For so many years, I always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. My both parents were Trinidadian and left Trinidad at the age of 16 to immigrate to England. My dad would enter the Royal Air Force and my mom would attend nursing school to become a registered nurse. When my mom finished nursing school, they got married in 1965, 2 years later my brother was born, in Germany. I suppose somewhere in between that time, they relocated to England, (being in the airforce) I guess, this came as no surprise. I was born 2 years later in Swindon, England.
Our moves would take us from Toronto, Brampton, Windsor, Trinidad, Brampton, Trinidad and back to Brampton. (and for my parents back to Trinidad) Why am I providing the background of the amazing race of my family? To discuss the topic at hand- being multi-racial. The only time I ever felt like I fit in anywhere, was when we moved to Trinidad in 1979. I looked around, and there were many people that looked like me and even if they didn’t, no-one was extremely interested in where I came from, or what my parents were. I guess that’s why Trinidad is and will always be home for me, always.
Of course, the Greater Toronto Area has a diverse populace. That wasn’t always the case Attending school in the early 70’s, there were not many people that looked like my brother or myself and when I say not many, I really mean no-one. Not one person looked similar to us.
We still had a lot of friends, especially on the street we grew up on, but we were noticeably – different. It got worse when we moved to Windsor in 1977. My dad received a promotion to manager of the airport in Windsor, so we all moved to Windsor. Another school, where not one person looked like us, in the entire school. My best friend Nicole Gagnon, never made me feel different. I remember a kid calling my brother and I names (I blocked it out now, but I remember how it made me feel) and I remember saying, “well, chocolate is better than vanilla!” – (easy there Caron….hahahahha- I was seven)
Then we met the Armour family. I am not sure which came first, I mean, I know Dr. Armour was our doctor (he was a pediatrician) but I am not sure if that’s how our families became close. Anyhow, all I know was I was so happy to have met them, because – finally a family that looked like us. The only unfortunate part was they didn’t go to our school.
It’s weird because I don’t remember ever talking to my brother about this, or even my parents. I guess I thought it was taboo to talk about it. My dad would just say that we would always have to work twice as hard for everything. He would stress the importance of education and say that according to the world, we were black. He would say, I had two strikes against me, I was black, and I was a woman, so I would have to work extra hard. (great)
Then my dad received a secondment from the Canadian Government as the manager of the airport in Trinidad. Off to Trinidad we went in 1979. I won’t lie, I immediately hated it, but there were reasons behind that. My mom didn’t come with us immediately, she stayed back to help my aunt with my cousin Wendy. My aunt taught at the school I was attending- Dunross – so I stayed with aunt and uncle and my cousins until my mom came while my dad and brother, lived in the Trinidad Hilton. (My dad was looking for a house for us) So my brother got to stay in a five star hotel with my dad. Geoff went right into high school- Fatima College. I admit it, I was jealous. I am not proud of it, but I remember telling my dad I hated it and asked him why did we had to leave Canada (the irony is, I didn’t want to move back to Canada, when we would leave 6 years later)!
Trinidad uses the British system for education, so at 11, you have to write an exam in order for you to get into high-school. So that was another reason I hated it. I left a Canadian system and had to get tutored every evening so that I could prepare for this exam, just to start high-school.
On the flip side, no one was amazed by my looks and I blended in perfectly. There was every race in that school and many “multi-raced” people. I finally felt comfortable, except when I opened my mouth to speak. Now, it was “say Peter, say water, say …..” I didn’t have a Trinidadian accent. It took me so many months to learn what people were saying. My cousins live in the southern part of Trinidad and I don’t care what anyone says, you can tell where people live by their accent. They are NOT all the same. I got so tired of saying “pardon?” I just used to reply, “Yes!” to everything. They could be asking me how I was- answer- yes. They spoke so fast. “Is someone chasing you?”
Anyhow, now I am an expert in the Trinidad dialect. The odd thing is both my parents clearly had an accent, and I never noticed it. It’s so weird that you can’t tell, I suppose because you hear it all the time. Plus, their accent was diluted and mixed up. Probably like mine, when my accent comes out at random times.
So, let’s get back to the topic of multi-race. According to research. There are a large number of ethnic identities in Trinidad and Tobago, many citizens have a mixed ethnic heritage due to influences from French, West Africa, Creole, Chinese, Indians, Scotts, Irish, Welsh, German, Swiss, Portuguese, English, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Arab, Jewish and Russian ancestors (Buret, Bridget, 2002) .
In addition, there are also nationals of Hispanic Spaniard, Mestizo, Mulatto and Pardo ancestry, mainly from Venezuela and Columbia, along with a small number from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The common ethnic mixture includes people of European and African descent, mulatto-creoles an Indian and African descent (colloquially known as dougla) (Buret, Bridget, 2002).
This mixed population is estimated at around 23%; however, it is much higher when considering the various degrees of African, Indian, European and indigenous Amerindian ancestry of the total population. A person may self-identify as African based on physical appearance, for example, but they may be genetically more similar to an individual of Indian decent (Buret, Bridget, 2002) It also explains why we have so many holidays in Trinidad & Tobago. Holidays like, Corpus Christi, Diwali, Eid to name a few.
That explains that; Goodluck ancestry.com. I always wanted to try it, just to see if it will come back; inconclusive! Anyhow, when we moved back to Canada in 1985, It wasn’t as bad, but it was still noticeable. Now it would be in reverse, I had a “weird accent” and I had to practice how to re-Canadianize my words. This time, there would be more visible ethnicities and although I am sure many people still associated Trinidad with Jamaica, it was still progress.
The “race” card – came again when I went to university, ironically, back in Windsor. I would have people blatantly ask, “which one of your parents is white?” – “um, neither?” Or the best one, “you have the best of both worlds.” Oh, so white and black is the best? -good to know. I remember calling my dad on the phone saying, “Dad, they are calling me Mulatto, what does that mean?” In my defense there was no internet- and I thought it was derogatory, so I didn’t want to look it up. He responded, “It just means white and black”. I was so confused.
The worst thing is, you do not fit in. It is not the best of both worlds. I am not bi-racial. I remember being in a Caribbean group on campus, I decided to go to a meeting, maybe I will fit in here- it will be like when I lived in Trinidad, I thought. A group of Caribbean university students sitting around discussing Trinidad. Perfect, this topic I know. So, the group starts off talking about racism in Trinidad. “Huh?” I asked what they were talking about, then I asked the obvious question if any of them had actually resided in Trinidad? Which was a resounding; No. I said, I went to high-school there, and I went to Holy Name Convent in Port-of -Spain, where there was every single race. When it came to friends, we all hung out, not based on race at all. I said if anything, Trinidad is a classist society, not racist. “oh, you wouldn’t know, you are mixed, so you wouldn’t have experienced it.” Et tu Brute? 😒
Well that’s that.
My cousin told me that she was recently called out of a Black group that she is part of for not being “black” enough.👍 We are Not white, and we are only sometimes accepted as black, even though, technically we are not black; We are forever the Other box. Now, on forms- are you a visible minority? – I guess in this country- yes and they list everything but mixed- there is an other box. I forever tick the other box. Is it fair to denounce my mixed ethnicity?
People think this is cool? It will be cool when we don’t have racist people of EVERY race not being racist. Basically, I am not black enough, I have heard, you have “good hair” – not sure what that is, but I am telling you my mixed bag of tricks that sits on my head is anything but good, it’s down right disrespectful- especially on a rainy day. Yes it’s true, that I don’t have to “relax” my hair and I can get my naturally curly hair straight with just a blow-dryer and a flat iron, but that is due to my parents. However, parts of it are straight, some parts curly and it is not evenly distributed… so there’s that.
The other one is when someone asks where you were born, because it is England for me- then it is – where are your parents from- when I say Trinidad, then it’s like -okay that makes sense.
Fast-forward to 2019, and I looked up multiracial, – low and behold- it’s the in thing! Now there are multi-racial celebrities. So, it only took 50 years, and now it’s cool to be multi-racial. Not sure what the racist people are going to do now, they may have to re-think their strategy!
I read Maya Gittleman’s article on 7 Ridculous Things Not to Say to Mixed Race People. All seven of them, I could relate to, number 7 was the best. I will leave you with her take!
#7- I can’t even tell!
And here’s that benevolent, insidious racism again: 6, but presented as flattering. You think we want to hear this? It’s not a compliment to erase an aspect of our identity. It’s invalidating. When we don’t conform to your assumptions about what mixed people look or behave like, that’s not our problem — it’s yours. Mixed identities are layered and complex. Even if you mean well, you may be holding onto ideas based in racism, colorism, and white supremacy. Take the lead from your mixed race friends. Don’t expect us to hold your hand and spell out how to treat us like people, but take the initiative to be humble, to listen to how we speak about ourselves, our relationship with our identities, and how we want to be perceived. Remember that each mixed person is unique, and none of us owe you anything. And to my fellow mixed humans out there — we are valid. We belong to us. Our identities are our own. We belong. We don’t need to be any more or less. We are not disparate fragments of individual cultures — we are each something else entirely, and our experiences are important, fraught, and damn beautiful. Your body, mind, and soul are allowed to overlap between cultures, landscape, and language. We are multitudes. May each of our journeys with our identities endeavor towards love and learning (Gittelman, 2019).
- Brereton, Bridget (6 June 2002). Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad 1870-1900. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521523134 – via Google Books.
- Gittelman, Maya, 22 April, 2019). 7 Ridiculous Things Not to Say to Mixed Race People. https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/7-ridiculous-things-you-should-not-say-to-mixed-race-people/