There was a time, not that long ago, when almost everything we did, we did for "de tourists". Port of Spain needed a facelift so "de tourists" could enjoy it; we shouldn't throw garbage indiscriminately because what would "de tourists" think; and we had to get a handle on crime so "de tourists" would feel safe when they come. This pervasive discourse also manifested in calypso lyrics and statements from national leaders.
That was then. Over time, and in the crunch for adequate services and proper representation, nationals began calling for improvements overwhelmingly for their own benefit. Few perhaps noticed it, but despite legitimate indignation over Calder Hart's Port of Spain Waterfront project, the coastal tide having turned decisively on the man and his master by the time the Waterfront came along, I registered that former prime minister Patrick Manning, at the opening of the Waterfront, spoke about what it would mean to the people of this country rather than what it would mean to "de tourists".
Whatever one may think of the Waterfront—criticisms include the absence of greenery and predominance of concrete, the greasy wharf water, the lack of benches, etc—at least Manning understood and communicated that it was for us rather than "de tourists". That many people enjoy the Waterfront, the Chaguaramas Boardwalk, the Brian Lara Promenade, the Aranjuez Savannah, the Eddie Hart Grounds, the refurbished Macqueripe Bay, the Queen's Park Savannah, among other such facilities, is enough to tell us how much we need spaces like these in a place where the climate is often bright and breezy and in which a fundamental part of our national character is our desire to breeze out.
We also stopped wondering how tourists would react to, and fare in, the vortex of violence into which we had descended. We were the perpetrators, we were also the victims, and the victims were not just the robbed, dead and badly wounded, but the surviving families and friends and the national psyche that continues to absorb an inordinate amount of violent depravity. There is altogether much less talk now of "de tourists", unless in reference to their still comparatively small contribution to annual earnings.
This refocusing away from "de tourists", from that potent symbol of foreigners, often European and North American, whose lives, limbs, property and perception were more valuable than ours, was a gratifying shift despite its impetus. It was another step toward looking at ourselves and devising indigenous methodologies and solutions for our realities. Never mind "de tourists" has been replaced by the equally amorphous "de business people", never mind we continue, uncritically, to refer to ourselves as locals in our own country, and never mind that residual outward-gazing remains apparent as in the two otherwise beautiful songs by Kees and Machel, the first petitioning us to "show the world, show the world that we are conquerors" and the other perceiving that "we've been waiting so long/to show the world where we belong/this is our destiny/to show the world just who we be", when what we truly need is to first show ourselves that we are conquerors and first know ourselves where we belong and who we be. We have at least ceased our singular focus on the well-being of "de tourists", at the expense of our own lives and limbs, properties and perceptions.
This, to me, is a meaningful thing as we ruminate on the half century post-Independence. So to hear National Security Minister Jack Warner return to that place we have left, speaking about how we go look to foreigners when we publicise fatal crimes, was an experience in cognitive dissonance and a golden irony.
For Independence 2010, the first year the People's Partnership experiment assumed office, I commented in this column on a trend among Government ministers to import foreign experts for everything. Warner then spoke of a foreign expert to assess dilapidation of President's House, and a foreign flood expert. We already had two foreigners leading the Police Service after several reports on crime and the Police Service conducted by foreigners. We had foreign Queen's Counsel to offer opinions on a range of legal conundrums and a foreign expert was to arrive to train Government in negotiation strategies. The question I raised was not the competence and credentials of those foreigners, or the practice of importing expertise which is sometimes quite beneficial, but why we do not trust our fellow citizens to perform these tasks.
Two years later, the minister's backward gaze remains uninterrupted. He wants us to beat our children, perhaps as he was beaten, and if that doesn't work, wait until they're older and confine them to jails before popping their necks. And we must not, should not, publicise the extent to which crime overdetermines our reality. On the same day that he made the dubious claim that Jamaica media houses keep crime off their front pages, the United Nations refugee agency was calling on the Jamaica government to fully investigate the throat-slashing death of UN liaison Clover Graham outside Kingston. Clover's son and his girlfriend were murdered in similar fashion five years ago.
And Warner chastised the media for crime coverage because such coverage would hurt tourism, never mind the belly-wrenching of our own people. Indeed, he went further, and questioned the patriotism of media practitioners: "Anyone who has any concern for one's country would understand that when you do these things without proper analysis, you don't help your country..."
Rather than demanding corruption of the news in order to look good, Warner should celebrate instead all Trinidadians and Tobagonians who rush to the scenes of tragedies to offer assistance for no money or public acclaim save a nightly sound byte. First responders to vehicular accidents, floods, shootings, and any of the assorted distresses to which we are vulnerable are always ordinary citizens of good heart. These are the citizens deserving of acclaim and awards (now there's a good story!) and if their faces were mistakenly imprinted on the national flag (there's another!), I truly wouldn't mind.
To those, I say a well deserved happy 50th anniversary.