“This is Isaiah. He’s a Trini, born here.”
This was how my Trinidadian friend introduced me recently. I was visiting him at his college in Connecticut, and that day he organized a ‘Trini lime’ at his house (in Trinidadian culture, to ‘lime’ means to hang out). He invited several of his friends, got some Trini food delivered, and put on some soca music. We all then spent a couple of hours talking, eating, and enjoying each other’s company. Although I knew no one else in the room other than my friend, I had a great time because it’s rare that I get to lime with Trinis my age.
But back to the introduction. Being described as a ‘Trini born here’ was nothing new to me; in fact, it’s pretty much the story of my life. I was born in New York City to parents from a working class town in southern Trinidad and Tobago. I was raised by my mom in Baltimore, Maryland, and every summer she purchased a plane ticket for me to visit our family in Trinidad. These summers were the happiest memories of my childhood. I would spend each day visiting friends, picking mangoes, going to the beach, and sometimes venturing into the city with my family to go to the mall. My favorite thing about Trinidad, though, was how much I felt like a part of the community. My parents’ neighborhood is small, so everyone knew me, even if I didn’t know or remember them. People would regularly stop me in the street or at the local store, ask me how my parents were doing, and encourage me to keep doing well in school. It was like I had one big family looking out for me. Because of this, I developed a strong love for the community and for Trinidad as a whole. My dream as a teenager was to become a doctor and eventually work in the community. After I gave up my doctor dream during my freshman year at Tufts, that dream turned into a desire to improve Public Health in Trinidad, especially in communities like the one my parents grew up in. Without even realizing it, I began to see Trinidad as home, and that feeling remains in me to this day.
Although I have this strong love for my people and my community, I realize that where I come from plays a strong role in how I am perceived. As an American, I have access to resources that most of my family and friends will never have access to, such as an American education and a passport that will allow me to visit dozens of countries without ever worrying about a visa. Any opinions I may have about the way things work in Trinidad will be biased because of my American upbringing and the advantages it comes with. However, I do not see my Americanness as a disadvantage. Having a culturally-sensitive mind in my everyday life provides me with a perspective that not every American has. It allows me to have sympathy for immigrants and international students, who struggle to find comfort in a place that is not home. It allows me to appreciate America for its opportunities, but also be critical of its flaws. Most importantly, it allows me to easily bond with Caribbean people like the friend I visited in Connecticut, and inspires me to do all I can to help my community.
I used to despise being a ‘Trini born here’ because I felt like the black sheep of my family, but now I see it as a privilege. I see it as something that makes me an outsider, but an outsider who understands some of what a local understands. Having this understanding will aid me in supporting the Caribbean community in America, and the community in Trinidad that shaped the way I approach life in America each day. To me, the phrase “never forget where you come from” is more than just something to think about, it is a call to action that inspires me every day and will inspire me for years to come as I seek to give back to the country and community I affectionately call home.