It was recently announced that the free movement of persons throughout the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) will be a reality by August of this year. A beautiful vision and I believe a step in the right direction towards a more unified Caribbean.
As a person of mixed Caribbean heritage; Barbadian born to St. Lucian and Vincentian parents, with additional family ties to Antigua. I dare say I am predisposed to viewing Caribbean integration and free movement between the islands with an open mind.
That said, I worry that free movement between the OECS, Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and other such initiatives will be unsuccessful unless we let go of the prejudices we hold against each other.
My knowledge of Caribbean history and politics is limited to what I learned at secondary school and a brief compulsory course at UWI. So I claim no great knowledge as to when and why the tension between the islands began; I am also certain that few persons reading this article can give me a factual synopsis of why the Barbadians dislike the Guyanese or why the Bahamians dislike the Jamaicans. Yet we continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes of each other.
When the story of Shanique Myrie hit the airwaves, I got knocked very hard for saying I believe there could be truth to her claims. Nonetheless, I stand by my statement. You must understand I love Barbados. It is and will always be my home, my island paradise; but there is one smear on my island's character and that is the way we treat our Caribbean brothers and sisters. Growing up with non-Barbadian parents I've witnessed first hand prejudice and discrimination against them. I myself have been targeted. On more than one occasion its been assumed that I am Guyanese or Trinidadian living in Barbados to infiltrate the ranks, steal the men and claim rights that aren't mine.
However, Barbados isn't the only island guilty of xenophobia. I've heard those exact sentiments echoed from Bahamians concerning Haitians and Jamaicans, in Trinidad referring to the Venezuelans and even here in Montserrat concerning the Santo Domingo community.
I've also noticed that despite all the inter island conflict there is one common "enemy." The Guyanese. Anti Guyanese sentiments can be heard through out the Caribbean. The general consensus is that the Guyanese cannot be trusted, the women are vile seductresses who con unsuspecting men, they come in large numbers with the intent to over take whatever island they migrate too.
I can't imagine what they've done to deserve such a reputation and I think that it may at times be highly undeserving. For one, you cannot paint an entire nation of people with one brush. Each individual must be different - different morals and ideals, different attitudes and principles. So while of course there are Guyanese of questionable character, just as it is with every nationality; there are also Guyanese who are wonderful people.
It's high time we let go of the prejudicial bonds and move forward. When I was accepted to attend University in Trinidad, my elation was severely dampened by persons repeatedly saying to me to be careful because Trinidadians are notorious for not liking Barbadians. As a result, I went to Trinidad prepared for a fight and instead I was pleasantly surprised. Apart from the occasional jibe about Barbadian fishermen stealing flying fish from Trinidadian waters I found the people to be warm and accepting. So now I can tell a different tale and while my singular experience isn't enough to put an end to the idea that Trinidadians don't like Barbadians, it is a tiny step in the right direction.
That's the thing about any journey though, it only takes one small step at a time and the great thing is that many other steps are being taken so I know we will get there.
Sites like MNI Alive.com and radio stations like the new Caribbean Superstation are all doing a great job of exposing us to each other's cultures and breaking down the walls between us.
Each individual has to do their part as well. When you meet a person of a different nationality start with a clean slate and treat that person as you would want a friend or relative living abroad to be treated. And to persons like myself living in a strange land, remember your purpose there. You haven't come to insult and to tear down. You are there to learn, to experience a new culture and to grow and even to add something positive to that island.
Above all remember that old proverb we learned at school.
United we stand divided we fall.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Penny Small is a freelance contributor to MNI Alive. She is a Pharmacist by profession, currently residing in the Caribbean.
Flickr Photo by S Beria