The movement of people from one place to another has always been part of the human experience. This movement can happen in two ways. It can be voluntary and involuntary, resulting in the creation of diasporic communities. In other words, the movement of people from one place to another creates communities outside the space in which their ancestors lived, and most of us are likely to be members of such communities.
Diaspora speaks to the continuity in time of a people’s emotional and cultural attachment to a community outside their national boundaries, and within this community there are always different types of phenomena happening. Some phenomenons we are aware of and others we are not. In this essay, my attempt is to address a particular phenomenon, which was voiced on Facebook by a concerned Grenadian. This phenomenon, despite being questioned by a Grenadian, is not unique to the Grenadian diasporic experience but is true of the diaspora in general. My hope is that this essay will provide some enlightenment on this particular phenomenon, as we, especially those of us living in the Grenadian diaspora, try to make sense of it.
The phenomenon this individual inquired into was concerned with (and I am paraphrasing) the idea that ‘Caribbean people disowned their own people after become Americanized.’ This is not an isolated belief. It is prevalent among many diasporic Grenadians, especially in the Brooklyn, New York experience. “They,” according to the inquirer, “don’t want to deal with their own people anymore.” Embedded also within the individual’s inquiry are two questions that highlight two ideas the individual believes that Caribbean people in the diaspora should consider.
Have you ever heard of American people saying that they don’t want to hang around other Americans?
Aren’t we supposed to deal with our own people more when we become Americanize?
I must admit that at first, I, to some extent, agreed with the inquirer’s observation. However, after reflecting on the idea, I concluded that ‘Grenadians disavowing connections with the Grenadian diasporic space and community’ had to be based on something more than just becoming “Americanized.” It couldn’t be that simple. There must be a broader context within which this phenomenon must be understood, and this is what this essay intends to survey.
Living in a place other than one’s own homeland can be a horrifying experience. This is even more so with no support system. Diasporic communities often struggle for recognition and participation in the social, economic and cultural experiences of their host country. Thus, to speak of diasporic communities is to speak of people creating networks that are first concerned with self-preservation. In other words, diasporic enclaves offer to its people the opportunity to create important links that are based, not only on emotional and cultural connections, but also upon political and economic ties. These communities often offer some form of stability reminiscent of what their people experienced in their home countries.
Because diasporic communities offer human connections that appears to be too important to sever, one can instead understands the individual’s inquiry as being concerned with the severing of a nostalgia, which is satisfied via the community ties. In other words, the inquiry is questioning one’s attempt to interrupt the emotional and cultural ties to his or her “home.” From my own experience as a diasporic Grenadian, there is a feeling within our diasporic community that one must, not just identify with, but be an active participant in the Grenadian culture as it is reproduced in place like Brooklyn, New York. There is an accepted norm that says one should participate in the Jab Jab masquerade on Eastern Parkway come Labor Day carnival, and/or one should engage in drinking Clarke’s Court and listen to Soca/Reggae music in the many backyards in Brooklyn, where diasporic Grenadians often meet to socialize. If you are Grenadian you must be hanging out with other Grenadians; if not all the time, most of the time.
Am I suggesting that there is something wrong with remaining within one’s own cultural diasporic enclave? Certainly not! The choice is indeed yours. However, there are, I believe, shortcomings to not socially venturing outside one’s self-imposed boundaries. The inquiry, however, seems to suggest that there is a problem with those who choose to venture outside. Indeed, the community is the place where there is a constant interaction between our similarities and our differences of what we are and what we have become. Thus, an inquiry in search of understanding this interplay is certainly not misplaced. However, when one reads question one above, there seems to be an underlining belief that identifies the people who choose to venture outside their social and cultural diasporic community as being traitors to their culture, their people and their home country.
An element that also appears to exist within the inquiry is the element of otherizing those not belonging to the inside group/culture. Why identify with the “other”? Why become “Americanized?” Isn’t your culture good enough? Of course, the idea that one can become Americanized suggests that there exists a monolithic American culture, a notion that is certainly debatable. There are many Americans who will argue that this notion is far from true. Despite this promise as enshrined within the American constitution, the United States of America has not become the ‘melting pot’ community it has dreamed of becoming. Thus, the term “Americanized,” I will argue, suggests, not the adaption of an American culture per se, but to an individual’s acculturation. In other words, it is referring to a change in the individual’s cultural aesthetic, emotional sensibilities, customs and other norms. That is, the individual may make changes to his or her emotional response to LGBTQ issues, classism, racism, to his or her preference in food, drinks, dress, speech and/or music, etc.
Within this context, the inquiry is questioning behaviors. Thus, in a sense, the inquiry becomes an attack upon a person’s individuality and sense of identity. In essence, the individual’s right to choose is what’s being questioned here. This is so because acculturation is neither a random nor an automatic process. The individual, to a large extent, is in control of the process. And included within this acculturation process is the process of deculturation, where the individual is at the same time unlearning aspects of his or her own culture. One need not be fearful of the process though. You are in control. There are, in fact, many aspects of the Grenadian culture that should be shred because of their capacity to physically and psychologically harm other human beings, minimizing their humanity and stifling their ability to self-actualization. Moreover, shouldn’t an individual have the right to sever and/or identify with whatever culture/s or mode of being he or she wants?
The second question also presents an interesting perspective. It highlights a dichotomy within the concept of becoming “Americanized” itself. If it is true that to become “Americanized” is to sever one’s cultural and/or social ties, how then can we socially interact more with each other? How can we become more patriotic to our home culture while, at the same time, going through acculturation and deculturation? I doubt that this dichotomy is a real phenomenon. It is true, however, that as a people migrates away from their homeland (home), a deeper appreciation for their country’s culture seems to develop. This phenomenon highlights that sense of nostalgia, I mentioned about above. Thus, there are Grenadians, for example, participating in Labor Day carnival in Brooklyn every year who may have never wondered about taking part in carnival while living in Grenada. Indeed, the real dilemma that exists for first generation diasporic people is the existence of a psychological tug-of-war that plays out between being patriotic to one’s culture and country and the expectation and pressure to assimilate into and be patriotic to a new country and culture.
There is also another direction in which this inquiry should be unraveled. One can analyze it from the prospective of an outsider; from the outside looking in. From this position one can asked: Why shouldn’t Caribbean diasporic people embrace another culture or cultures? Indeed, as identified earlier, connection to one’s diasporic community provides important emotional, social and economic stability. However, within these communities often exists a sense of fear of the “other;” a sense of xenophobia that cripples our ability to venture outside the safety of our enclaves. This severely limits our ability to grow and mature as a human beings. I have written about Grenadians asserting that they have nothing to talk about with another human beings because of identifying as Afro-American, for instance: An absurd assertion indeed.
As a diasporic Grenadian, I certainly understands the assumption that underlines the inquirer’s inquiry. I believe, however, that the assumption is mistaken. That is to say that most Grenadians who exit their diasporic enclaves, seek to expand their lived experience. They, I am arguing, are not taking such action just because of “not wanting to hang out with their own people.” Taking such a step is not an easy one. As I have demonstrated thus far, not only would the individual loose his or her safety net, but also opens the self to health problems. In other words, the individual opens him or herself to an internal disequilibrium that creates a state of uncertainty, anxiety and confusion, which can and often does negatively impacts the individual’s behavioral and psychological stability.
My conclusion then is this. The issue the inquirer meant to question does not rest upon a willful act of discontent by those who, “no longer want to deal with their own people.” Most Grenadians who venture outside their diasporic enclaves adopted, I believe, new modes of being because they believe that these modes best fit their identity and also lend support to their struggle for self-actualization. Thus, in trying to analyze this phenomenon, one must not overlook individuals’ likes and dislikes. These are intrinsic elements that will influence an individual’s choice in both acculturation and deculturation. There are Grenadians, for example, whose taste in music exceeds the usually love for only Soca/Calypso and/or Reggae music, and thus, seek communities via which their musical tastes can be fulfilled. But hold on, there is more! There exists a pervasive culture of gossip within the Grenadian diasporic communities, which is a phenomenon many Grenadians cite as also being a reason they have opted to either limit and/or sever their direct ties with the diasporic community. And despite the suggestion from the inquirer’s inquiry, most of these Grenadians continue to maintain cultural and economic ties to their people in ways different from just “hanging out with or being around other Grenadians.”
These are very real reasons why many Grenadians choose to exit the Grenadian diasporic community and not just because of becoming “Americanized.” In fact, the inquirer’s first question points to a lack of familiarity with American’s cultural landscape. Yes, there are many Americans who refuse to hang-out with other Americans for a variety of reasons. This is certainly true within the Afro-American community, as my personal experience has taught me. Moreover, there are many Americans who themselves have ventured outside their own cultural enclaves and adopted modes of being from other cultures, which includes the many modes of Caribbean culture. The Caribbean Rastafarian cultural mode of being is one such example. Thus, I urge the inquirer and others who have come to similar conclusion to not view acculturation as losing one’s culture but instead as a vehicle via which we communicate and share our own. We should view it as an opportunity to learn new modes of being and grow in our social ability, especially in a world that has now become a global community. To hide within one’s culture is not a friend to humanity.