What is it to be Trini?
The answer to that question is complex and varies from person to person, but one thing is undeniable: we are a diverse, yet unified people. Our identity first starts with the name: why does one country have two names? Well, it was the home to two primary native Indian tribes, the Carib and the Arawak which they named kairi. However, when Columbus made land fall, he coined the term island of the Trinity…Trinidad…an homage to the 3 visible mountain ranges in Trinidad’s topography.
Columbus wasn’t the only one who came to this island and the culture is reflective of the different influences in the twin-isle’s history. Mine comprises of Scottish and Iberian roots on my dad’s side, and African, Spanish and French Creole on my mother’s side. I am an ethnic soup. Irrespective of the ethnic mix–and let me be clear, every Trini is a mix of ethnicities–we proudly declare to basically anyone in earshot (not necessarily listening), I am TRINI to DE BONE.
Trinis can spot each other a mile away and when we meet, the first questions are:
(1) did you hear the latest soca?
(2) where is yuh from? and
(3) what is yuh mudda las name?
Travelling in Trinidad & Tobago, the influences of our colonial past are evident in our architecture, street names, language, and festivals celebrated. For example: T&T, as it is affectionately called, is best known for its Carnival where steelpan and soca music are played. Steelpan music is made by the strumming on recycled oil drums tuned to acoustic perfection, a derivative of tambu-bamboo. Tambu-bamboo is the strumming on bamboo cut to varying lengths created, which originated as a practice among the African people enslaved there for sugar cane production. Similarly, the tassa drum was introduced to the island by the indentured East Indian laborers, who were enticed to the Caribbean for rice production. Trini food represents this diversity, also, with a rice dish pelau, which is cooked very similarly as benachin in West Africa and paella in the Iberian Peninsula.
So with such a rich and diverse history, would I find travel exciting and, or challenging?
OH, it’s certainly both of those. One of the things I hate as a Trini traveler are the assumptions made about and for me by people I encounter. For example:
My family and I enter a restaurant in Puerto Morelos to grab a quick bite to eat. We’re greeted by the host and in his best English he OVER ENUNCIATES every syllable as if we’re hearing impaired. So I respond to the waiter in Spanish, which elicited the biggest smile, and out of nowhere here comes SUPER SAVE-A-TOURIST, who literally climbs over my wife’s back to translate. The waiter happily says to them that there is no need to help us, that I speak Spanish. From over my shoulder I hear “Morenito habla Espanol?” The little dark-skinned speaks Spanish? To which I reply, “Hola, soy negro, no morenito….y hablo otras idiomas tambien” Hi, I’m Black, not brown, and I speak other languages, also.
Or the time when out of nowhere these 3 teenage girls walk over to my teenage son, stroke his face and ran their fingers through his hair.
Where is OK to just touch people’s hair?! Like no, really!!! And just as quickly as they ran up to him, they ran away giggling and commenting on (a) how soft his skin is, and (b) how cool his curly afro is and (c) THAT IT’S REAL HAIR.
Thankfully they said all of this in Spanish, which he didn’t understand and I didn’t translate for him, but here we go again with the racial/ethnic assumptions.
However, I found actually those assumptions swing both ways and have an upside, too.
Case in point, my wife (if you haven’t guessed yet, she’s the boo-thang in the pics with me and my hardcore travel buddy) and I land in Belize and have to SCURRY to catch the last water taxi. One problem, there are at least 20 people AHEAD of us. I suck my teeth – a quintessential Caribbean sign of frustration. Out of seemingly nowhere, a cab driver walks over to us and says “brudda man, where yuh headed?” without hesitation the Trini accent comes out STRONG, “down by de port”. And we’re off…I guess being the only black couple in the line with common Caribbean roots didn’t hurt.
Fast forward to our last night in Belize and we’re in Dangriga but too tired to drive back to Belize City. So we search around for a hotel to crash for the night. Quick Google search and we found Pelican Bay Resort. After checking in and sitting at the bar, up walks the owner of the hotel, a sweet middle-aged Belizean-Garifuna woman. I stand to shake her hand and she instead gives me the biggest hug and joins us. She thanks us for choosing her hotel and asks what brings “a young African-American couple to Dangriga.”
NOOOOOOO not you, too, with the bloody assumptions.
So I had to ask why she phrased her question that way. I wish I could describe her face when I responded purposefully in my most authentic Trini accent. She explained that not many African-Americans visit this region of Belize outside of the Garifuna festival in November, and that she was thrilled we were here!
I must say that growing up in such an ethnically diverse family and country has helped shaped a positive image of self and has taught me to be tolerant of difference. Perhaps my point of view is naïve, but I am a firm believer in a few edicts:
(1) Treat people how you want to be treated
(2) Sometimes a question is a just a question and not a challenge, and
(3) Let someone try and fail before offering help…what they learn in their attempt is priceless for their growth.
Signed Chris, Proud Trini