Mining the gold in the Trinidad and Tobago diaspora

There are several ways in which to recognize and maximize the gold mine of talent and achievement that is readily available in a country’s diaspora.

In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the international community tends to see that country’s carnival as the most striking feature of its brand and image.

While it is reasonable to brand all Caribbean countries and territories as hotbeds of rich culture, the colourful variety of specialty skills involved in Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival arts does command attention: steelpan, calypso-soca-chutney, costumes and floats, and street theatre.

And this year, as Trinidad and Tobago gets ready for the annual Independence anniversary announcement on August 31 of the conferral of national awards, one can only hope that more attention will be paid to the cultural sector, and especially to the diaspora’s contribution to the international promotion of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture.

As a first step in the consolidation and maximizing of the treasure-trove of skills embedded in the hearts, souls and brains of its diaspora communities around the world, the government of Trinidad and Tobago  may therefore choose to include in its national awards more and more of its overseas “nationals” and their successive descendants.

The strategic advantage of that approach is not to be underestimated.

Such an approach would work wonders in terms of inclusiveness, building bridges between the communities based abroad and the people and organizations within Trinidad and Tobago’s territorial borders.

That approach also forms an integral part of a diaspora policy that literally puts both the diaspora and the “home base” inside the engine room of the country’s development.

But that same approach has yet another important advantage to offer. It has long been proven that culture in all its many aspects is one of the most effective factors in successful community development. It gives a community a sense of identity and an awareness of that shared identity.  It fosters the spirit of caring, solidarity and loyalty that binds people together.

So here is a small sample of the hundreds, or even thousands of  Trinidad and Tobago’s  daughters and sons, whose decades in Canadian vineyards in the inter-related fields of culture, community service and education may earn them consideration for the national awards conferred annually in that country:

Harold Saldenah, Louis Saldenah, Marcus Eustace, Whitfield Belasco, Ian Jones, Earl LaPierre Sr., Rasheed Sultan-Khan, Lennox Borel, , George Maharaj, Eleanor Wiltshire-Rodney, Steve Khan, Eulith Tara Woods (Macomere Fifi), John “Jayson” Perez, Joan Pierre, and Stella Herrera-Pinnock.

Moving forward, there may be good reasons to look at achievers in other fields, such as Robert “Bob” Fung (Business), Dr. Jameel Ali (Medicine), Dr. Stephen “Steve” Blizzard (Medicine and Sport Medicine), Arnold Auguste (Journalism) and Mr. Justice Selwyn Romilly (Law).

And it is strongly suggested that a new category of national awards be created to recognize the special contributions of  the “honourary” Trinbagonians like Gordon Cressy of Canada whose work in the early years of the YMCA in Trinidad has now been consolidated by his recent ground-breaking work (with his wife Joanne Campbell-Cressy) in the Tobago YMCA.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is  just one contribution to the creation of a larger data base. It is important to encourage all and sundry to prepare their own list along with a biography that highlights the achievements of their preferred candidates.

In that regard, it bears repeating that the heavy focus on giving awards to overseas achievers in the fields of culture, community service and education, serves a double purpose.

It brings Trinidad and Tobago’s diaspora communities fully into the fold of that country’s national development. No matter the geographic distance, direct engagement in the country’s plans and activities pushes away the unpleasant feeling of isolation and exclusion from the ancestral home.

But there is also the other very pleasant benefit of highlighting and promoting what so many persons consider to be the country’s principal asset: its multi-faceted and multi-storied culture.