Top 10 Indo-Caribbean Moments of 2013
10. A radio station for Wee, 87.7 FM
Wee Radio is the new Channel 77 for many listeners who now tune in every weekend for the hottest chutney, soca and even bajans. Listeners can easily tune in to this FM station while driving or at home, a welcomed relief from the days when you were required to buy a special radio and manually tune it until the static goes away. Despite the constant and repetitive real estate and mortgage ads, the station is gaining loyal listeners. Wee Radio also streams online and via mobile apps.
9. Our community masjid seeks to modernize
After serving as a community landmark for 36 years, the Board and Trustees of Masjid Al-Abidin have committed to a major capital campaign to reconstruct the building that now stands prominently on 127th Street and Liberty Avenue. In its place, they envision a modern, eco-friendly space that is an architectural icon as well as endowed with community programs and services. Throughout the summer, dozens of volunteers cooked, served meals and held fundraisers to contribute to the capital campaign.
8. Ready for a New Mayor
After rallies, debates with friends and even strangers, many Indo-Caribbeans cautiously welcomed Bill DeBlasio who practically became Mayor of New York City after just the primary election. Fed up with the high cost of living, exorbitant fines at every turn, parents feeling locked out of the public education system –and on, and on – like most New Yorkers, Indo-Caribbeans were more than ready for change. Many volunteered for different campaigns, held house party-fundraisers and even sent out constant Facebook messages and emails hoping that the incoming political leaders will find ways to lower taxes on the working class, increase affordable housing options and breathe new energy into Southern Queens.
7. The Chutney Queen comes to town
One of the most talked-about concerts of the summer was Drupatee Ramgoonai’s sold out performance in Ozone Park where hundreds of fans gathered to hear her most recent hit, “Indian Gyal”. After years of making some of the most popular chutney songs, Drupatee proved why she continues to be the undisputed Queen of Chutney. Skillfully organized by the Angels Caribbean Entertainment Group of Companies, the event also featured chutney trailblazer Rasika Dindial and many others.
6. Rebuilding Richmond Hill High School
Richmond Hill High School received yet another principal, this time Neil Ganesh, an Indo-Caribbean. Mr. Ganesh was selected to lead the school with possibly the most Indo-Caribbean students in New York. After years of under-performance at the school, Mr. Ganesh is taking over the reins and tasked with turning it around. Having migrated from Guyana, Mr. Ganesh shares a cultural background with his students and expectations are high that he will have a lasting positive impact on the long neglected school.
5. Building a more inclusive South Asian narrative
Hosted by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), the 4th National South Asian Summit brought together over 375 social justice leaders and non-profit organizations from across the country, and featured a segment on Indo-Caribbean Americans for the first time. The segment was the brainchild of activist Suzanne Persard of the Jahajee Sisters who was also a panelist in the discussion, along with Sakhi, a domestic violence organization, and ICA. The important conversation focused on the need to actively broaden the definition, outreach and literature that comprises South Asian Americans to include Indo-Caribbeans.
You can read the full report on the Summit here.
4. Indo-Caribbean is elected to public office
At 41 years old, John Mootooveren received the highest number of votes of all members elected to the Schenectady City Council. With this, Mr. Mootooveren also becomes the first Indo-Caribbean American to be elected to public office. Strikingly different from previous attempts at public office in more established Indo-Caribbean neighborhoods, Mr. Mootooveren was able to build a broad coalition that included support from the local Democratic Party. Mr. Mootooveren moved to Schenectady from Queens, NY in 2001 and resides there with his family.
3. Life and death on Liberty
Even as New York City recorded some of the lowest crime rates in its history, shockingly violent deaths seemed to visit the Indo-Caribbean enclaves in Queens predictably every weekend, at the usual locations.
To close 2013, a 23-year-old was shot several times in the chest near the popular Silver Lounge on Liberty Ave in the wee hours of the morning. This was just the latest episode in a year that saw many young Indo-Caribbean males murdered or young Indo-Caribbean women assaulted.
In January, one man was shot to death and one stabbed outside Flavor Lounge, which has since closed. In March, 24-year-old Deosarran Ramdular was killed by a bouncer near Moka Nightclub in Jamaica. This was just the latest violent incident at this establishment in a long string of reported and unreported incidents. In May, a 21-year-old was fatally stabbed in brawl outside Level Ultra Lounge on Liberty Ave after going out to celebrate his girlfriends’ birthday. This was also the site where a young woman was allegedly drugged and raped, according to NYPD reports. Over the summer another brawl erupted between LGBT patrons and artists/musicians at Players Restaurant and Bar on Liberty Ave. This captured headlines and motived many elected officials, community members, organizations and businesses, including ICA, to rally against rampaging violence in our community and the alleged homophobic attack. Perhaps the most shocking was the beating of an off-duty NYPD Sargent, Mohammed Deen, in the heart of Liberty Ave in front of his wife, all caught on video.
Many maintain hope that the younger generations growing up in the community would shift entirely from a tradition of violence and alcohol abuse, yet it seems to persist. We can all hope for a safer 2014.
2. Finding a cure for HIV
Dr. Deborah Persaud of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center made headlines this spring when she and her colleagues announced the first functional cure for HIV in an infant. The news was widely covered, but also a particular revelation to the Indo-Caribbean community who had not heard of Dr. Persaud before this. Dr. Persaud has been an active pediatric HIV researcher for over two decades and is seen by many as a leader in the field. Time magazine named Dr. Persaud to the world’s 100 most influential people, perhaps the first Indo-Caribbean to ever make the coveted list.
Dr. Persaud was born in Guyana and moved to Brooklyn, NY at age 16. She received her medical degree from the NYU School of Medicine.
1. Bringing “Coolie” Back
Author Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture has received critical acclaim from around the world although it was only released at the end of the year. This seminal work for Indo-Caribbeans uses a feminist lens to examine the role of her grandmother and by extension other women, played during indentureship. Her careful research and captivating narrative allows for an unprecedented revelation of this history, culture and identity perhaps like none other before it. As the work continues to receive critical acclaim, the previously concealed stories of Indo-Caribbean indentureship are finally getting out.
Gaiutra is an author, journalist, and book critic of Guyanese origin. She studied literature at Yale University and journalism at Columbia University.
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The list is only meant to spark discussion and reflection. In the interest of full disclosure, we explained our participation in different events while we intentionally excluded ICA's core initiatives to offer an objective perspective.