Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I wish to congratulate the Committee on Latin American and Caribbean Studies of St. John's University, along with the Guyanese East Indian Civic Association of New York, for sponsoring today's symposium aimed at examining issues affecting the Caribbean East Indian community in the United States. This is a courageous activity since the Guyanese co-organizers who themselves are persons of Caribbean East Indian heritage have recognized that there exist in the Caribbean East Indian community specific problems which have to be confronted and addressed.

Today, various presenters have addressed many of these issues, and I am sure that many ideas were also elicited from among the participants who sit in this audience. But I feel that this discussion should also reach the wider audience of the members of the community whose problems and perspectives have so eloquently been addressed today. In other words, the ideas generated and germinated in this forum should not remain a sterile academic exercise. Follow-up activities should occur at regular intervals in the local communities to get inputs from those at the grass-roots while also spreading the message to all those whose interests came under the analytic microscope today.

I want to deal with three main aspects affecting East Indian integration and involvement in the society. First, I will deal with the background of attitudes towards East Indians in the Caribbean. Secondly, I will touch on the problems of community participation by Caribbean East Indians in the United States; then finally, I will look at how Caribbean East Indians, for their own social, political and economic advancement, need to establish alliances and cooperation with other Caribbean ethnic groups. The statements I will make are very general and some may find them controversial, but I want to believe that some controversial ideas flowed quite a lot today.

Let me deal with the first aspect.

Caribbean East Indians in the United States who have migrated mainly from Guyana and Trinidad have over the years suffered from being properly identified geographically and culturally by Americans. The poverty of geographical knowledge, even seemingly by educated Americans, causes them often to package Caribbean East Indians as people from India. As we have experienced, basic knowledge as to the geographic location of Guyana and to a lesser extent, Trinidad, is common within the established American society.

Sadly, however, we have to note that despite the fact roughly a combined total of one million East Indians live in Guyana and Trinidad, there are many people in the Caribbean itself who still see the region as "African". This is even reflected in sections of Caribbean literature; and you will recall that a former West Indies cricket captain raised eyebrows and tempers when he described the West Indies cricket team, as "African".

If we examine the demographics of the English-speaking Caribbean, we will discover that as much as 20 percent of the people are East Indians. Despite this, and the fact that East Indians have been living in the Caribbean for more than 160 years, some influential political and social players in the region still behave as if Caribbean East Indians either do not exist or are below the competence of the African majority segment of the society.

Up to about ten years ago, the view was constantly expressed, especially in Guyana, that CARICOM leaders at that time opposed Dr. Jagan, not just for his ideology, but also for his ethnicity. The considered opinion was all of those leaders had African roots and prejudices, so they saw him as an East Indian leader trying to take power away from Africans. That was why it was felt they were content to render support to a regime that continuously rigged elections which kept the "usurper" East Indian leader from gaining power on behalf of the majority of the people. Gladly, times have now changed, and a more democratic and understanding leadership is developing in CARICOM. We are now seeing a gradual positive change in attitude towards national political leaders of East Indian heritage.

In 1988, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, speaking at a function here in New York to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of East Indians in the Caribbean noted: "It is shortsighted to see the 'Caribbean man' only as a 'Black man' and Caribbean culture as African culture. Apart from the different countries of their origin, both our black slave and indentured ancestors watered the sugar cane with their blood. Through their struggles and sacrifices, they have made valuable contributions to our historical and social development. They have both achieved great successes in all fields of endeavor professions, literature, art and culture."

It is obvious that political and other prejudices against East Indians by those who propagate the opinion that the Caribbean is "African" have shaped negative attitudes among older groups of Caribbean East Indians who have migrated to the United States. On the other hand, the younger generation of Caribbean East Indians living in this country, particularly in the large cities, are more and more identifying themselves with the Caribbean particularly through the music with which they have a close affinity and understanding. Pressure from some quarters to make them identify themselves with India have not succeeded, for they are seeing themselves not as Indians, but as Guyanese or Trinidadian, or in general as West Indians or as I have heard stated elsewhere, as West Indian East Indians. It is part of a social and cultural evolvement process.

Let me now deal with the second aspect the problems of community participation.

It is estimated that more than three hundred and fifty thousand documented and undocumented Caribbean East Indians, ranging over three generations, live in the New York metropolitan area. A sizeable proportion has obtained American citizenship, but it is safe to say that they have done very little to participate in the political process of their adopted country. In recent Mayoral and Congressional elections, many Indo-Caribbean Americans did not bother to vote. Maybe they have become so quickly Americanized that they now copy the pattern of the general American voting public, almost half of whom fail to exercise the franchise for which others sacrificed their lives to win for them. I understand that a very small percentage vote in elections at the local level in district council elections of community school board elections.

Obviously, this is not good enough. All Caribbean Americans of all ethnic groups must show more civic responsibility by participating in the political process. Not only must they come out and actively support candidates who promote the economic and social welfare of their communities, but they must also assume leadership roles in those communities. By doing, so they present worthy examples for their children to emulate while, at the same time, assisting them to integrate into the American society. We need to see more and more Caribbean Americans not only attending PTA meetings, but becoming executive members of those PTAs, contesting for positions on school boards, contesting in political races for city councillors and even aspiring to greater political heights. Others obviously will have to actively support them along the way.

It is of interest to note that if we compare our Caribbean demographics with those of Cuban Americans, for example, and if Caribbean Americans are as politically active and involved, there should have been at least one or two persons of Caribbean origin in the United States Congress by now.

Caribbean Americans can also play key roles in lobbying on behalf of their home countries. The fact remains that the great majority want to see social, economic and political progress in their home countries. They do maintain contacts through family connection and occasional visits, besides sending remittances to family members and friends at home now and then. They want to see their home countries advance economically so that the living standards of their citizens can also improve. They must, therefore, use their voting strength to influence supportive opinions in American political circles towards their home countries.

Lobbying for increased trade and aid does not have to take place only on Capitol Hill in Washington, but it can be done effectively even at the local level. I have found that the local politician, be he or she a city councillor or a member of the State Congress, is very useful in influencing his or her Member of US Congress in promoting winnable positions. Remember, Caribbean Americans form a very large constituency especially in New York. The local politicians are aware of this, and at the same time, Caribbean Americans must also remind them of this fact from time to time by visiting them or writing them to update them on Caribbean issues.

Now, finally, I will look at the need for Caribbean East Indians to work in alliance and cooperation with other Caribbean ethnic groups and organizations, particularly with Afro- Caribbean Americans. They will gain little by working separately from others. In a sense, all the Caribbean groups, irrespective of ethnicity should operate as an extension of how various groups should operate in their home countries.

In the United States, Indo-Caribbeans, who generally tend to stay aloof from the political system, must become constructive participants in the social and political process in their communities. They must study the political and socialization process in this country. By and large they have gained economic success very quickly since migrating to the United States. But they have to recognize the importance of other players within the system from which they are benefitting. For example, they do not totally understand that progress made in this society for minorities were chiefly the results of long, arduous struggles by groups as African Americans, by the Civil Rights Movement and by other immigrant groups who arrived before them. They also ought to be made aware that education, health, safety and welfare standards are the results of efforts made by these and other groups.

There were many in the past who saw the positives of each of the two major ethnic groups of the Caribbean benefitting from the experience of each other. The Guyanese historian Peter Ruhoman, who in 1938 wrote a history of East Indians in Guyana, noted that the Africans "are a great people; they have been so from the earliest times". He encouraged East Indians to emulate the successes of the Africans as educators, politicians, doctors, lawyers and other professionals.

Some Black Caribbean intellectuals also posited that Africans should learn from Indians. George Lamming, writing in 1966 about the values of East Indians, stated: "Those Indian hands whether in British Guiana or Trinidad have fed all of us. They are, perhaps, our only jewels of a true native thrift and industry. They have taught us by example the value of money; for they respect money as only people with a high sense of communal responsibility can."

A number of studies in the Caribbean have shown that both Caribbean East Indians and Caribbean Africans have evolved socially and culturally. These peoples of the Caribbean are not the same as their relatives in India and Africa, nor as their ancestors who were transported to the Caribbean so many generations ago. Because of commons struggles it is clear that they have many common values. Actually, there are more uniting than dividing them. Here in the United States, as in the Caribbean in Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname and elsewhere they must find the means of working in cooperation, including collaboration at the political level.

In 1988, the then the Opposition Leader of Trinidad and Tobago, Basdeo Panday, speaking at the New York forum on 150th anniversary of the arrival of East Indians in the Caribbean, urged Caribbean East Indians to move away from isolationism. He declared: "We must move away from the politics of parochialism and group interests, real or perceived, to the politics of nation building and the pursuit of national interests. We must be able to advocate sectional interests in national terms. If our struggle is against racism and discrimination and for the equal treatment of Indians, we must realize that Indians cannot get justice in isolation from the rest of the society. The struggle must therefore be a struggle for equality and justice, equity and fairness for all, regardless of race, color or creed. If we are prepared to give our lives so that Indians may be treated with dignity and self-respect, then we must be equally prepared to die in defense of those same rights, not only for Indians, but for Africans and Chinese, Europeans and whites, and blacks, browns and yellows..."

Today as Prime Minister he continues to hold these very positive views.

I totally concur with the position expressed by the distinguished Prime Minister. I hope you all do as well.

Thank you very much.

Posted March 20th.1999