Indian Arrival Day Celebrations in USA commemorate the arrival of Indians from India to the Caribbean as well as from there to North America and Europe. It is not a celebration of indentureship or of the persecution or oppression of Indians. Rather, it is a celebration of a people who overcame adversity and oppression and who have survived attempts at cultural, if not physical, genocide in territories of the caribbean and of a people who have maintained their identity and cultural traits in the USA.
Indians came as indentured laborers between 1838 and 1917 to the Caribbean and have been moving to North America and Europe as migrants since before WWII. Close to one million Indians set sail for the Caribbean; thousands died along the way on board the ship and thousands more died on the plantations. Over a million Indo-Caribbeans have settled in Europe and North America since 1950s. In the US alone, some 750K are settled.
The indentured laborers came from India to work on sugar cane, cocoa, coconut and other estates. They were to serve a 5-7 year contract, after which they would either return to India or access land to encourage their stay through re-indentureship. Many renewed their contracts in exchange for (useless swamp) land. Although a substantial amount returned to India, most stayed behind to create a formidable Indo-Caribbean presence. In spite of insurmountable difficulties, Indians have survived as a group separate from others and have retained their identity. They have contributed to the development of several of the territories of the region where they were indentured and through intra-region migration. They have made immeasurable contributions to the growth and development of territories in the region wherever they are found. And so we remember and celebrate their contributions to the region and for making us who we are as a people.
Indian Arrival Day was first celebrated in the early twentieth century right after indentureship ended in 1917 and at historic anniversaries like the 100th anniversary in Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, Jamaica, etc. That day has been observed uninterrupted till this day. Even in North America, since 1984 as initiated by the Indo-Caribbean Federation (ICF), Indian Arrival is celebrated.
Indian culture has survived handsomely in the Caribbean although it faces serious challenges especially where Indians are a minority and where they have been persecuted. The success of their arrival was certainly reflected in the Indian Arrival Day Celebration everywhere over the last several decades.
Indian culture had to overcome serious adversity in the Caribbean and in North America, but it has managed to survive because of the support provided by the community and activists (including those of us in the ICF who organize the celebrations in New York) as well as religious leaders and sponsors of activities. The ICF hosts a mesmerizing cultural variety show inclusive of tassa drums, a beauty pageant, and a singing and dancing competition. Over the past 34 years, supporters came out in their numbers to patronize the program and be entertained by singers, dancers, musicians and speakers. Delicious foods were usually available. Patrons had a wonderful time. Thanks for your support in attendance and thanks to sponsors on varied aspects of the programs as well as the stage, chairs and other facilities and the refreshments. And thank you organizers and colleagues for your hard work and sacrifice to make IAD a success. Your dedication and commitment is greatly appreciated. You can never be compensated for your contributions!
By Vishnu Bisram