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SEEN UP NORTH: Bajan Family Day

Tony Best

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If anyone understands the impulses that are routinely driven by nostalgia, it is a Bajan living overseas. After all, we are often told that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
In the “good ole’ days” Bajans seemingly displayed the mettle to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps, a drive that helped catapult their birthplace to the top of the United Nations’ list of the world’s poorer countries in the 1990s and early 21st century when it came to human development.
In addition, there were the cultural characteristics – food, music, religious practices, sports and games, and the neighbourliness that together gave meaning to the adage “it takes a village to raise a child”.
Many of those elements came together in Brooklyn a week ago when about 3 000 Barbadians who have made the United States their home away from home spent several hours in Munroe Park, a section of the sprawling Canarsie community, a middle-class section dominated by single and two-family homes.
The occasion was Barbados Family Day, launched a decade ago by the Friends of Barbados DLP Association, the arm of the ruling Democratic Labour Party in the United States, to “bring people together so they can enjoy the things which we associate with Barbados”, said Pauline Clarke, the organization’s president.
Lennox Price, Consul General to New York, who was at the association’s helm when Family Day was launched in 2003, explained that the basic goal then and now was “to provide Barbadians with an opportunity to relive many of their childhood experiences and celebrate things Barbadian despite the fact that they have lived [outside] their birthplace” for decades and have embraced many aspects of the American way of life.
“This Family Day is very important and I am happy to see people enjoying themselves and taking advantage of the opportunity to be together,” said Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, a Bajan and a senior judge in a New York Appeals Court in Brooklyn. She was joined by her husband Dr Joe Radix, a Brooklyn dentist, and a daughter.
“It was certainly enjoyable.”
More than 40 stalls offering a variety of Barbadian dishes, art and crafts, information about health and wellness, travel, music and T-shirts lined the park’s perimeter. It’s a ground where on any weekend in the summer, Bajan, Jamaican, Grenadian, Trinidadian and other West Indian cricketers compete against each other for a chance to win a championship.
The most enjoyable experience many Bajans had, especially the 50-plus generation, was meeting people they hadn’t seen in decades, in many cases since they left Barbados.
That certainly happened to Tammy Sealy, mother of Randy Brathwaite, president of the Council of Barbadian Organizations of New York, the 14-member umbrella body of Bajan groups in the city.
“She said to me time and again as we walked across the park she hadn’t seen this person or that Barbadian in decades. It was an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and reconnect with people you hadn’t seen in years, sometimes as long as 25 years,” said Brathwaite, an attorney on Wall Street.
“We often meet at funerals but this was different. It was a gathering to enjoy the things on which we grew up.”
What Price, Clarke, Brathwaite and others found to be significant was the absence of violence or any other form of law-breaking behaviour during the day.
“That so many people can come together and there wasn’t a single incident tells a story about the event,” said Price.
A special treat was the Bajan and other Caribbean music and the performance of Singing Francine.

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