CARIBBEAN MIGRATION TO NORTH AMERICA

TENTH ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE OF THE
CARIBBEAN RESEARCH CENTER, MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE, 1997 
CLOSING ADDRESS: LOOKING AT THE OUTCOMES

INTRODUCTION

Thank you, Dr. Taint, for your kind words of welcome and introduction. It is a pleasure to be able to participate in this conference. It is my honour to represent Sir Alister McIntyre, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, who was scheduled to give this presentation. I am speaking in his place but not in his name. I take full responsibility for whatever sins are committed in this presentation.

Conferences and anniversaries are important milestones. Often conferences are watersheds with respect to some discipline, topic or seminal group of people that gathered for the historic occasion. This is best seen with the benefit of hindsight. I hope that this tenth anniversary conference on Caribbean Migration to North America will indeed be a watershed when in the future we look back on the history of the Caribbean Research Centre whose tenth anniversary we celebrate.

I am glad that my presentation this evening is not cast in the form of a keynote address because I would have considerable difficulty in following in the wake of the brilliant addresses delivered by Dr Roy Brice-Laporte and Dr Basil Wilson. My task is to do a wrap-up of the conference, with special reference to some of the possible outcomes as indicated by the papers and presentations. This is an outrageously ambitious task, which the Conference organisers had assigned with Sir Alister in mind. I can only hope that his confidence in delegating this task to me is not misplaced.

The Conference has attempted to bring together work in three separate and different domains: research, policy and community activism. In the course of my life I have oscillated between these three domains. I was once Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Jamaica and an Independent Senator in the Parliament. From these excursions I had some brush with the policy domain. My two stints of employment at the University of the West Indies have mandated involvement in research and reflection. Involvement in teacher union matters, as President of the Jamaica Teachers Association, brought me face to face with community activism – including engagement in positive action, which falls under its broad umbrella: strikes, demonstrations and animated public advocacy.

From my excursions into these three domains I have learned, through first hand experience, the nature of the differences between them, including the uniqueness of the rhythms that are involved. When you are in the activist mode there is little time to reflect. Indeed, reflection could be a hindrance and not a help. Activism requires the assurance of certainty about the actions being taken. Its foundation is rooted in faith, conviction and confidence. Without these it is very difficult to persuade and to mobilise others for action. Activism feels betrayed by criticism, is impatient of contemplation and is paralysed when doubts are entertained.

Research and reflection employ doubt as a vital ingredient of their logic and working methodology. Indeed, research and reflection institutionalise doubt, applaud criticism, worship at the shrine of contemplation and take pride in the torture of the mind in their strenuous efforts to grasp the truth, if ever we can do so. Indeed, research is subverted by certainty of outcomes and assertion of truth, since these transform hypotheses into doctrines and evidence into platitudes – with the result that enquiry is brought to an end.

Policy domains require and thrive upon accommodation and compromise. There are no virgins in politics and policymaking. The uncharitable would say that there are only prostitutes. By that I think they mean those whose virtues are open and available to the public who they must accommodate on the basis of desire. The domain of policy operates on the assumption of trade-offs, by which all the contestants come away with some face-saving gains, some turf to protect and some interest to defend until the next round of renegotiation of the issues that were contested. All actors and stakeholders use activism and research results as a way of prosecuting their many interests. In the accommodation that results from compromise, sound policymaking quite frequently mutes the militancy of activism and often violates the sacred canons of research and reflection by the inconsistencies that are embraced.

It is against this background that, in attempting to wrap-up, I must draw attention to the extensive breadth of our deliberations at this Conference, where, by the persons invited and the papers presented, we have attempted to span these three very different domains. Over these two days researchers, policymakers and community activists have found and shared fellowship around the common theme of Caribbean migration to North America.

Before proceeding to discuss the future work of the Caribbean Research Centre here at Medgar Evers College, allow me two small comments on the Caribbean which constitute the principal focus of our deliberation. Recently in the Bahamas, during a delightful evening of discussion, the astute and adroit Anglican Archdeacon of Nassau William Thompson made the observation that Barbados was noted for the development of the intellectual tradition, Trinidad for its cultural impresarios and Jamaica for its warriors and assertive people. In the context of the three domains it could be said that Barbados has done much to foster the tradition of reflection and scholarship, Jamaica that of community activism and Trinidad and Tobago the policy making paradigm, given its well known capacity to accommodate different cultures. In Brooklyn, therefore, a borough to which Caribbean people from several islands have migrated, the Caribbean Research Centre may have a rich reserve of potential and actual thinkers, policymakers and activists upon which to draw.

Speaking as a Jamaican, I am not sure if I should apologise to those of you from the rest of the Caribbean who are often labelled Jamaicans, or inwardly and quietly smile with you concerning the protection that classification often brings. Ironically, while Jamaican posses have become infamous and attract a disproportionate amount of negative association with Jamaica; at the same time, while violence and aggressiveness are lionised in folklore and film, it has afforded Jamaicans in this society some recognition and commanded some respect.

Recently I had to buy new computers, since my old ones had become obsolete. In this renewal I decided to go with the latest and the best. I was more than surprised to find that in the Windows 95 regional settings, English is accorded eight regional standards: Australian, British, Canadian, Caribbean, Jamaican, Irish, United States and New Zealand. There has been a lot of talk at this conference about the Caribbean being invisible. However, in the new Windows operating system the Caribbean is accorded two standards in English, Jamaica being one of them. The Caribbean is very visible here. The question that must be raised is, whether the invisibility of the Caribbean is to ourselves? It would appear that others are seeing us, it is probably that we are not seeing ourselves.

Coming back to the three outcomes of this conference – research, policy and community activism, it needs to be said that no single individual is likely to be fully engaged in each of these three domains at the same time. However, the Caribbean Research Center as an institute and institution does not suffer from the limitations of the individual. The challenge of this Center will be to organise itself in such a manner that allows it to mobilise individuals working in these three domains. It is in this direction that I want us to explore some of the matters arising from the different papers and panels, although I will not in any way try to condense and comment on each paper or panel.

THE CHALLENGES IN RESEARCH

Research by its very nature has some features that we must take account of. First, to be meaningful in its results, research must be limited in its scope. Research studies can never probe the entire universe of their interest. They must select samples or cases, and from these make inferences. In addition, research must be thorough and painstaking hence it takes time to produce findings. If it is to make an impact, research must therefore anticipate the long term concerning the issues that are likely to arise for which research results would be useful and helpful. Further, it must always tackle problems which have repeatedly and perennially defied solution. Any research agenda must seek to operate within the framework of these considerations.

From the papers and presentations at this Tenth Anniversary Conference, it would appear that the Caribbean Research Center will have no problems with constructing a research agenda for the future. The wealth and richness of the insights contained in these papers and presentations are sufficient to occupy the minds of the researchers and consume the resources of the Center for a long time to come.

It was intriguing to hear, on several panels, presenters from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States comment on the fact that what was happening to Caribbean people in the country from which the presenter came was very much the same in the other location. In many instances, interpretations were made in terms of race and racism. However, living in the Caribbean I could not help reflecting that the same things were also happening there. Take, for example, the relationship of Caribbean youths to the police. Several papers commented on the biased relationships that existed and unsavoury outcomes in several interactions between Caribbean youths and White policemen in the UK, the US and Canada. However, these biased relationships and unsavoury outcomes are replicated in the Caribbean between poor Black Caribbean youths and the police who are no different from them in racial and social origin. While the racial differences in North America and Britain may colour-code the differences, the Caribbean experience underscores the operation of other factors outside of racial difference.

What is highlighted here is the need for research centres and researchers addressing issues dealing with the experiences of Caribbean people to go beyond the contextual factors of their particular situation and investigate the core features of the phenomena being studied. As Caribbean people we must avoid the xenophobic trap that America seems always to fall into by assuming that what happens here defines the issues in the rest of the world. Cross country linkages between research centres addressing Caribbean themes are critical to in-depth understanding of the factors involved.

The Caribbean Research Center here at Medgar Evers, must not only promote linkages with similar centres in other parts of the world, but it must also become involved in the dissemination of the work already done. There is a considerable amount of work that has already been done that is sitting in academia in the Caribbean, Britain, Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Much of this is not shared and therefore unknown. The Centre could well become an information broker between the producers of research and those who desire to consume research findings but are not aware of the existence or location of the products.

Another challenge to the Centre in the domain of research is that of the paradigms routinely used to interpret data and to generate conclusions. It this respect it is important to note that most of the paradigms used in social research have been developed from the perspective of dominance. In this regard, Caribbean phenomena are often interpreted in terms of case studies and pathologies on the outskirts of mainstream social discourse. I would like to challenge the Centre to provide leadership that would help us break out of the quagmire of viewing Caribbean experiences as case studies in various kinds of social pathologies and move to an understanding of them as contributions to the universal understanding of the human condition. It is essential to challenge the orthodoxy of the times which is rooted in the dominant perspective.

To this end let me introduce an element of controversy. Contemporary social gossip is that single mother families are a social pathology that lies at the root of most of the problems noted in society, particularly as they relate to Black families in metropolitan countries. To share in this outlook is to do a great disservice to generations of Caribbean mothers who, against considerable odds, single-handedly raised children who turned out to be many of the princes, princesses and paramount persons of Caribbean societies. Caribbean experience flies in the face of the assertion that single mother families are the root of all social evil in North America, Britain and Canada and says, with defiance, this is not true.

Further, notice that single mother families, which were classified as a Black lower-class form resulting in the Caribbean from the social pathogens of slavery and the plantation, are now spreading through all social classes in the Caribbean and throughout the affluent industrialised world as performers and professionals, magnates and managers, and Whites, Blacks, Yellows and Browns ‘shack up’, or through visiting relationships, produce children outside of wedlock. Clearly slavery, the plantation and colonialism are not the factors in this spread of the family in the closing decades of the twentieth century. The challenge posed is to re-examine and re-conceptualise the Caribbean experience to understand why Caribbean people were among the first to adopt these forms and to understand the common elements shared by slavery, colonialism and the plantations and the contemporary socio-economic structures at the end of this century.

It is interesting to note that, according to official US statistics, over the decade of the 1980s wealth in America doubled while poverty tripled. American society at the end of the 1980s was six times more polarised in terms of the distribution of wealth than it was at the beginning of the decade. Over the decades of the 1970s and 1980s there were also considerable efforts at racial integration within the United States. Intriguingly, under the twin pressures of increasing economic inequality and increasing racial integration, the Black family that survived slavery and segregation as a multi-parent extended institution has been transformed. Over the last 25 years, the single mother family form has become the predominant pattern among African Americans. Careful analysis also shows that this same phenomenon has been occurring among less affluent Whites. Certainly, the re-conceptualisation of the Caribbean experience, which has been documented for nearly 150 years, has much to contribute to the understanding of these more recent occurrences of the same phenomenon in North America and elsewhere.

My final comment on the research domain is that we must be careful of the tendency to cite research findings simply to support advocacy concerning benefits to be derived by particular groups – research on Caribbean people cannot only be about negotiating benefits. Caribbean scholarship must now make a contribution to the universal understanding of the human condition. This includes not only seeking benefits but also challenging the orthodoxy of the times which has its price in benefits. It is a price, however, that we should be willing to pay if we are to fulfil our destiny as a people.

THE CHALLENGES OF IMPACTING POLICY

Policy is that public arena in which interests compete and contend. Whatever we may say about America, it has to be agreed that it has a democratic structure, however we wish to define democracy. Probably the best definition of democracy is “government by the common folk”. It has also been said that God must have loved the common folk because he made so many of us. Policymaking in a democracy is that process by which the competing interests of the common folk come to resolution through compromise.

In thinking about how the Caribbean Research Center can influence policy, we must have clearly in our minds that this mission would be with respect to how the interests of the common folk of the Caribbean can be prosecuted in the public domain in the United States, Canada, Britain or the Caribbean itself. In this regard I wish to make three quick comments.

First, it is absolutely essential for Caribbean people to develop coalitions with respect to particular interests that are being prosecuted. A coalition is not a marriage, it is not for life. Coalitions are formed, fractured, dissolved and reformed on the basis of issues and interests at particular times. It was great that several groups within the Caribbean community here in the United States participated in the Million Man March organised by Louis Farrakhan. By joining in the march, these groups were not saying that they agreed with all the other participating groups on every issue, but rather that these Caribbean groups shared solidarity with all the other participating groups on the issue that Black men should stand up and make a positive statement concerning themselves. Participation in the March, without becoming part of the group organising the March, seems to signal growing maturity within the Caribbean community in the United States concerning the prosecution of interest in the public domain through the formation of coalitions with like-minded groups on a particular issue.

Second, it is critical for Caribbean people to enter into the political life of the countries in which they have taken up residence. I am by no means seeking to prescribe the point of entry of political involvement. Clearly some decisions will be needed concerning the areas and levels at which Caribbean people will represent themselves and in which areas and at what levels they will seek others to represent them. It may well be that at the current time it may be strategic for Caribbean communities within the United States to attempt to represent themselves at the local and municipal levels, while joining in the election of others to represent them at the congressional and state levels. Indeed, the histories of several other migrant groups have followed similar paths. Indeed, if the Center promotes the political involvement of Caribbean people in politics within the United States, it would be contributing a great deal to policymaking as it affects the common folk here in the United States as well as the Caribbean.

Third, policymaking has an all-embracing and instant quality about it. Usually data is required yesterday, and decisions are sometimes taken overnight. Having information sources and data that are readily and easily retrievable is of the utmost importance to survival in this domain. My experience has been that if you wait until the policy is almost enacted to do the thinking, data gathering and preparation, then much of the opportunity presented to influence policy are virtually lost.

When I was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, I used to keep a shelf of projects related to policies that I anticipated could be implemented in time. In the beginning it was not easy to get officers to identify problems, assess alternative solutions, decide upon a particular option and work out its implementation (including costs). However, as I advertised the existence of this shelf, particularly to the Ministry of Finance, and got responses, those very officers began to see the sense behind what appeared to be nonsense. I remember receiving a call from the Ministry of Finance, just before five one afternoon, to bring a project costing about US$1 million to a meeting the next morning at nine. Another Ministry had failed to come up with its planned project, and fearing the loss of the money, the Ministry of Finance was seeking a replacement.

I still remember the bemused faces of the representative of the Ministry of Finance and the funding agency involved, when having shown up with the project as requested and having had it accepted, I turned to them and said well gentlemen I have helped you, now you will have to help the Ministry of Education. This is not a “slam bam, thank you ma’am” situation. We are interested in a relationship. To cut a long story short, exploiting the opportunities presented by another Ministry failing to come up with its project, allowed the Ministry of Education to develop and implement policies in the area of special education.

In this regard I think it will be critical for the Center to develop databases with all kinds of information, inventories listing people with a variety of interests and skills, and networks linking people of different interests and positions in the corridors of power with the common folk. This will be essential if the Center is to respond rapidly and prudently to the impulsive demands of policy.

THE CHALLENGES OF ACTIVISM

I wish to conclude this wrap-up of the Conference not on questions of research or policy, but rather of activism at the community level. So much activism at the moment is about scarce benefits and vested interests that activism has lost its appeal, especially to young people. Activism in our time must touch the heart and must reach out to embrace ideals. In our time, about what will we assert and exert ourselves? In my view we must seek to answer the deep questions about our existence and identity. Activism must be about the nature of the human condition.

One of the problems of our time is that we have our faces so firmly fixed to reality that we have failed to look to the stars and to noble ideals. Everybody is promoting their interests and seeking benefits, but what about bringing out the best in ourselves and in society? One truth about this country and all the peoples of the New World is that no matter how we came, by choice or coercion, from Africa or Asia or Europe, we came to the New World as marginal people. Yes, those from Europe seized the positions of dominance, but they all came as marginal people. Those holding central power and positions remained in Europe. Those who came to the New World sought a new life and a new beginning.

The United States was founded upon a noble vision of a new society. The Founding Fathers enunciated this great truth: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” One of the contradictions of this noble vision was that those enunciating it had feet of clay. Many were racists. Several owned slaves. Most were sexist and denied women equality. But these characteristics must not obscure the nobility of their vision or distract us from the fact that despite the contradictions of their lives, they enacted constitutional laws by which the contradictions of their lives could be resolved in time. In a real sense, the founding fathers of the United States of America went beyond the failings of their own lives to grasp transcendental and transforming values for the new nation. In so doing they have left a legacy of hope and not despair.

It has taken a long time. The contradiction remains. This was brought forcefully to my attention as I recently sought to replace my lost Social Security Card. I am here on Sabbatical leave and have need of the ubiquitous card. In filling out the form sent by the Social Security Administration I could not escape the question on race. The form gives a number of options, among which is the race “Hispanic”. In looking at this I thought, how stupid! How does speaking Spanish and coming from the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico or Mexico make people into a race? Rubbish! What is demonstrated here is the social construction of race. There can be no doubt that the contradictions that marked the lives of the founding fathers still remain in America today. Let there be no mistake, the noble vision is still worth striving for.

Interestingly, I am speaking in the place of the Vice Chancellor. Sir Alister worked in the United Nations system before taking up his present post at the University of the West Indies. He tells the story that in a send off party held for him, somebody came up to him and said that they could always identify the West Indians in the United Nations. Intrigued, he asked him how could he tell? The reply was that while the Africans spoke mainly to other Africans, Europeans mainly to other Europeans, Asians to other Asians, Latin Americans to other Latin Americans, the West Indians spoke to everybody. In a nutshell, Caribbean people understand the common humanity of humankind. We are Africans without tribe, Lebanese without militias, Indians without caste, Chinese without dynasties and Europeans without class. By that I mean that we as a people have lost the distinctive marks of the Old-World groupings from which we came. Stripped of these distinctive divisions we have been freed to experience the commonality of our humanity.

Allow me an aside at this point. It is time for us to promote an all-inclusive Caribbean identity. I was at a Workshop in the Bahamas. On one occasion three of us were looking at some tourists carrying on some antics on the beach. We all explained ‘eh-eh’. We looked at each other in amazement. One was a St. Lucian speaking a Creole with a French vocabulary, another from Curacao speaking Papiamentu with its Portuguese and Dutch vocabulary and myself from Jamaica speaking a Creole with a mainly English vocabulary. We all said to each other, “you say eh eh?” We all found that we meant the same thing. The point is that the different languages spoken in the Caribbean and the linguistic barriers that separate us have little to do with the Caribbean itself but much to do with contests between European powers in bygone centuries.

The time has come when we in the Caribbean have to come together as one people. Why? Because the Caribbean has changed all of us forever. There is something in the Caribbean experience that has changed us and bonded us together. This is why Chinese migrating from Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica to North America find it easier to relate to each other than to Chinese migrating from Hong Kong, from where most Caribbean-Chinese originated. The same is true about Caribbean people of Indian and African ancestry in relation to people from Southern Asia and Africa. There is something in the Caribbean experience that has transcended ancestry and has bonded us in a common humanity that is uniquely Caribbean. In this regard, Caribbean migrants to North America and Britain have a seminal contribution to make, since the migration experience has exposed wider connections which are not as easily established inside the Caribbean, separated as we are by sea and ocean.

The time has come for us to downplay our insular identities and to embrace and celebrate our collective Caribbean identity. In this regard, there is no more important task than to connect with and embrace the Haitians. When the Europeans seized the dominant positions in the Caribbean and virtually eliminated the Amerindian populations, either by warfare or disease, it was Black men who challenged the new status quo. In this regard, pride of place belongs to the Haitians, slaves who abolished slavery. While the United States was the first nation of the New World, Haiti was the second. In a racist world, still holding to slavery, the Haitians were made to pay a heavy price for the blow they struck for the freedom of Blacks. They are still paying that price and we in the rest of the Caribbean have failed to embrace them as we should.

Returning to the question, “About what should we assert ourselves?” My answer is that our activism should be about building bridges across the barriers that separate us as human beings. A principal task in the Caribbean is breaking down the insular barriers. Indeed, one of the tasks the University of the West Indies exists to do is that of surmounting these insular barriers that separate us and, in their place, building one people, a common people.

Another task is that of breaking down the racial divide in a world that is subtly returning to racism in very sophisticated and some not so sophisticated ways. Ethnic cleansing is to be found not only in Bosnia but all over Europe. Anti-Semitism and many other ‘antis’ are back. In North America racism is back in a big way in several new guises. Yes, the world seems to be regressing into overt and obnoxious racism, however, Caribbean people have travelled too far up the river of a common humanity to flow with the current tide. We who have felt the full force of slavery, racism and colonialism have repeatedly responded by absorbing those evils and in turn constructively and creatively interacting in ways that display some of the best facets of humankind as people have formed bonds across the racial divide. The present circumstances require yet another demonstration of this feature of Caribbean society.

The words of Haile Selassie, immortalised in song by Bob Marley, remain true! Until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance that the colour of his eyes, there will be war within people and within communities. Caribbean peoples and societies are obliged to be zones of peace, while the war of racism rages. Indeed, our destiny is to abolish the whole notion of race. Modern molecular biology is providing more and more evidence that the human gene pool is far more common than previously thought. Race as we have come to conceive it is only skin deep. There is no White or Black or Brown or Yellow blood. No blood that demarcates different races. Race is social construction with very little biological foundation.

The most recent research in molecular biology provides overwhelming DNA evidence that Homo Sapiens arose in Africa between 200,000 to 150,000 years ago. After increasing in population for between 100,000 to 75,000 years, Homo Sapiens then migrated out of Africa to all other parts of the world. There is one race, the human race and that race arose in Africa. Indeed, this research shows that the gene pool of Africans in Africa is the most diverse in the world. The gene pool of all other people, including Africans outside of Africa are but sub-sets of the gene pool of Africans in Africa. Race as we know it today is largely a New World construction as Old-World peoples sought to find solidarity in their new setting and Europeans fabricated justification for their dominance of the new societies. The time has come for the myth of race to be abolished.

Yet another area of activism must be that of removing the gender dichotomy that assumes the superiority of men over women, or more recently women over men. The patriarchal traditions that developed in antiquity as small bands of early humans fought for survival with limited knowledge and technology in circumstances in which the elements were often set against them, is no longer valid at the end of the twentieth century of the Common Era. Don’t bring me that hormone and enzyme stuff which justifies male superiority on the basis of size, speed, stamina and strength. Not even among men are such specimens the leaders. In fact, large, strong, fast men of great endurance are usually the bodyguards and protectors of the leaders. Again, given the overlap between men and women in these biological features, women would need to be accorded a substantial number of leadership roles. There are many large, strong, fast women of great endurance that would put at risk many of the older men of feeble frame that are leaders in society.

Like race, gender is socially constructed. The time has come for people to construct relationships on the basis of who they are and what they contribute to the relationship without reference to being masculine or feminine. Given the baggage of the past, and the reaction of some feminists in the present, much activism is needed to inspire men and women to construct their relationships on a new basis of equality and shared power.

Another area of challenge is that of the huge generation gap that has emerged in our societies. Time will only allow me a mere listing of some of its elements. Those of you who belong to my generation, plus or minus one, have to agree that we grew up in a period of great expansion of opportunity. We are the beneficiaries of the explosion of opportunities that occurred in the post-war and post-independence era. Ironically, we are presiding over a period in which there is considerable contraction in opportunities, especially for young people, as public and private sectors down-size and right-size. While we exceeded our parents in socio-economic advancement, our children and grandchildren would do well to succeed us. They have grown up and become accustomed to a lifestyle that they cannot sustain by their own efforts.

There is a real sense in which our children, and by that I mean all the children of the Caribbean, are disconnected. This disconnection between generations is material, historical, emotional, technological and philosophical. The irony is that the material progress that the younger generation venerates is largely eluding them in a rapidly changing technological world in which the older generation is uncomfortable. Some of the symptoms of this disconnection among the young is the drug abuse, gang violence and other prevalent forms of deviant and disruptive behaviour. A major challenge is to again connect our young people and ourselves to a noble vision of themselves, of us and of society.

Yet another area in which activism is needed is with respect to the issue of class. As Caribbean people we often take pride is saying there is little racial prejudice in the Caribbean, only class prejudice. We take the position that class prejudice is a superior form of prejudice to racial prejudice. In so doing we deceive ourselves. When you look at it, class is the most divisive feature of Caribbean life. It is a problem within families, and the more successful find it difficult to acknowledge and associate with their less successful brethren. When I was principal, I used to tell the students at Mico, “If you can’t identify with your mother and grandmother in the country who sacrificed to send you to college, don’t come to me with advocacy about social issues in Jamaica or elsewhere”.

Class is a factor that divides the immigrant community, as the more educated seek to distance themselves from their so-called lesser country-persons. In a real sense class and status are crippling features of social interaction within the Caribbean and in the Diaspora. The time has come for us to fellowship across the class divide, to join hands that disregard status, and to find common cause despite differences in social background.

The essence of what I am saying is that activism at the present time must encompass more than advocacy and actions to secure benefits. It must embrace the major challenges of our time and uphold a noble vision of self and society. What has happened to the vision of America of the Founding Fathers? The vision has been downgraded to a materialist dream. It is now a dream of a two-storey colonial or brownstone, a three-car garage, four martini lunches, country club membership, designer clothes and gold or platinum credit cards. The vision is forgotten as the dream is advertised daily in the media. The irony is that even the dream is now eluding the majority. The dream is no longer accessible through brains, business acumen and hard work. It is kept alive largely through the luck of the draw in an ever-increasing number of lotteries.

We in the Caribbean need to keep sight of the vision and resist being distracted by the dream. Wherever we are in the Caribbean, in the United States, England, Canada or elsewhere we must connect to the noble vision of society composed of one people, God’s people. As such, we have a right to be there, to participate, to construct with others sound institutions, to add to the pool of ideas and to embrace the highest ideals. In so doing we must kowtow to no one, fear nobody and bow to none, save the Creator. We have a right to be there! When the immigration barriers are raised unjustly against us, we must find the way around them. Goods, capital and profits cannot move freely to find comparative advantage in the world while the people are locked up and kept out by immigration barriers. But remember that wherever we are, we have the responsibility to build in that place, to construct and be constructive alongside like-minded people.

In closing, let me say to all who exercise the freedom to become that the task of activism is great in a world in which selfishness and despair lie side by side in the bed of disillusionment and disconnection. Allow me to borrow the words of Edward Kennedy and put my own variation to them by saying: The cause remains, the work continues, hope still lives, the vision will never die!

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