My old friend Dool Hanomansingh has made an eloquent plea for Indo Guyanese living abroad to return “home” to the promised land and work to build a homeland for Indians in the Caribbean.
But it’s just not happening any time soon. I have good evidence that less than one percent of them in Canada will actually make that return trip.
The same plea can be made for the Indo Trinidad diaspora and the Indo Surinamese diaspora, and it will get the same 1% or less guesstimate from me.
Dool also made some unfortunate remarks about Indo Caribbeans abroad as “Secluded and isolated in their social settings, they became complacent, who were successful in migrating have not returned to lend a hand”, “they have failed to give much thought to returning” and “Living like hermits in hostile territories, with no neighbours or community is no life. Such a life with some nourishing food and the comfort of a mansion is similar to the life of a dog in an air-conditioned kennel.”
Them’s fighting words, pardner, but I believe they were made in ignorance of our position as Indo Caribbeans abroad and I will answer them humbly.
First, the issue of returning to the old Caribbean homelands must be taken with our interests as Indos abroad as well as yours as Indos in your homeland. Notice that I say your homeland.
Trinidad is not my home. I haven’t lived there for over 30 years and have visited there for less than two months in that time. My Guyanese friends haven’t lived in Guyana for over 40 years most of them, so how Guyana be their home?
Canada is my homeland now, my base, my citizenship, though not my only citizenship since I am still a Trinidad citizen. My wife and I worked hard to make a good life for the family here in Toronto, way better than the one I had in Trinidad. You have to come with mighty tasty talkary to get me to leave my Canadian maple syrup, but I and my Indo Guyanese buddies are not seeing it.
We old farts are not the only Indo Caribbeans in the diaspora, you know. My children and the many others born here or who came as young children are not going back to the Caribbean under any conditions. That is a strange and frightening place for them, and after two weeks there they want to come home to Canada. The grandchildren are all Indo and Canadian and nothing Caribbean.
If any of us oldies do decide to go back to the Caribbean, our children and grandchildren will not be coming with us. It would be criminal to take them away from their schools and their friends and the life they have always known.
Come to think of it, we oldies have in fact given much thought to returning to the old place but rejected it for fairly obvious reasons.
If still working, we would have to give up our jobs, our pensions, cash out our savings and insurance policies, sell our house and possessions, abandon our friends and connections here, our children if they are out of school, and go down to what in Trinidad or Guyana?
Will we get equivalent jobs with reasonable salary in the Caribbean? We don’t get a warm welcome when we go job seeking in the old homeland, but rather resentment that we “ran away” when things were tough and now want to come back to get the ripe plums. Coming back in our forties or fifties, will we be able to catch up with locals working since their twenties, or will we fall short and end up in Jackass Village?
If we are coming back for three months a year as Dool suggests, what will we do that matters in such a short time? If I come as a retiree and spend over six months in Trinidad, I will lose my Ontario Health Insurance Plan benefits that give me free hospital and doctor care and seniors entitlement to free medications.
I will have to go to Mount Hopeless Hospital! Hanuman, help me!
If I come to Trinidad to start a business or make an investment, I will be completely out of depth with the local business climate after 30 years and be easy pickings for some Trini smart man.
However you slice it, returning to the Caribbean for us Indo Caribbeans abroad is a risky proposition with plenty of sacrifice and not much prospect of reward. That is why so few do it.
How few? I asked the founder of the Toronto group Trinidad and Tobago 50 Plus and Seniors Association how many of his members were actually returning to Trinidad to live permanently. Not much, he said. Ten percent, I asked? Less, he replied. Five percent? Less. Three percent? Less. One percent?!! Less. I gave up. And what happens to those few who actually sell their property and move back? Within two years half of them are back in Canada, he answered. QED, from the horse’s mouth.
Now as to Dool’s comment that we Indo Caribbeans abroad are “secluded and isolated in their social settings”, that we are “living like hermits in hostile territories, with no neighbours or community…similar to the life of a dog in an air-conditioned kennel”, that is just funny and a little bit sad.
We have over a quarter million Indo Caribbeans in Canada, most of them in Greater Toronto and southern Ontario, and double that number in the USA, and another quarter million Indo Surinamese in the Netherlands. Vishnu Bisram will tell you how comfortable and well settled most of the Indo Caribbeans are in the USA and the Netherlands.
We have a huge base group here in Toronto which I know quite well, quite prosperous the majority of them, many with good jobs living in million dollar homes with kids doing well in school, and an abundant social and cultural life. We have many friends and acquaintances from our community and outside, over 40 mandirs, plus churches and mosques, dozens of roti shops and restaurants and groceries, numerous businesses of all types. We have great freedom of opportunity and movement, no enemies to talk about.
It’s the very opposite of secluded and isolated, like hermits, without a community, like a dog in an air-conditioned kennel. Not a paradise, except when we compare it with life in Trinidad. That’s just my little joke, which no local Trini will laugh at, of course.
But seriously Dool my friend, we here in Toronto have all that we want and need. We are not missing anything from the old country. We don’t feel guilty about leaving. And remember this is not intended as an insult, but Trinidad has only one thing better than Canada-warm weather all year round while we have it warm for only four months of the year.
There are a million of us Indo Caribbeans in the diaspora. We are not exiles longing to return to the old hometown. We have our own countries and our own lives that we like and enjoy. It may be cold sometimes but we have heating for that.
They say you can’t go home again, but that doesn’t apply to us. We are already home.