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Mapping Out: The Indo Caribbean Americans

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Indo Caribbean family
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By- Annesha Das Gupta

In May 1838, more than half a million people from India sailed across the “Kala Pani” to various parts of the Caribbean islands and settled down there as indentured laborers  in the sugarcane plantations.

After the immense struggles for their rights, under the heinous policies of Colonists, they managed to gain their freedom in the year of 1917.

After a gap of several decades, the trend of the migration emerged again.

Starting from the mid-1960s, a lot of people, particularly from Guyana started migrating again to the different parts of the USA. This was due to a combination of a couple of historical facts like the Civil Rights Movement in America which led to more liberal migration policies and the political imbalance under the autocracy of Britain which continued till 1991.

They wanted to expand their horizons in the vistas of education, politics and economics. Therefore, a significant number of the community settled themselves in the Richmond Hill area of the Queens in New York. Also, it will not be much surprising to hear that today the whole expand of Richmond Hill is colloquially known as ‘Little Guyana’.

They now identify themselves, as Indo-Caribbean Americans. The members of diverse cultures and heritages. Historian and Sociologists also termed them as ‘twice migrants’.

Concentrating more on the Richmond Hill and Florida sections of the community, one can delve into several aspects of their lives. Such as:

Economics:economic-growth

According to Darrel Sukhdeo an activist and a business coach, after the economic crash of 2009, the community was in a financial turmoil. A lot of businesses closed down and many people lost their homes.

But the community which fostered a rigid spirit, turns around once again.

And it is evident from the recent economic report which tells that the household income standards hit about the marks of 65,000 dollars on average which is more than the rest of the New York’s average. Thus, it means that the members of the community are able to pay more taxes and contribute more to the economic development.

Education and Politics:education india

 Indo-Caribbean Alliance (INCA), a non-profit organization helps the community to raise their voices about all concerned issues, to inject their own perspectives into the national discourse. They also monitor the youth educate them about their historical background and help them to take pride in their own ethnic identities.

In 2010, they conducted a consensus to encourage the people of the community to embrace their sense of being Indo-Caribbean Americans and mainstream their contributions at the global platforms. They also found out that the Indo-Caribbean Americans are the third largest emigrant group in the whole of Queens.

Whereas another organization named Jayadevi Arts Inc (JAI) working in the regions of South Florida work in the sectors of preserving arts, cultures, and heritage of the Indo-Caribbean. They help the community to have self-esteem in their historical and political connections by conducting and hosting programs, cultural and art festivals.

It also may be noted that Florida has the second largest population of the Indo-Caribbean in the whole of the United States.

Now, to come in the direction of education and learning, it is well-known that a crucial number from the community are in the fields of legal, medical as well as political studies. Their contributions have also been in the sectors of economics, politics and itself in the area of education.

It should be known that the attributes of hard work and persistence of the community can be found in the facts that many sacrificed their own careers to give their children an excellent education by saving for their college tuition fees and also that many decided to take up their incomplete education by going back to the universities. Most of them are in their 40s or 50s and they took the decision only after their children had managed to get them accomplished.

Entertainment, Festivals, and Religions:

Ramlila performance staged in Guyana. Photo: Guyana Times
Ramlila performance staged in Guyana. Photo: Guyana Times

The community regularly draw their source of entertainment from Hindi songs and films. They especially are enthusiastic about a musical genre that is their very own invention, Chutney, and Chutney-soca. The Florida Melody Makers is a well-known band from the community which continues to give to the audiences many pleasures through their performances.

The most popular festival among the Hindu community there is the Phagwah Parade, which is essentially the celebration of Holi. The community also celebrates Diwali, Id and various other festivals from across the whole expand of religions.

Talking about religions, the community holds the spirit of pluralism.  People from Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism etc., live together in complete harmony. It is known that there are about 60 Hindu temples in and around the area of Richmond Hills, along with numerous majids and gurudwaras.

The community also celebrates the ‘Indian Arrival Day’ on May 5 with much pomp.

Finally, the estimated Indo-Caribbean population in the States is considered to be more than 300,000.

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)