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MultiCulturalism in T&T Part I
The Maha Sabha invited Sixth Form students to participate in an essay competition on multiculturalism. The first place winner received a cash prize of $5,000. We produce the essay of Lakshana Mahabir of Lower 6L Lakshmi Girls Hindu College. Multiculturalism, though difficult to define, is at its core a society’s acceptance, integration and promotion of its component ethnic, religious and cul- tural demographic groups. It’s polar opposite, nationalism, is the promotion of one particular group of people as a country or by preference of the dominant composing demographic group. The election of a new political leadership in Trinidad in early 2010, led by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, pledged the following whereby “…the Ministry of Arts and Culture will be redesigned to become the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism in order to give greater voice to the diverse cultural expressions of our common desires for individual and national identity” (May 30, 2010).
Therefore, the multicultural aspect of Trinbagonian society, should cease to be merely de facto in nature, and rather, further promoted in government policy and legislature, via the transformation of the Ministry of Arts and Culture to the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism. We should examine whether a policy on multiculturalism can promote integration of the people and their patriotism to Trinidad and Tobago. As with any argument there are two distinct sides, opposing and in support for, as well as some grey areas in-between. The essay seeks to answer the above proposed question pertaining to the establishment of the Ministry of the Arts and Multiculturalism. The first sub question we can propose is: can a policy really promote integration of our people? When we speak of integration, we mean the unification of different sub groups (different faiths, ethnicities, sub-cultures) in a particular community. Our country encompasses a hugely diverse demographic, with different races and creeds, and complex mixtures.
Achieving integration in a country where exist large and distinct blocks of the African, Indian, Chinese, various Caucasian and Lebanese people has long been a daunting task. Further, the integration of these groups was not encouraged, but rather a “divide and conquer” policy was pursued by the plantation officials and pre-independence colonial powers. Is it too late to integrate our people? Has the damage already been done? Certainly, race and culture relations in Trinidad post 1962 have been turbulent, with the Black Power movement of the 1970s, and the continued racial divide in politics. Hence, it is imperative to pursue a policy to mend this divide and bring the people back together.
That was the dream of Trini-dad’s historian and first Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, who, in his 1962 (August 1) inaugural independence speech, stated: “There can be no Mother India for those whose ancestors came from India; there can be no Mother Africa for those of African origin, and there can be no Mother Syria or no Mother Lebanon. A nation, like an individual, can have only one mother. The only mother we recognise is Mother T&T and mother cannot discriminate between her children.”
His message was that from 1962 henceforth, Trinidad was a united country of all these different people, who shared their nationality in common. It can be argued that Trinidad at its very core, on it’s founding,was meant to have its citizens live in unity, to have a defined Trinidadian identity. Secondly, we must seek to improve the patriotism of our people with every government proposal. But patriotism is neither a law nor a rule, but a feeling and emotion that cannot be forced onto the Trinbagonian population by policies of multiculturalism. It can be encouraged by instilling a sense of pride in the ancestry and citizenry of the people. Patriotism may be fostered if the Trinidadian lawmakers and citizens, over time, delicately try to put in place a true Trinidadian identity, that which composes of many creeds and races, without crossing over into the obscurity of a quasi-nationalism. This may be achieved through encouragement of the various characteristics of the heritages of the Trinidadians, such as music, dance, ethnicity, language, art and religion, whilst giving each separate group in the country equal attention, as well as increased cul- tural learnings of one another.
The pledge of PM Persad-Bissessar’s ministry to pursue a multicultural policy has so far been vague, but one can assume that it will involve the pursuit of increased knowledge of the existing cultures within our country. Hence, the first area to be targeted to promote these ideals would be the education system, with integration of cultural and religious habits into the school’s curriculum. The possible advantages of this is that knowledge erases hatred or intolerance of another person, and with well informed, unbiased lessons given to young students, they can harbour within themselves, from an early age, a better understanding of the norms of their neighbours who may be different from themselves. One possible disadvantage of this venture is that there are too many cultures existing in Trinidad at any one moment in time to cover with full justice on the curriculum. Possible ignored groups may be the small churches. Additionally, culture varies from individual to family, to institution, thus making certain aspects of culture, such as interpretation of folklore, hard to define and teach.
Part II next week
Satnarayan Maharaj is the
secretary general of the
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha
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