerto Rico through the collection of experiences of people from all walks of life and all ages. At its most basic level, it is “a place to share stories,” as explained in their “About” section. Elaborating on that thought, they write:
Thus, the stories herein are a journey. They offer splashes of color and texture, shades of shadow and light as well as fragments of shape and depth to the existing Puerto Rican mosaic. They unravel the stereotypes and biased images of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture presented in the media and beyond. They speak of a generation of young people struggling under the uncertainty of colonialism —and a backlash from the slow cultural genocide that has taken place since US occupation after the Spanish-American War and the advent of modernism.
The content, which can take the form of writing (in either Spanish or English), video or audio recordings, is entirely produced by volunteers, most of whom are students from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, on the western coast of the main island. Poets, musicians and writers are also welcome to contribute original content.
Once the video of Ray Rice (the American football player for the Baltimore Ravens) hitting his wife went viral, Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella couldn't get the incident out of her mind. “The video where he spits and hits the woman who would go on to be his wife, where he knocks her unconscious and drags her out of the elevator,” she says, “It’s enough to give you nightmares.”
She was also not impressed by the public's response, citing distasteful hashtags on Twitter that made light of a distressing situation and a general bent towards blaming the victim. The blogger, Patrice Grell-Yursik, expressed her concern for the plight of Janay, Rice's wife, and their daughter – but in her effort to understand her situation, she realised that Rice is one of many women stuck in the cycle of domestic abuse:
The more I […] considered this story […], the more I kept thinking about my best friend from childhood. Her name is Carys Jenkins, and she works as the manager of the independent domestic violence advisory service (IDVA) at RISE. She’s been working closely with women dealing with domestic violence for years and years. When I mentioned how sick seeing the Ray Rice video made me, she simply responded, ‘I see lots of videos.’
Jenkins shared with her the “cycle of abuse” and the psychological tactics women use to survive. The post also offered practical advice to women who may be contemplating leaving an abusive union, with the blogger noting that “one of the few good things to come out of this story is the sharing and honesty by people who have experienced domestic violence themselves […] For anyone who’s stuck in an abusive relationship, please know there’s a way out. Please know that a healthy, loving relationship isn’t one that diminishes you as a person or threatens your health and happiness. You can break the cycle of abuse.”
These little creatures have different meanings in other cultures. Ancient Romans believed that the lizard symbolized death and resurrection, because it sleeps during winter and reawakens in Spring.
For the Greeks and Egyptians, the lizard represented divine wisdom and good fortune.
In the Caribbean, lizards have special significance as well. Jamaican blogger Nadine Tomlinson examines the many ways in which lizards feature prominently in local folklore and old wives’ tales:
In Jamaica, old-time people say, ‘If a lizard jump on a woman, it mean she pregnant, or soon pregnant. […]
Old-time people say, ‘If you dream ’bout lizard, it mean you have an enemy.’
She likens the fascination with lizards to the region's African heritage, noting that “throughout the entire continent of Africa, the lizard recurs again and again as a motif in popular culture.” She cites the carving of the lizard icon on doors in West Africa, saying that in some tribes, it represents household tranquility; in Cameroon, it represents fertility.
Interestingly, one of Trinidad and Tobago's most beloved calypsonians, The Mighty Sparrow, sang a popular song called “The Lizard”, which humourously deals with aspects of sexuality:
Playing in class with a lizard in a glass
The lizard get away from Ruth and run by the teacher foot!
Oh Lord, the children frightened hmmm…wonder what gon’ happen,
But the teacher laughing out ‘kee kee kee’, only watching everybody.
The lizard run up she foot and it disappear…
Everybody still searching everywhere.
Where mih lizard, teacher Mildred?
Under she dress, taking a rest.
The way she jolly and happy, I swear the lizard must be tickling she!
While Tomlinson, like most Caribbean dwellers, take the presence of lizards as a given and feels a certain affinity to them, for her, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule: the Jamaican croaking lizard and ground lizard, both of which “creep [her] out”:
Normally, the former tends to be pale, although I’ve seen some in darker hues, and one with spots a couple of times. Yes, they croak, yes, they’ve kept me up at night, and yes, they can be brazen. […] Once, one fell off the ceiling, and almost dropped on my head. Never mind that it didn’t. Just the thought of it stuck in my hair, and the sound of its sticky plop! on the floor was enough for me to start hollering.
As for the latter, as its name suggests, you would be hard-pressed to find it in a tree. This kind is large and long, with an even longer tail, and slithers. They’re fast, too. One chased me when I was a little girl, so I’m convinced they bite. […]
I wonder what old-time people have to say about those two.
Trindadian diaspora fashion blogger, Afrobella, grew up “steeped in reggae music and [with] a love for Jamaican culture” – so why did it take her so long to actually visit the island? She's not sure she can answer that question, considering that her first impression was that “Jamaica is an intoxicatingly beautiful place with unique culture and cuisine”:
Jamaican culture is appreciated around the world, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to go there, be there, and experience the lifestyle.
That said, she has posted her Top 5 reasons to visit Jamaica. Of course her list includes things like the warm weather and ambiance of the popular vacation spot, Montego Bay – but it also waxes poetic about the country's reggae music, food and drink and – no surprise for a fashion blogger – the shopping.
Irish satirical website Waterford Whispers News certainly enjoyed the Ireland cricket teams’ victory over the West Indies on 16 February in Nelson, New Zealand:
THERE were concerns this morning among the Irish Cricket Union after the success of the Ireland team at the World Cup caused massive strain on the Irish Cricket bandwagon, leading to fears that the axles may not be fit to cope with the strain.
But for Irish fans this is no laughing matter.
What is it like to be gay in the Caribbean? The Travelling Trini occasionally gets emails from young gay Trinidadians who “have the burning desire to go abroad, travel, and see the world”. She deduces that this wanderlust stems from the fact that “the Caribbean is a incredibly homophobic place with a raging macho-man culture, and coming out is an incredibly difficult, and often dangerous, thing to do.”
The post goes on to list several songs that promoted homophobia and gay violence back in the nineties: Buju Banton's Boom Bye Bye was unsurprisingly at the top of the heap, but the blogger describes them all as “dark, violent and downright disgusting.” She asks:
Why is it not considered hate speech? Why are radio stations allowed to play it? […] The question is, why is it okay to still be so violently anti-gay in 2015?
She connects this constricted reality with the desire many gay Caribbean people have to migrate and testifies that the Far East, where she currently resides, “is a very gay friendly place, indeed”:
There are thriving gay scenes in every country, from the liberal far east to the conservative Middle East and everywhere in between.
The whole world is not straight. It never has been, and it never will be. […]
Unfortunately these liberal lifestyles are not tolerated in the Caribbean, and are in fact still criminalised under law. There is no legal protection for LGBT citizens […] just as people fought for equal rights based on race, and equal rights based on gender, the next step in our human evolution is equal rights for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
A beloved Bermudian political cartoonist dies after being struck by a motorist's car while on his way to deliver his latest drawing to the newspaper where he worked. The Beach Lime blog notes that “the Corporation of Hamilton speedily acted to move the pedestrian crossing away from the roundabout, in the efforts of pedestrian safety.” Still, the blogger feels that more can be done, including the installation of proper signage and lighting, and even constructing an elevated crosswalk.
In a follow-up post, he recounts his own traffic experience and predicts that if the right measures are not taken quickly, the next road fatality will be just a matter of time:
Light turns green, car in front gets ready to go, then zoom, grey hatchback runs through [the] red light.
People here just don't care, because they know there's little risk of them getting into trouble. Other motorists and pedestrians have to take evasive action. Might is right. There may be cameras at the junction (who knows?) but there's no policy or presence for these scenarios.
After one national newspaper published the contents of murdered Trinidadian attorney Dana Seetahal‘s will, public relations expert and blogger Denise Demming is more concerned that five months later, no-one has been arrested:
As the days pass and the likelihood of laying charges against the perpetrators of this crime recedes, I wonder how our first female Prime Minister feels. Is the Prime Minister now numb to the callous murders which occur daily or does she see them as just hard luck. […] Dana must not simply be another statistic. The popular view is that this was a planned hit, designed to snuff out a voice of reason.
Demming suggests that the crime was more than a murder; it was an assault on the country's democracy. She stated emphatically:
When our mistrust of the state and the institutions designed to protect us is eroded, we are near to anarchy.
Today's lead story in one of Trinidad and Tobago's most popular newspapers was the contents of slain Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal's will. Seetahal was gunned down five months ago in Port of Spain; no one has yet been arrested for her murder.
The blog Wired 868 could not understand the rationale behind printing such personal information. In a post titled “Will and No Grace”, Mr. Live Wire thought that the daily “pushed the boundaries of good taste”:
At a time when the Budget, a brazen attack on the Besson Street police station, gay rights, Trinidad and Tobago’s stance on ISIS, a missing police file on Junior Sammy’s son, Sean, and the accidental shooting death of 17-year-old Ricardo Mohammed by a lawman all cried out for further probes and analysis; the Express opted to rummage through Seetahal’s gifts to her family, friends and staff members instead.
Did Seetahal leave all her earthly possessions left to former insurrectionist Yasin Abu Bakr? Was there an autographed picture with former Iraq President Saddam Hussein? Or maybe a book on conflict of interest bequeathed to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan?
Then how could Express justify this invasion of Seetahal’s private space?
Blogger and public relations professional Dennise Demming is disillusioned with Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who claims to “listen, learn and lead”, but then takes action to the contrary. Demming first cited the example of the country's recent Constitutional Amendment Bill, with which, “despite popular objection, the Government manoeuvred their way and got the Independent bench to support this unpopular change to the constitution.”
Now, she wonders why the government has not listened, learned and led when it comes to the Highway Re-Route Movement. Environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh has undertaken a second hunger strike in protest over a portion of proposed highway that will displace a community and could also have a negative environmental impact. Amidst ongoing construction work on the highway, the Prime Minister has, thus far, refused to meet with Kublalsingh to discuss alternative routes. Demming says:
Re-routing the highway is a reasonable request by a credible group of activists which has come together under the leadership of the PM’s one time friend Dr. Wayne Khublalsingh. I salute this man who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the environment. No matter how this hunger strike ends, his blood is staining the hands of each member of the PP [People's Partnership] Government.
Referring to English art critic Sir Herbert Read‘s book Education Through Art, Carmen Dragman, via Srananart's Blog, looks at the value of art in education, suggesting that the current Caribbean model is shortchanging students by not recognising the power of art as a creative outlet and learning tool:
Teachers and policy makers often actually know that art education is important for each individual, but don’t actually realize as yet how important the subject is. These lessons are mostly seen as ‘means of relaxation’ but not as means of support. Surely not before tests and examinations…
Dragman believes in learning through doing – movement, games, modeling, play – and gives several examples from her own teaching experience that are testaments to the success of this approach. She explains:
If expressive education is given correctly, the cognitive, socio-emotional, sensitive, motoric, affective and creative development of the child will be stimulated. It is therefore very important that this subject be not only presented as an isolated subject, but be also integrated in the other school subjects.
Corporal punishment has, for a long time, been ingrained into the fabric of Caribbean societies, with some making the connection between the region's harsh colonial history and its modern day bent towards violence. In many cases, the recipients of such beatings are the most defenseless members of society – children.
In Trinidad and Tobago, this year alone, there have been two high-profile cases in which videos, one of a mother beating her daughter with a belt and the other of a mother repeatedly hitting a child with a shovel, went viral, prompting a national discussion on the fine line between discipline and child abuse.
Discipline, in its truest sense, is nothing more than an opportunity to teach, and judging from the findings of modern scientific research, you can't connect with children – or anyone for that matter – when they're scared, because the fight or flight instinct takes over.
In reality, though, it can be difficult for parents to walk away from old ideas, especially if the rod was not spared during their own childhood – which is why it was especially refreshing to come across this blog post by a Trinidadian father, living in the United States, detailing exactly how he came to change his mind about corporal punishment:
I used to think spanking a kid was okay – necessary, even. I come from a culture where it is accepted, even expected. I no longer think that it is any of those things.
If you think that a stronger, more physically powerful person hitting a woman is wrong under all circumstances, then you must accept that hitting a weaker, much less powerful human being is equally as wrong – if not more so.
The idea that ‘well, I got hit as a kid and I turned out okay’ is, I think, a fallacy. Because I think that if you think that hitting a kid is okay under [insert circumstances here], you, in fact, did not ‘turn out okay’.
Hitting a kid, especially a young kid, is pure laziness. It’s ‘I can’t be bothered to understand what’s driving my kid to do X so I’m going to revert to my base instinct and lash out.’ It’s lazy, and it is wrong.
I was spanked as a kid. Not often […] but I got spanked. I love my mom, and she is my hero for how she brought us up – but on this, she was wrong […] If I am half the parent to my children that my mother was to us, I’ll be an excellent parent. But I will never hit my kids. That’s one thing that stops with me.