Indo-Guyanese Village Reunions in New York

Indo-Guyanese Village Reunions in New York
During the summer that just ends, Guyanese Americans organized community events specifically designed to reunite kinfolks from a particular village. (There is also an Indo-Trini reunion in Queens over the last several years). These have become an annual ritual that constitutes a remembrance and celebration of life in that village and of the presence and achievements of those villagers and their descendants in America. No other ethnic group from any other country holds a similar kind of reunion in the US. It is unprecedented, unimaginable. Re-creating ties among those spread across different areas outside of Guyana and transmitting kin-based connections to offspring is one of the objective behind in these joyous village reunions. These village reunions were rituals specifically focused on a publicly enacted performance centering on people or life from that village. Amazingly, those born in America see themselves as coming from that village in Guyana and partake in its activities.
 
Over the last two decades, Indo-Guyanese village and school reunions have become an annual ritual in New York City. I am told Orlando, Toronto and some other cities in Canada also have reunions of Guyanese. But in Queens, New York, Guyanese village reunions have become institutionalized. It is an important ritualized event among Indo-Guyanese Americans with many even flying in from other cities in the US, UK, and Canada as well as from Guyana. People (or those Americans who trace their roots) from every Indo Guyanese village imaginable held a gathering (reunion) this past summer, and in fact have been doing for many years – at the Flushing Park, Cunningham Park, Baysley Park, or Roy Wilkins Park, or some park all of which also host cricket. There was an occasional reunion in the Bronx and in Jersey City that is all Guyana inclusive rather than focused around a particular village. And these reunions carried their own distinct labels like Port Mourant Day or Albion Day or Rose Hall Day, or Canal Day, or Lesbeholden Day, etc. All of these reunions were organized by volunteers who come from these villages. The funding for the reunion is usually a combination of sponsorship from organizers, a business, and/or a raffle. Through contacts, word went around about the date of their village re-union. These village reunions attracted hundreds every Saturday and Sunday from the first weekend in July through end of September. The largest gatherings were usually Port Mourant, Albion, Enmore, Canal, Windsor Forest, Uitvlught, Wales, Rose Hall Canje, Black Bush, etc. Non-villagers (from surrounding villages also attend) the reunions. It is for those who have full or partial Guyanese ancestry and their friends; non-Guyanese also attend for the joy and fun. I attended several to observe from a journalistic and academic perspective. These reunion highlight public attention to a peoples’ customs and values recreating a consciousness of valued behaviour and beliefs. People reconnect with roots and bond together. Outstanding villagers are recognized with a plaque.
 
I first know of village reunions going back to the 1990s starting with Port Mourant, followed by Albion. It was an idea that started with Corentyne High School now JC Chandisingh (of Port Mourant/Rose Hall town) holding a reunion organized by Rishi Singh of Hampshire and others.  This was followed by Comprehensive HS, Nath HS, Belevdere HS (all Berbicians) and later by other schools. The village reunions followed that pattern; Port Mourant Day may well have been the first followed by Albion and the idea caught on with every Indo-Guyanese village from Line Path to Charity. All ages come together to reminisce about life in a particular village.
 
All the school and village reunions tend to bring together people from back home in a fraternity.  These reunions pique interest and there is much excitement about attending them. Everyone welcomes these rituals and look forward for them. They allow people to catch up with your friends or neighbors or other villagers face to face. These reunions had a plethora of fun activities including cricket, volley-ball, track and field (bag racing, needle threading), dancing, and off course liquor drinking and a lot of eating. The adults replay for their children varied activities when they were children to experience the kind of fun they had. Attendees greet each other and talked about those who lost hair, gain bellies, use reading glasses, etc. They showed off old photos of themselves, children, grand children and neighbors. There are a large number of people that one may have thought they would never see again (or want to see again), and here they are at the reunion, hugging and chatting just like back home. They miss each other and the relationship they had in the past. The reunion offered an opportunity to catch up on how each other has been living since the last contact. Past lovers and crushes, illegal and or fun activities and other mischief are brought back to life. Memories come back. The memories of village life, whether good or bad, never leave. Once someone begins to say, “Remember this or that, then the series of “remember whens” never ceases. You think back and laugh at the past. And for some, it may seem like time has never passed. Everything just clicks right back into place of one’s history.
 
Like in Guyana, the reunion rituals intersect class but not ethnic identities. The ethnic divisions from Guyana are carried over in terms of events and residential settlements with Indo-Guyanese establishing their own distinct communities in the USA. However, no one is excluded from a reunion on account of ethnicity or other factors. In fact, Guyanese married to non-Guyanese and their offspring also attend the functions and comfortably mingle with the gathering and participate in the varied activities. Large music boxes tend to entertain the crowds with Indian and chatney songs and occasionally there is a live band; karaoke from well-known artistes is also part of the entertainment.
 
These social events have meaning. The reunion is used as a fundraising drive for to improve the village back in the old country. Raffles are held. Participants also donate money; collected proceeds are sent home or used to organize next year’s activities. The money is given to some worthy project in Guyana – fixing a school, help poor families, honor outstanding Guyanese from that area – recognition.
 
Reunions are a therapy for loneliness. For older folks and those in poor health, a reunion presents a chance to see people who they had not for a long time and may also be their last. The gatherings are also a way to celebrate shared heritage and culture, to exchange stories and to honor the memories of those who have passed on. Participants disclosed that it is a wonderful opportunity to be with village folks. The reunions allow members of a village to re-engage in face-to-face interaction that would keep alive memories of village life and to remember and celebrate their family and personalities. The reunion of a village reunion also give youngsters born in that village and migrated as well as American born of parents from those villages a chance to meet and get to know their ancestral villagers and anyone else who is from that village – and by extension from Guyana. It is amazing to hear youngsters born in America say they are from Port Mourant or Anna Regina or Berbice or Guyana.
 
The reunions are a welcomed activity – a re-enactment of nostalgia back to a time and place that formed an important part of Guyanese lives. They help people catch up with the past after a long period serving a therapeutic effect on the old, feeble and lonely. These reunions are a reminder of how much joy or sorrow one had growing up – the pains, sufferings, and overcoming them as well as the achievements of oneself and family and neighbors. There is much consoling over losses and gratification and joy for meeting again. The connections, shared values and common experiences re-unite them all once again until another summer when they hope to meet again.
 
 (*Vishnu, a holder of multiple doctorates is a social and political activist and educator, writes extensively on the Guyanese diaspora as well as on the Caribbean and Indian diasporas with thousands of articles in varied publications.)