The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then

To be precise, I am an Indo-Guyanese-American: The mother of all hyphenated identities and an illustration of a historic journey from India to the Caribbean....
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by Elizabeth Jaikaran

To be precise, I am an Indo-Guyanese-American: The mother of all hyphenated identities and an illustration of a historic journey from India to the Caribbean. This heritage is commonly packaged in a number of different terms, all of which are heavily used as referential identifiers: Indo-Guyanese. Indo-Caribbean. Caribbean. West Indian. Indian. It is most aptly described as the Indo-Caribbean experience—an experience that is shared by Indians living throughout the Caribbean diaspora and thus serving as the blueprint for my existence.

This unique cultural disposition is why the Indo-Caribbean are able to culturally identify with public figures ranging from Hasan Minhaj to Nicki Minaj. It is why bursts of Caribbean intonation in Rihanna’s voice blanket me in the comfort of home, while the ballads of A.R. Rahman awaken pained demons within me, crying to connect with a history that was ripped from my hands long before I was born.

My parents hail from Guyana, a small country on the northern coast of South America. Guyana is one of the original colonies of the British West Indies and, although not located in the Caribbean Sea, the CARICOM Seat of Secretariat is located in Georgetown, Guyana, thus rendering the country a crucial member of the Caribbean family.

It is home to a number of ethnic and racial identities, including peoples of African, Indian, Chinese, European (primarily Portuguese), and Amerindian (native) descent. Indians comprise the largest ethnic group in Guyana, with Africans following closely as the second largest ethnic group. My family is a multiracial one—I have Indian, African, and Chinese ancestry.

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As Queen Mindy Kaling would say, “Fusion, son.”

Despite having this rich, multicultural background, my Indian heritage has played the largest role in both my upbringing and my understanding of myself. It is the heritage that governs the traditions that I’ve grown up with, and that inform my decisions with respect to who I identify as my cultural kin.

In simplest terms, the Indo-Caribbean are Caribbean nationals with East Indian ancestry.

Notably, the transfer of Indians from the subcontinent to the Caribbean/British West Indies occurred pre-partition. As a result, the Indo-Caribbean collectivity generally understands their history as deriving from a singular India regardless of whether their originating territories have been carved into Pakistan, Bangladesh, or some other national designation.

The first Indians to inaugurate the Indo-Caribbean identity were brought from Calcutta to Guyana as indentured laborers subsequent to the official abolition of slavery in 1838, with many belonging to some of the lowest designations of the Indian social system.

To read the whole brilliant article, please read on: The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then – Brown Girl Magazine

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