Today is a day that I never thought about. When I started Islandista 10 years ago on this day, I didn’t have any long term goals for it. I just wanted to read about women like me whose identity sometimes gets lost when we rely on media from other places to report on their accomplishments. For instance, yes I loved watching Kerry Washington on Scandal but it also thrilled me to find out that her must-have Christmas fix is black cake because her mother is Jamaican. And so I set off into the blogosphere. Islandista was actually my third or fourth blog (feel free to check out my older, more political writing at Caribbean Lionesse). A lot went down in the last decade – the global economy for example. On the personal front, I went from being a single, childless 20-something year navigating the early years of my career to being a married mother and career woman. On the regional front, we got (or got back in one instance) two female Prime Ministers in two of the largest islands – Jamaica and Trinidad. On the global scene, Rihanna dominated. We watched the ups and downs and ups and ups of our favourite islandista with pride as she forged a path for herself based on being her true, authetic, unapologetically West Indian self. And we loved her for it. So here below in no particular order, are Ten Islandista Moments of the Last Ten Years.
1. Women rose to the top spot in Jamaica and Trinidad. After many, many years in the political game, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Portia Simpson-Miller rose to become the Prime Ministers of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica respectively. Their paths were different – I think Portia was always seen as more of a potential leader than Kamla who was seen as a filler who eventually seized her opportunity to be leader. They were also cut from different cloths – Kamla, a university-educated attorney, Portia the grassroots leader whose educational credentials were questioned, mocked and used as a weapon against her. But in the end, they both rose to the occasion and they both led in politically difficult and turbulent times, giving them each just one term in office before they were swept out. History will be the judge of their success as leaders.
2. Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States. What’s the significance of this to the Caribbean? Well I wrote about it back in 2008 but in addition to the historical and psychological resonance, he brought a host of islandistas and islandists with him, from Attorney General Eric Holder to National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. His example also brought an Obama wave of youthful politicians who are also POC, such as California Senator Kamala Harris.
3. Islandista went from digital to physical. In December 2012, I expanded the Islandista brand, turning it into a magazine with a most amazing team. We ran for five issues but it was a helluva ride that taught me a lot about myself and about business. It meant a lot to more people than I realised at the time. In the years that have passed, I’ve had many, many people, including some I’ve only just met for the first time, tell me how much they loved the magazine and wanted to see it back.
4. The mysterious death of Joyce Carol Vincent. While Vincent’s death happened before Islandista got going, our post on this still remains one of the most read on Islandista – a haunting story of broken connections and the impersonality of the big cities to which so many of us migrate and build families.
5. The battle to capture Dudus. For a week, terror reigned in Kingston as security forces and criminal elements battled in an attempt to arrest and extradite Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, leader of the Shower Posse. Amidst a very male melodrama, with high powered rifles, rampant abuse of authority and more, the role of women came under the spotlight as well.
6. A hair-raising story from the US struck a chord with Caribbean women. Another one of the more enduring and popular posts on Islandista was our 2013 post ‘Dear Tiana Your School Is Wrong‘. In it, we took on a report from the US of a little girl who was harassed out of her (black-run!) charter school because she chose to wear dreadlocks, one of many hairstyles (including afros) that the school deemed faddish and inappropriate. We looked at it through our Caribbean lens where many of our leading women proudly sport similar hairstyles and are not thought of as any less brillant because of the hair that grows out of their head.
7. Islandista grew up. Can I be honest? Sometimes I look back at a few of the early posts on Islandista and I cringe a bit. Ugh, so vapid, so immature! But hey I was. Not neccesarily immature for the age I was but less mature than I am now. After all, when I started Islandista, I was 25 years old and barely two years out of grad school. Now? Well, as the clock hit 12:00 am on January 1st, I realised that this year will mark 18 years since I entered university. In other words, someone who was born on the PRECISE, EXACT day I entered the gates of Preston Hall for orientation at the University of the West Indies, Mona (by the way – best hall, best campus – this is not up for debate), a kid who is an August baby like myself, could be entering UWI this year. It’s legit giving me a third-life crisis – because I’m too old for a quarter-life crisis and damn it, too young for a mid-life crisis!
8. Islandistas rose to the top in almost every talent contest we entered. Over the years, we cheered on, tuned in and became rabid wagonists for Project Runway, The Voice and Top Chef as islandistas Anya Ayoung-Chee, Tessanne Chin and Nina Compton showed the world how Caribbean women can shine. It was a blast.
9. Haiti was devastated by the 2010 earthquake. It is as painful to remember now as it was to experience then. We covered the twists and turns of the immediate aftermath but our first post on the night of the quake, still sums it is up ‘ mwen desole Ayiti‘.
10. Rihanna became an icon. If you look at that tag cloud over on the side, you will see that one lady looms larger than all others. Barbados born and bred, iconic superstar Rihanna. How many ways do I love Rihanna? Honestly, that would have to be a whole post in and of itself, for there are many. But it boils down to I love her authenticity. Rihanna was a reasonably successful pop starlet when we first started doing Islandista. She’d just brought out her third album, Good Girl Gone Bad but still seemed very much a carefully label-controlled pop product. But over the years, our girl threw off the shackles. She showed her true colours – her raucous and often raunchy sensibilities from style to humour, her dutiful nature to her family and friends, her unabashed sexuality, her unapologetic love for Crop-Over, pepperpot at Christmas, weed,Tiger Malt and Westbury Road, her sharp retorts, her love of tats and piercings – the full gamut of who she is. While many other pop stars have made their way by carefully controlling or even hiding who they were, Rihanna put it all out there on Twitter and then on IG and we had to make the choice as to whether we would love her for it or not – though she surely did not give a damn. And the world loved her for it. But as Bajans, as West Indians, we loved her more. Because when she speaks and we hear her Bajan accent still flowing out as she slays the world, she shows us we can be global while still being our authentic, islandista selves.