Indian ethnicity is an integral part of what it means to be West Indian

Stabroek News
August 17, 2001

Dear Editor,

It is sad and somewhat troubling that despite their invaluable contributions to industry, education and other social fields and disciplines in this nation, Guyanese of Indian descent are still being harangued about whether they are truly West Indian. Those asking these questions are either ignorant of, or have deliberately made a biased interpretation of what it means to be West Indian.

The beads of sweat, the drops of blood, the crippled and arthritic bones and the torn muscles are enduring testimony to what we have all suffered to help build Guyana. To question any citizen's loyalty to the nationhood of Guyana is not only insulting but it is also a despicable affront to all right thinking Guyanese. Some may even say there is a deliberate effort underway to rob Indians of their proud West Indian heritage.

I believe that there must be a shift in the focus of this debate a change of paradigm, if you may. The majority of Guyanese should not be forced to defend their intrinsic right to be culturally Indian. They should be demanding to know why some people have not yet accepted Indian ethnicity as an integral component of what it means to be West Indian.

Central to this debate must be a clear clarification of the difference between ethnicity and race.

Indo-Guyanese are, of course, racially Indian. And as the song made popular under the Burnham dictatorship declared, "no matter whe yo come from, as long as yo're a black man yo're an African." Afro-Guyanese, have long been singing about their African heritage, so I hope that they are not among those now trying to castigate Indians who are finally being allowed to celebrate their own distinctive heritage and roots.

Racial differences, however, are only skin deep. I wish to make myself clear on this. Our unique genetic inheritance makes us who we are, racially.

The other factor is ethnicity. Together with the mix of the other four (or more) races Africans and Indians have together evolved and share a unique Guyanese lifestyle, a unique Guyanese flavour, a unique Guyanese ethnicity, a distinctive blend known by those who feel it, of what it truly means to be Guyanese.

The ingredients poured into this ethnic melting pot is our cultural heritage ? from China, Portugal, Europe, India, Africa and, of course, from Guyana. This is an accomplishment of which we must be proud.

We must be wary of evil, insidious and opportunistic politicians who, in the vain hope of becoming leader of the tribe, would drive wedges of hate into this bond, this coalition, which is so vital to nation building.

The purveyors of hate and "made-up" differences made great strides after the last election, but we as a Guyanese nation must see through their plans and not allow them to divide us further. We are all in this together.

And we must never plot to deny the unique cultural inheritance of each other, for this diversity is the vital ingredient of the Guyanese cook-up. The culture of each individual racial group must be nurtured and in some cases restored, so that all Guyanese can benefit from its values.

Those still in search of West Indianness should start by listening to the song "Caribbean man" as sung by Mr. Dave Martins, the Portuguese Essequibian and leader of the Trade Winds band.

Yours faithfully,

Justin DeFreitas