Top 10 of 2016
10. An intersection of art and activism
In a year defined by shocking migrations around the world, guest curator Grace Aneiza Ali, organized Un|Fixed Homeland for Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, in Newark, New Jersey. This presentation highlighted thirteen artists of Guyanese origin, including several Indo-Caribbeans. The exhibit centered on migration and the emergence of the Caribbean diaspora in metropolitan cities in the US, Canada, UK. The exhibit was on view from July 17 to September 24, 2016.
Ms. Ali was born in Guyana and lives in New York City. She is an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a faculty member at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
9. Rumors ah gwan
After making countless, and very public, charitable contributions to organizations and causes in New York, Jamaica and Guyana, 27-year-old Marcus Bisram suddenly became a recognized and sought after individual within the Indo-Caribbean community in New York. Perhaps just as fast, social media and fake news stories morphed into a vilification campaign after Mr. Bisram was branded as a suspect in a murder case in Guyana. The criminal investigation in Guyana devolved into what appeared to be a public witch hunt and online bullying crusade in New York that was the subject of conversations within many households.
While the Guyana criminal trial gets underway, other issues here in New York went largely overlooked. One example was the case of Rajwantie Baldeo who was brutally murdered by her partner who also attempted to decapitate her in public on December 5, 2016. The Jahagee Sisters hosted a vigil and speakout in her honor and to highlight continuing gender-based violence against Indo-Caribbean women. This case, as do others dealing with the LGBTQ community, alcoholism and the stigma around mental health counseling hardly seemed to provoke outrage.
Perhaps Gregory Isaacs summed it up best in his song "Rumours".
8. Building community power
On November 4, Chhaya Community Development Corporation, a leading South Asian nonprofit based in Jackson Heights, Queens, announced Annetta Seecharran as its next Executive Director. Chhaya CDC provides services for homeowners, civic advocacy, and financial empowerment programs. Ms. Seecharran was previously the Executive Director of South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!) for eight years during its foundational growth period. She later served as Director of Policy and Advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses, a policy and advocacy organization working on poverty and community development issues. In addition, she also serves on several citywide and national nonprofit boards.
Ms. Seecharran was born in Guyana and came to the United States when she was thirteen. She holds a Master’s degree in international political economy and development from Fordham University.
7. A hero emerges
One of the largest massacres in the country’s history occurred in Orlando, Florida and was targeted against LGBTQ individuals. On that tragic morning on June 12, 2016, 49 people were murdered and 53 others were wounded. Imran Yousef, who was a bouncer at the nightclub and a veteran from the war in Afghanistan, saved over 60 lives. Mr. Yousef who is an Indo-Guyanese of Hindu faith was raised in Schenectady, NY.
Online and on social media, Imran’s religion and heritage generated the most controversy. Numerous mainstream newspapers in India and Pakistan debated how he could have a traditionally Muslim name and be Hindu, and questioned if he is Indian or of Indian-origin. The hashtag #ImranYousef captured much of the discussion and even vitriol.
With the plethora of emotions the massacre unleashed, ICA’s annual Eid Iftar on June 14, 2016 was dedicated to a discussion on tolerance in Islam and LGBTQ rights. Prayers and discussion were led by Dr. Fiaz Shuyab of the 112 Street Masjid, and was moderated by Riyadh Mohammed, an ICA Board Member.
6. Bazodee, a soca musical
Set in Trinidad, the film chronicles a familiar story of an Indian woman falling in love with an Afro-Caribbean man --in this case, soca artist Machel Montano. What sets this film apart was the music and it's mainstream release across the country. It was released throughout the Caribbean, New York, Toronto, and Montreal allowing for the first time, millions of Americans and others to be exposed to Indians in the Caribbean on a grand scale.
5. Karen Gopee, first Indo-Caribbean Judge in New York
Karen Gopee was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a Criminal Court Judge on December 29, 2015. Prior to being appointed as a Judge, she was the Principal Court Attorney to Acting Supreme Court Justice Alex Calabrese, the Presiding Judge of the Red Hook Community Justice Center, the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional court. In that capacity, she was able to develop and implement programs that improved police community relationships, divert youth from the criminal court system and help adolescents and adults get their lives back on track through education, career training and counseling programs.
Judge Gopee began her legal career as a Trial Attorney with the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, where she spent the majority of her time prosecuting special victim cases involving domestic violence and child abuse. She is a trained mediator, who has served as Co-Chair and Chair to the Criminal Justice Alternative Dispute Resolution and Restorative Justice Committee of the American Bar Association. Her committee received the Meritorious Award for their work on a mediation training DVD and a restorative justice Webguide.
Judge Gopee was born in Trinidad and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was one. She grew up in East New York, Brooklyn and attended local public schools. She attended the State University of New York at Binghamton and earned her Juris Doctorate at St. John’s University School of Law. She sits in Queens Criminal Court.
Judge Gopee was honored with a Community Impact Award at Indo-Caribbean Alliance's 4th Annual Gala in October, 2016.
4. A tribute to George Subraj
George Subraj was a philanthropist, businessperson, and a leader in supporting Indo-Caribbean culture in New York and abroad. He died on November 17, 2016 at age 71.
Among many accomplishments, Mr. Subraj will be remembered for pioneering life-saving kidney transplant surgery in Guyana, for funding numerous educational initiatives including a new computer laboratory at Richmond Hill High School in Queens, NY just a few months ago, and of course, for building a sprawling real estate empire in Queens and Long Island as President of Zara Realty Holding.
In 2014 at the ICA annual gala, George along with his brothers Ken and Jay were awarded with a Business Leadership Award. At the time, George was unable to attend the gala because he made a midnight decision to go on a trip to Guyana to support a group of children who were scheduled for heart surgery the next day. This was his way of celebrating his recognition, by continuing to be hands-on with his philanthropic work.
Our condolences to the Subraj family, employees and supporters.
3. Who got love for Richmond Hill?
Inspired by local resident and Richmond Hill native Bridget Bartolini, this year-long story telling workshop captured stories from residents about their experiences in and of Greater Richmond Hill. It included a photo archiving component with the Queens Memory Project , writing workshops and storytelling sessions. True to its Richmond Hill roots, the culminating workshop was held on December 11, 2016 and featured a diversity of people, experiences and food. From the success of the project, it looks like a lot of people have love for Richmond Hill.
2. A Golden Jubilee 50 years in the making
As Guyana celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2016, events across New York filled the calendar. The most prominent, and officially sanctioned by the Government of Guyana, was the New York launch event on January 16, 2016 attended by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. While few Indo-Caribbeans appeared to be involved in the planning or the program, the meticulously arranged and star-studded event left many guests impressed. Jubilee celebrations continued throughout the year, including what was billed as the first-ever reception at Queens Borough Hall (although the former Queens Borough President was of Guyanese origin). Several newspapers published special issues commemorating the occasion. Here’s once such feature from the Queens Tribune.
1. "Making America Great Again"
During this presidential election year, hate crimes rose to an unprecedented level, including several attacks on Indo-Caribbeans in New York. On April 27th, an Indo-Caribbean teenager was brutally beaten in Astoria by three other young men who reportedly shouted “ISIS” while hitting him with a metal pipe and bat. In another case on June 1, 2016, Mohamid Rasheed Khan was viciously attacked in Queens Village shortly after leaving his mosque. According to the NYPD, hate crimes were up 115% across the five boroughs in 2016.
In addition to safety concerns, thousands of Indo-Caribbeans, like other communities, are worried about the IDNYC Card and DACA work permits under a Trump administration.
Please let us know if we forgot something. Share your feedback, add to the list and/or repost.
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.