By Dario Euraque and Milla Riggio
Writing on behalf of our colleagues, we from Trinity College, Hartford, CT., want to thank the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies for allowing us to share in the Lloyd Best Common Sense Convois. The Trinity delegation speaks to the diversity of the broadly conceptualized Caribbean basin, encompassing not only the insular Anglo-phone and Franco-phone Caribbean but those countries in South, Central, and North America with Caribbean coastlines, including the Gulf of Mexico shores into regions of Texas, and especially Louisiana and Florida.
Thus conceptualized, the Caribbean itself is a diasporic region that has, in its turn, spawned a diaspora of its own, including Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Jewish, European, but centered of course in the African Diaspora linked to the Transatlantic Slave Trade that began in the late 16th century and continued into the mid-19th century. Trinity College faculty at the Convois included Professor Pablo Delano, a Puerto Rican photographer whose work for the past thirteen years has centrally included Trinidad and the Honduras, often within the framework of comparison with Puerto Rico; Professor Dario Euraque, a Honduran historian and former Director of the Institute of Antrhopology and History in the Honduras (2006-2009); Assistant Professor Kifah Hanna, a Syrian who teaches Arabic Studies and who has family members in the Syrian diasporic community in Trinidad; Assistant Professor Seth Markle, an African-American historian whose research also focuses partly on the African diaspora in the Caribbean region; and Professor Milla Riggio, the Coordinator of the Trinity-in-Trinidad Global learning exchange, of which Professor Delano is the associate Coordinator.
Also attending were students Antinea Ascione, a Trinidad-Italian student now studying at Trinity College, and several students on the current Trinity-in-Trinidad exchange, including one South African student and students who study at Amherst College as well as Trinity, whose core course on Caribbean Civilization is facilitated by Sunity Maharaj-Best.
Launching our own Trinity-in-Trinidad archive, now being catalogued by Gregory Bertrand, as a shared enterprise begins to build a cultural and educational framework on the foundation we had established first in our collaboration with Lloyd himself and, subsequently, with Sunity, which we will further explore through the LBIWI-TC (Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies and Trinity College), a partnership formally ratified at the Convois. Our first archival offering – a lecture that Lloyd delivered at Trinity in 2002 – is now available, through the cooperative agreement of Trinity, the LBIWI-TC (which we are thinking of as the BEST Trinity College), and Lloyd’s daughters Kamla, Carmel and Ayiti, through the following link to the Trinity digital repository: http://vimeo.com/user7178925/videos
Expressing our appreciation for the creative planning efforts leading up to the Convois, we think initially of:
1) Distribution of Convois meeting sites around Trinidad and Tobago. It was not only locating Convois gatherings in various locations around the islands, but also the particular locations themselves were significant: Beginning on the Caribbean Sea as the locus that literally and conceptually links us all highlighted the interactivity of the region; the Sugar Museum being established under the guidance of Professor Brinsley Samaroo and many others in Brechin Castle, Couva, focused on the historical legacy of sugar as one of the unifiers of the region, reaching even to New Orleans and the hinterlands of Louisiana, in the United States; linking community with energy in Point Fortin further illustrated the industrial base that distinguishes Trinidad in the insular Caribbean; The estate of St. Isidore in Manzanilla illustrated not only the centrality of cacao to the broad Caribbean area, but also the importance of collaborative efforts that in one community have reclaimed and restored a vibrant habitat for wildlife —birds, monkeys, and other creatures—threatened throughout the region. Being hosted partly by the Tobago House of Assembly in the Magdalena Grand Hotel on an estate known as “Tobago Plantations” not only brought the sister island into the picture but also made visible the efforts of a state government to work with private investors to maintain and sustain a vital resource within the island economy. Concluding at Tapia House literally brought the work of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies as a partner in so many of these community based enterprises “home.”
2) The notion of the Convois: The aim of the Convois to establish conversation between academics, activists, community organizers and workers, and those representing national and international agencies establishes a format that – refined and enhanced – could help to lead to the kinds of change that are important to the maintenance and essential to the development of the Caribbean region. To effectuate the change that is the goal of the Convois itself requires an awareness that theory without practice is hollow, while practice that is not conceptually aware and broadly and concretely theorized fragments into important but not consolidated singular results.
3) Linking the local to the regional: One of the characteristic features of the world we live in now – which some think of (probably prematurely) as the post-nation-state era—has been the simultaneous movements toward greater globalization and more intensely articulated local, tribal, ethnic, and cultural identities. Allowing community members such as Gupte Lutchmedial of St. Isidore or Chunilal Roopnarine of the Trinidad Bee keepers Association, to speak of their local developments and needs in the context of the broader definitions provided by Harvard-educated Dr. Roger Pulwarty (and others) of the impacts of climate and energy on global ecology emphasized the inescapable ways in which the local is tied to and impacted by the more broadly international. Through the representation of Cuban, Guyanese, Honduran, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Belizean, Canadian, United Statesian participants, the Convois began to build the foundation for the broader definition of the Caribbean that will be instrumental in any movements going forward.
4) Empowering Youth: One of the key aspects of the Convois was the attempt to engage youth in conversation with their elders. Thus, including the youth respresentatives from various nations within the region, including of course Trinidad itself, was vital. Like the notion of the Convois as a conversation, the effort to empower youthful voices was only partially realized in this single week. Working through the tensions that such efforts must inevitably initially create, as dream and reality begin to coalesce, will be one of the major challenges going forward. This challenge could not be met without the initial inclusion of those voices, however inadequately they themselves might have felt their voices to be recognized.
5) Curricular implications: Speaking now perhaps more specifically for our own delegation, though we hope with implications for many others, we want finally to speak as academics and teachers to the opportunities and also the challenges such broad collaboration between institutions, communities, and nations create within this region.
This was a function not only of our participation in the Convois, but complemented with varied and rich meetings with academics at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus Academically, the Caribbean provides a fertile ground for study and research in an almost amazing range of areas: the history of the plantation and non-plantation economies of the region; exploring further the notion of economies that produced societies; examining the ecological and environmental richness of the region, with all the lessons that it offers the world at large; seeing culture itself – in the form of festivals, music, and other forms of art—as a crucial component of regional development; understanding the breadth of the diaspora both within and beyond the Caribbean —links between Africa, as for example Tanzania, and the Caribbean historically; studying the Middle Eastern (Syrian, Indian) connections as well as the Far Eastern (Chinese and other) dimensions of Caribbean culture. These are but a few of the opportunities the region offers those who live in it and those who come to learn from it. The challenge in this regard—certainly for us at Trinity and, we think, more broadly for others—is to persuade the international community to take the Caribbean region seriously, not as a vacation playground full of sea, sand, and sun but as a visible player in defining the choices and directions that must guide us all in our paths of independent and interactive development. To meet this challenge, the individual and collective connections established this week provide the first baby step forward. It will be up to us all to determine how many steps beyond this we can take.