A fashion model who turned her attention to writing has published an autobiography detailing, as she sees it, the influence of Indians on the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
Zobi Fredrick, who migrated first to London and then to New Jersey and now lives in Clearwater, explains the influence of Indian culture on the politics, religion and everyday life in Uprooted: From Calcutta to Trinidad, published by iUniverse, a self-publishing company.
According to Fredrick, the abolition of slavery in the then British empire in 1833 created major labor shortages and indentured laborers were imported from India. Frequent famines and floods insured a ready supply of willing workers from the Asian nation.
“My great-great-grandfather was one of those workers,” Fredrick says.
He came on a 12-year contract and worked in the cane fields run by British overseers.
“In Trinidad, the government would offer small pieces of land to workers in exchange for passage back to India. Most had no family to go back to and the idea that a peasant farmer could own his own land was unheard of in India. Many jumped at the chance and became farmers, eventually making wagons, opening shops and retail stores, buying more land. An Indian community began to build in Trinidad.”
At the end of his contract, her great-great-grandfather became a free, independent landowner and businessman, paving the way for later generations.
Fredrick learned from family members that he started his own business and became very successful. He insisted on education for all his children, even though they were all girls, at a time when priority was given to males.
“One of the girls,
my great-grand mother, became quite successful in her own right and was the owner of businesses and real estate,” Fredrick says. “Using her brain instead of her hands to accomplish her goals, she never looked back at those oppressive cane fields. She was influenced by Canadian Christian missionaries and told her father of her desire to attend school. She was quite different from her sisters, determined to read and write English and grew up strong and independent.
“It was my great-grandmother whose ambition set a precedent for the next three generations and, through her, the hunger for learning and the determination to rise up from life in the cane fields was passed on to her descendants, whether by genes or by stories kept alive of her life and passed on to generation after generation.”
Her father started his own business at age 25, working hard to ensure all his children were educated.
“One day he announced that he had a ‘call from Allah’ and was going to leave his successful business and devote his life to building a mosque in our town,” Fredrick relates. “My mother was surprised and frightened but had little to say in the matter. He spent the next 25 years leading the effort to raise money for this cause.”
But, she says, after her father befriended a religious scholar from a different sect, he was treated like a heretic.
“After the mosque was finished, he was banned from attending the opening ceremonies by the elders of the mosque, who betrayed him because he had befriended a traveling Islamic clergyman from Pakistan with non-traditional views. Neither my dad nor any member of our family would ever attend that mosque. He died soon afterwards, a broken-hearted but determined man,” she relates.
But by then, she says, her father had managed to send one daughter to study law in London and Fredrick and her two sisters were invited to join her and she insisted that they complete their English education in London.
Fredrick recalls she was working as a secretary when a professional photographer “discovered” her at a sidewalk café. “Soon I was modeling all over for fashion houses, catalogs and advertizing,” she says. “I had a glamorous and successful career as a fashion model.”
She also earned a degree in business administration.
After a few years in Britain, Fredrick and her sisters came to the U.S. “in search of the American Dream.”
“Even though I was well educated in England, I wanted more than the British life and, with all the learning of the British classics, came to America to follow my own career,” she says.
In the U.S., Fredrick studied acting in New York City and earned minor roles in several movies. Today, she is a wife and mother of two grown children.
She was inspired to write Uprooted “to document that many Indians came to Trinidad in the new world with nothing and built themselves up through hard work and determination.”
“In addition, I realized that the same blind religious intolerance visited with such vengeance so many years ago upon my father is, unfortunately, still as alive today and as destructive as ever,” she says.
Photo: Zobi Fredrick