A Migrant’s Tale: Bittersweet Reflections of T&T

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I am a hypocrite. No need to judge or point fingers, since I’ve long accepted this truth, and as of October 12, 2010, in signing and confirming my status as a Canadian Permanent Resident, I’ve further sealed my title.

The officer smiled and said, “You now hold all rights and responsibilities as any Canadian citizen. Congratulations!” Simultaneously, Machel Montano’s “I Pledge”, which I once sang with such conviction, began playing in my head. The guilt set in.

Congratulations? Did I win or achieve something? Congratulations for what? Congratulations for contributing to Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘brain drain’ statistic? Congratulations for distancing myself from my family, for trading a more laidback way of life for the North American, workaholic mentality?

I question how I managed to get to this point. I left Trinidad in 2002 to pursue my college education – a four-year programme, with all intentions of returning to be a valuable contributor to my society. Transitioning from the brink of adulthood to full independence in a foreign country, one acquires a certain level of fearlessness, an openness to change. So I embraced the idea of staying a bit longer. Upon graduation, what we’ve been taught to view as ‘opportunities’ began to unfold themselves and a move to a different state for my first job seemed natural. However, roots began to take hold and I now find myself in yet another country with three foreign-born children, a mortgage, a line of credit, and a car note.

My husband and I have debated the move back home and I’m deeply envious of those who have been able to re-assimilate into the Trini culture, after extensive stints abroad. However, the simple logistics of the move terrifies me: selling my first home and cars, clearing my debt, filtering through my possessions to choose the bare minimum to ship back and ripping my children away from friends. Once this is accomplished I have to face the reality that we would be hitting the ‘re-start’ button, moving back in with my parents (with three kids), and seeking out a job where we would again have to ‘work our way up’.

Further scrutiny of my dilemma also reveals some harsh realities about my homeland. With regards to the inevitable job search for example, the level of nepotism that exists in Trinidad makes me cringe. I’d prefer not to have to ‘pull strings’ to get on the inside track of my new career. Beyond that, I much enjoy little conveniences, such as my bank opening on Saturdays, a higher level of customer service, and 24-hour Wal-Marts.

I find comfort in knowing that if I called 911 at this very moment that it is unlikely that the operator will inform me that there aren’t any police cars available or the fire truck is on another run so ‘hold strain’ (true story for another time). I am quite partial to the fact that said police spend little time hounding the neighbourhood Rasta over a joint, but instead invest time and resources to actually keep the crime rate down.

Yet from my written spring flow sweet and bitter waters, for, in spite of the criticism, I constantly boast that there is nothing sweeter than Trini life. I rave of our gruelling primary and secondary education system. I firmly believe that we are still able to instil the value of education in our children at an early age and produce focused, well-balanced college candidates. Go to any foreign campus and you will find that the Trinis hold a reputation for being the hardest partygoers, while maintaining high GPAs.

Our sense of family and community is still undeniable. I’ve lived in my new home for over a year now, and still can’t tell you my neighbour’s name. Granny, Tantie, Grandpa and Uncle, whether blood-related or not, have all had a hand in my upbringing and none (at least in my family thus far) have been stuck in a retirement home to rot. I have robbed my children of the privilege of having that second home, that refuge called ‘Granny’s house’.

I crave that simplicity of life. Nothing beats a Maracas run on a weekend to unwind, sailing ‘Down-D-Islands’, a quick jump across to Tobago, parang by old friends at Christmas, or a cold coconut water after finishing Saturday morning market. We (Trinis) live our lives as a constant celebration. Despite our differences and in spite of the divisive racist talk that some minorities try to inject, the entire nation still observes each religious celebration – unheard of in North America. These inexpensive, readily accessible breaks from the monotony of work keep us motivated and ‘chilled’.

So will I ever make the move back home? I sure hope so. For now I’ll try to be less of a pessimist and maybe reinterpret the congratulations that were offered: “Congratulations, for being brave and showing tenacity in building a new life outside of your comfort zone and away from a life that you love”.


Check out the rest of this week’s issue (Issue 32, 15/11/10)


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