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Mixed WI feelings over Maya Angelou acclaim

Thanks to two events happening at the same time, the contribution of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean to US life and culture enjoyed a brief but timely recall. The May 28 death of literary superstar Maya Angelou occasioned a revisit of her Trinidadian family roots and cultural connections.

It was recalled that the maternal grandfather of the illustrious poet, author, sage, university professor, activist and orator had come from T&T. Moreover, Ms Angelou’s career significantly included a 1950s stint as a calypso singer, composer, and dancer in New York. She also starred in the movie, Calypso Heat Wave. 

Addressing a memorial service last weekend, former US president Bill Clinton celebrated Ms Angelou’s “action-packed life”. Her range of involvements covered an embrace of T&T/Caribbean heritage and culture within the milieu of US life and times.

Such an embrace is of course the focus of a wider movement, comprising Caribbean people and organisations proud to uphold a combined American and Caribbean identity. To which President Barack Obama paid tribute on the day of Ms Angelou’s death. 

The date coincided with the launch of Caribbean-American Heritage Month, which the US President officially proclaimed, liberally acknowledging the contributions of Caribbean people who have adopted and been adopted by the US. He cited such fields as science, medicine, business and the arts as part of the Caribbean-derived people’s “essential role in the American narrative”. 

Coming from the US head of state and government, such acknowledgement will have been heard as music to the ears of Caribbean people Stateside and elsewhere. But such people will also have heard jarring notes in the otherwise positive message of President Obama.

For acclamation of the worth of Caribbean-origin people must be at odds with conclusions formed in this region, and among nationals abroad, by ever-increasing deportations from the US. Forcible transfer to the Caribbean of troubling numbers of people convicted of crimes has had the effect of dumping on regional countries human cargoes that the destination territories have been unable to properly accommodate.

Criminal deportations supposedly meet a US need. But recipient countries, their resources already stretched to breaking point, are being obliged to accept deportees schooled and practised in their American experience in criminal avocations.

Maybe with this in mind, President Obama said: “We are also working to advance commonsense immigration reform.” It is up to regional governments and their diplomatic representations to ensure that what looks like “commonsense” in Washington accords with how it is seen in the Caribbean. For the deportations, relentlessly pursued under the Obama administration, of American-bred, Caribbean-born, individuals, mock the celebratory testimonies heard on occasions such as Caribbean-American Day, and upon recollection of the life and times of icons such as Maya Angelou.

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