A few weeks ago, a workmate was showing me this awesome app that helped trace his family genealogy back for generations. I mentioned to him in passing that I thought it was a great app and that I wished I could do the same, but where I’m from, we don’t have such well-kept records and my history ends in some form of slavery or indentureship.
A few days ago I was reading a book that begun with the protagonist tracing her ancestry and finding some interesting information about her family.
Today, I was eating with some friends and mentioned that I was “1/8th black” and was explaining how my great grand on my mom’s side was black and thus the 1/8th. I was asked where my ancestors came from and I replied, in a flippant way, that my ancestors were slaves and indentured immigrants, I don’t really know where exactly they came from. This is partially true, and though I made it a joke, the seriousness of the claim did not escape me.
I say it’s partially true because I know that most of the slaves to the Caribbean probably came from West Africa, and most of the Indian indentured immigrants probably came from Hindi speaking regions in India. In the case of slavery, many people were captured from warring tribes or traders who sold them to the Europeans. They were transported to the Caribbean and became the property of the plantation owners. Their identity was lost.
In the case of the indentured servant, many of them came over in hopes of making a better life, only to be forced into another form of enslavement, barely making enough to get back home. Their identity was lost as well.
I only know the history of my family up to my grandparents (and vaguely my great grand parents), but to go back for generations would be difficult for me; genealogy records aren’t properly preserved in my country of origin and if I do make it back to the slave trade and the indentureship, what then?
I thought of this a bit more this evening, I thought about history, and how a large piece of my history, the strands that makeup who I am, is lost to me. In my head I know it’s a sad thing, but it doesn’t make me sad inside. Actually, I find that I’m OK with not knowing.
Now, before some misunderstand, I’m not forgetting my history, it’s there for me to see in the unknown, but, I won’t let this cloud of not knowing hijack my identity. Also, to be quite clear, my drive to define me in the now does not mean that I am turning a blind eye to the injustices of the past generations, it means that I recognize them, but I will not be bound by them, instead I will rise above them.
I often think about the injustices of the past, I often weep over the lost identity of those who lived so long ago and the racism that still exists today because of it. I often pray that I will not walk the same path as those who walked before me, that the prejudices that were developed will not develop in me. I also often try to embrace the differences of those around me. I may not be able to tell you exactly where I am from, other than Guyana, and for now, that’s OK with me.