The concept of unique identity is a double edged sword. There are those of us who revel in our individuality and all the things that make us special. There are others who think acknowledging differences is exclusionary. Most Caribbean born folks enjoy both the individuality and the revelling.
In South Florida, the annual event that most effectively brings the Caribbean community together while still celebrating the distinctiveness of our nationalities is Miami-Broward One Carnival. Here, folks with origins throughout the West Indies converge upon the Dade County Fairgrounds to delve into a deluge of debauchery. Vibrant colors meld together to create a jagged, bedazzled horizon line of writhing bodies, half-dressed in spandex, sequins and feathers. It is truly a decadent spectacle with origins that reflect the uniquely Caribbean and South American mix of African, Latin and European traditions.
Yet even amid this outward unity, each reveller waves his nation’s flag with individualistic pride. Each participant screams with ecstasy when the roll is called and she hears her country’s name. In this celebratory setting, we are together but not the same. And it’s not just in South Florida. From Trinidad to Toronto we gather for Carnival, Cropover, Junkanoo, West Indian Day Parade, Caribana and stand (or dance) united.
Outside of these settings however, our flags can become divisive. Like at a sporting event, or in a streetside conversation about why Jamaicans think so highly of themselves, or Haitians are so obnoxious, or Trini’s think they’re better than the rest of us because they have oil money and Indian hair.
That’s not to say anyone outside of our community has the right to speak negatively about us. These are family affairs and although families will always find things to bicker about among themselves, ultimately they defend their own. Our West Indian family is strong. Spinning colorful flags over our heads, we celebrate who we are united and who we are apart.
A woman once asked me why us Caribbean folks think we’re so special. It’s because we are, just like everyone else. I think maybe we simply acknowledge it more.
Calibe Thompson is a television producer, author, public speaker and a board member for the Jamaica Diaspora Legacy Foundation. Learn more about the foundation at www.jamaicalegacyfoundation.com.