How to spot a West Indian outside of the West Indies
I've recently moved to New York; a long-time home of the Caribbean Diaspora. I chose Brooklyn partly because of the restaurants that sell doubles and aloo pies, and all the Rasta incense shops. There is a supermarket with a Crix shrine 10 minutes walking distance from my apartment. It's easy to forget how much I miss home. How can I, when everyday I hear and see a mix of West Indian accents curled into different vibrant gesticulations. Soca and Dancehall play at every bar and club, while restaurants in the most gentrified of neighbourhoods have Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs mood music. My warmest moments are found in seeing flags of vibrant colors with the Caribbean nations' respective insignia decorating almost every business place. I am home.
I look into the faces of the people I walk by on my way to the train station a few blocks away. I play a secret guessing game before I hear them open their mouths, trying to figure out where they have come from, assuming they're not born and raised Americans. I'm often good at it, but not as good as I thought I would be. It had me asking myself, what are the tell-tale signs of a West Indian abroad? I asked this question openly to my Instagram followers, who as expected, responded with hilarious signature Caribbean-isms, dripping with nostalgia.
[caption id="attachment_143" align="alignnone" width="768"] Easily spotted this Caribbean guy, @KaisoKrn at LA Carnival with his Kaiso cap and Bene Caribe Tee[/caption]
Firstly, I must say that the signs of "How to spot a West Indian" in this article, are solely based on the responses I got. There are countless ways of identifying us, from our brightly coloured ensembles, to the delicious aromas of Sunday lunch spilling out of our kitchen windows. As immigrants, we are very hard working, on a mission to prove ourselves, and successfully, we often reach high positions in the workplace. With our racial diversity, you might not be able to guess where we're from until you hear our accents, but if that's not enough, I'm sure there is a national flag or national colours somewhere in our homes.
I immediately noticed that almost no one said anything necessarily positive. It was all things about ourselves that we poke fun at. Gaudy gold jewellery, layered talc baby powder on women's chests, and the sound of flip flops slapping and dragging under lazy feet. What did this highlight to me here? The under-appreciation of self. Sometimes we can be so quick to put down ourselves for our West Indian quirks, or uniqueness. Still, some people living in the Caribbean believe that "Foreign" or "Other" is better. A trickle down effect of colonialism no doubt, but our national pride can be strongest when we migrate; when we see our people for more than just what they wear, or what they do wrong. Coming to New York, and sticking out for my cheerfulness and warm energy, opened up my eyes to more about who I am as a Trinbagonian, beyond being someone from the land of oil and music.
Someone said you can spot a West Indian, when at the supermarket they're smelling and squeezing all the produce. I laughed! That is so me. Food is such a monumental part of who we are, and how the Diaspora travels and is felt in different parts of the world. I find it an important part of every week to cook traditional Trini meals. I've brought my curry and saffron powder from home, and make a regular (and rather delicious if I do say so myself) pot of Dhal, to ground myself when I start to feel a little lost. I love taking friends to Caribbean restaurants and seeing them enjoy the food that came from my people.[caption id="attachment_144" align="alignnone" width="1067"] Trini born Londoner @Marsha_Ram at a Busspepper party (Wearing the Bene Caribe Audrey Dress!). Where there is soca, there will be a Trini.[/caption]
You know a West Indian by the way they stare at others. That was another response I got, more than four times in the survey! Again, so true. I do stare, especially when I hear the slightest twang of a foreign accent among the exaggerated curly "r" sounds. I've been told repeatedly by native New Yorker friends to keep my eyes to myself, but West Indians do love to maco (Maco: Nosy. Inquisitive. Showing excessive curiosity about the affairs of others.) I need to know what's going on around me at all times. I hope I never change and become a blank wall like most of the other faces here.
We're quirky, and we stand out. While sometimes self-critical and in constant aspiration to be more "First World", Caribbean people are strangely simultaneously brimmed with national pride. Like any other place I would assume, there are things that we're not that proud of. Staggering violent crime rates, careless pollution and corrupt governments precede our individual reputations. So do assumptions of poverty, homophobia and slyness. Yet, when people hear where I'm from, they often light up and share stories about other Trinis they've met and how wonderful they were. Yesterday an Eastern European cab driver told me she learned to make roti from some Trini women, and that I need to learn too if I'm to find and keep a husband. I just love how far we're spreading our ridiculous but endearing ideals.
Caribbean people and their lands don't have a paternal relationship, but one of siblings. You know that meme that goes something like "No one talks bad about my sibling but me, or else"? It's like that. We have the world of complaints and comments about the West Indies and its issues, but jump to defense when others throw comments about islands being "shithole countries". We can be fiercely protective, proud people. From tiny islands surrounded by water, we have birthed some of the most influential people in history. From Toussaint L'ouverture and the Haitian Revolution, to Bob Marley and Rihanna, heroes we were lucky to speak with on this very blog like Tonni Ann Brodber; the Caribbean is the best place in the world. The Best! We are a diverse people, complex and full of heart. So how do you spot a West Indian? You might hear us before you see us, but when you see us, it is distinct. Colourful, loving, passionate, family-oriented, diligent, and the friendliest hospitality you will ever meet.