By Annesha Das Gupta
What is Indo-Caribbean Alliance?
Earlier, while researching about the origins of the Indo-Caribbean people, I came across the fact that the group which first sailed from the shores of the Bay of Bengal landed across the various Caribbean islands and merged their cultures and themselves into the terrains of a totally different continent. This later resulted in the creation of a history, which like any other had and still has its own share of ups and downs.
Though, the really interesting fact is that during the 1960s many of them furthered travelled towards the other parts of the world and settled themselves down in new countries and environments of Britain and USA. Thus, they came to be known, sometimes as twice or thrice migrants (Sociologically speaking). And delving more into this arena I shaped up an article on the Indo-Caribbean Americans a few days back.
In the progress, apart from learning about the astonishing fact that the ‘Roti and Rum’ business continued to touch new heights despite of the prevailing economic depression, I also came across an organization known as Indo-Caribbean Alliance. And my findings revealed that they have done an immense amount of work towards uplifting the community and working hard to inject the various problems and situations of its members into the national discourse.
Therefore, in an attempt to better understand about the community and the organization which has been carving a niche for itself in the city of New York, I decided to interview Mr. Kenrick Ross, who is the present Executive director of ICA.
The interview concluded in some very interesting discoveries for me, personally, which I think, will also make my readers receive valuable information along with making their erudite grow, like mine.
So, towards gaining new and interesting knowledge, we move ahead to the main content. The Interview.
Here is the full interview with Mr. Kenrick Ross:
NewsGram: What according to you is Indo Caribbean Alliance (ICA)?
Ross: ICA is many things. Of course, it is the leading organization serving the Indo-Caribbean community in New York City, and particularly in Queens, where we are now the 2nd largest ethnic group. And because of that unique position, ICA is also more – We are a community voice at school boards and rallies to City Hall and the state capital. We are a community center where we host our regular educational and cultural programs and also provide space for Indian Classical dance and table lessons, yoga and Bollywood-inspired aerobics. We are a resource for people looking to access their culture and that of their parents, and to contribute to their community. I like to think that ICA represents Indo-Caribbean American identity at its broadest, richest and most progressive.
NewsGram: Why there was a need to conceive such an organization?
Ross: ICA was founded by a group of ambitious young Indo-Caribbean professionals who are committed to positive change, empowerment and improvement in the community in which they were raised. They created a framework that was and remains very special and unique in the community – A secular, culturally competent, progressive organization firmly focused on the community and its growth in the United States, with a strong grounding in grassroots and local issues, civic engagement and advocacy.
NewsGram: How was the response of the community at first?
Ross: ICA was founded because the need was profound and obvious, and the community’s support has borne that out. From the number of volunteers who give of their time, to the uniqueness of having culturally competent programming, to the fact that our gala is sold out weeks in advance every year, the community has shown how vital ICA is and that has been building since the first day.
NewsGram: We heard that ICA holds events to encourage the community during the elections, to register themselves as proud members of the Indo-Caribbean Americans. Why do you think that there should be such an initiative in the first place?
Ross: So there are two answers to this. The first is that a core program of ICA is civic engagement and education. Already in 2016 we have registered more than 600 people to vote and by May 1st will have called more than 1,000 people encouraging them to vote in the upcoming primaries and the general election in November. We don’t ever advocate or support a particular party or a candidate we just want our people to have a voice in how their communities are run. Of course, the energy of the presidential election helps to get people interested in voting, but we are particularly focused on them taking an interest in local politics, where the community’s votes and voice can make a huge difference. Many of the everyday issues that confront our neighbors are in the hands of local boards, city councilors and state representatives. Plus, Indo-Caribbean people come from countries where politics is deeply important and still follow elections back home eagerly. We want them to do the same in their own neighborhoods.
As for registering, as Indo-Caribbean, this is more in terms of the census, which will next be taken in 2020. We have not decided on the exact campaign, but we have and always encourage people to identify themselves on forms as Indo-Caribbean whenever they can. This is because the community is large and fast-growing, the 5th largest immigrant group in NYC, but on paper largely invisible because there isn’t a census box to directly, easily count us. We have a pretty detailed demographic understanding of the community, but we would like it confirmed by the census, which will help us to advocate more effectively in schools, for example, and for funding.
NewsGram: It is known that there are Youth and mentoring programs that are held at the ICA. Can you a little more about them?
Ross: Youth programming is at the core of ICA. While many Indo-Caribbean youth strive and soar, building stellar academic resumes and great careers, they also often come back to volunteer at ICA. While many of the others, struggle in the middle and high school. They deal with a range of barriers, from the fact that many of their parents don’t know the US school system and are sometimes intimidated by it, to bullying and targeting because of accents, ethnicity and religion, to cultural dissonance between home and school cultures. ICA provides SAT prep and high school graduation exam prep courses, tutoring two times per week and a summer College prep program which exposes students to campus life, college options and potential careers. We are also looking into providing cricket programs to middle and high schools, which not only teach the children this sport beloved by their parents and grandparents, but critical life skills like discipline, fairness and fair play, teamwork and conflict resolution.
NewsGram: There is also a whole section particularly allotted to the Indo-Caribbean literature in the Queens Library in New York. There was about 100 books at its conception. So how is it going now? How has the program evolved?
Ross: I am really excited that you know about the collection and you have asked about it. The collection, which includes all kinds of works on the Indo-Caribbean experience, is situated in the heart of Little Guyana in Richmond Hill. We just re-launched active programming for the collection with a reading by Raja Mohabir, one of our favorite supporters, who recently published his award-winning book of poetry, The Taxidermist’s Cut. The event kicked off what we intend to be a full calendar for 2016 of readings, interactive family and art events, the monthly book club and many new additions to the rooster of books.
NewsGram: There are an array of events and other programs that your organization, arrange for. And we know that it is no cake-walk. How does ICA manage to gain the funds and keep on going on the novel journey, it has taken back in 2008?
Ross: We have to provide high quality programs to the community and we also have to pay the bills. Luckily, these two things are related. As Executive Director, two concerns that shape my day are making sure that our programs are constantly improving and expanding, so they are both as effective and cost-effective as possible, and to make sure that we have ways of paying for them. Particularly in New York, where there is so much competition and so many foundations only funding who they already know (which is not good news for burgeoning community and a grassroots organization) and are closed to everyone else no matter how stellar they are, fundraising is difficult. But we make sure that our programs are of exceptional quality and that people know that, so we receive funds from City of New York, foundations like North Star Fund, major donors in the community, sponsors for our events, and of course our neighbors and people who have benefited from our work. We have a gala every year and we always welcome support through our website.