10. A strengthened NYPD
Inspector Deodat Urprashad became the highest ranking Indo-Caribbean and South Asian officer with the New York Police Department on November 21st. Since March 2015, he was a Deputy Inspector and Commanding Officer of the 102 Precinct, also a first for an Indo-Caribbean in New York City history. Inspector Urprashad holds a Bachelor of Arts from York College and a Master’s in Public Administration from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. With greater diversity in it's upper ranks and by allowing more officers to serve in neighborhoods that reflect their ethnic backgrounds, the NYPD is a stronger, more respected institution. Inspector Urprashad was born in Canje, Guyana and moved to New York in 1973 at the age of five.
ICA honored Inspector Urprashad at it's 2017 Gala with a Community Impact Award.
9. His heart is Indian, Dil Hai Hindustan
The year saw a global star emerge with Ben Parag’s entry on “Dil Hai Hindustani”, a televised singing competition based in India. Many in the Indo-Caribbean community tuned in, maybe for the first time, to see the 19 year old Queens-born resident compete by singing mostly Hindi film songs against South Asians – and winning. Ben made it all the way to the finals and dazzled judges not just with his voice, but him humility, appearing bare foot on stage during performances. Using hashtag #TeamBen, Indo-Caribbean Twitter, Instagram and Facebook drove legions of his fans to vote to keep him on the show. They also welcomed him back home with a grand, horse drawn carriage parade and concert in Richmond Hill, New York.
His biggest accomplishment? Perhaps introducing South Asians to Indo-Caribbean culture in New York and in the Caribbean.
8. Marcus Brian Bisram, the never ending story
With the arrest of philanthropist Marcus Brian Bisram over the summer, the unending saga which was the talk of probably most households in 2016 continued with even more fervor in 2017. Bisram is accused of organizing the murder of an individual in Guyana. Even the New York Times got into the act with the sensational title “Power, Corruption and Murder Roil Little Guyana” revealing details that were previously guarded and the deep fissures the controversy has caused within the Hindu and Indo-Caribbean community. While Mr. Bisram fights extradition in police custody in New York, little progress seems to have been made with the court case in Guyana. Unfortunately, this will likely continuation into the New Year.
The controversy was #9 on the Top 10 List of 2016.
7. “All skin teeth ah laugh”
Perhaps more than ever, many young men have used social media to emerge as forces to be reckoned with, influencing comedy and culture. Arguably the most successful has been Trinidadian comedian David Stephen Francis who goes by the stage name “Prnc Charming”. He started on Instagram where he now has 176,000 followers and is selling out shows across different states.
There are many others who have not just gone viral but have had staying power. They include 24 year old producer Jonathan Madray, better known as Jon One, who started out as a DJ at some of the most popular venues in New York City. Now, he's doing product endorsements. He gained the most attention for his short comedic skits, with over 10M views on a single video.
There are of course other groups, like CoolieTimes and Cooliebook WTMC, was has even transitioned into merchandising. Like the Guyanese proverb, it looks like "all skin teeth ah laugh", and hopefully serious commercial success.
6. The Liberty Ave Fire
On March 5th, on one of the coldest and windiest nights of the season, a seven-alarm fire engulfed 13 businesses along Liberty Avenue and 110th Street. The blaze took over 250 firefighters to control. It resulted in few injuries but significant damage to businesses and the displacement of over 40 individuals, many of whom found refuge at the nearby Shri Tulsi Mandir. After an online appeal went viral, within six hours residents flooded Tulsi Mandir with donations of clothing, electronics and toiletries for the affected families. With the ongoing fears of an immigration crackdown in the community (see #3), many families refused to register with the Red Cross, hospitals or government agencies.
ICA raised over $3,000 to provide immediate relief to several families.
5. Honoring the lives of Sukree Boodram, Ramesh Kalicharran and Anand Yankarran
The year saw the passing of domestic violence activist Sukree Boodram, Indo-Caribbean cultural pioneer Ramesh Kalicharran and legendary musician, Anand Yankarran.
Activist and author Sukree Boodram lost her fight against cancer on the morning of May 28th in Florida. Sukree rose to prominence in 2010 by boldly chronicling her struggle with violence in her marriage and the pressures she faced from family, friends and sometimes, herself. Her book "Breakout" stoked controversy with gripping first hand accounts of cultural taboos and was embraced by social justice and women's right organizations. Ms. Boodram went on to found Caribbean Domestic Violence Awareness, an organization that promoted healthy relationships in the Caribbean. Professionally, she was an accountant with Starwood Hotels and Resorts. In her final days, she used her Facebook account to describe her cancer treatment, sharing pictures and stories of her last struggle.
Ms. Boodram launched her book at ICA and was a donor to the organization.
Ramesh Dalchand Kalicharran
Ramesh D. Kalicharran, better know as Uncle Kali, passed away on December 3rd in New York City. Born in 1949 in Guyana, the eldest of eleven children, Uncle Kali moved to the Unites States in 1974. He entered the real estate business, started a driving school and then launched an innovative concept called the Kali Bharat Yatra Tours (KBY) for Indo-Caribbean people in North America to discover and re-connection with their roots in India. It became perhaps his most defining success in business. He was a pioneer for the Indo-Caribbean community in New York, having been associated with the founding of the Phagwah Parade, the Indo-Caribbean Federation and funding the construction of Mandirs and programs for children and families. Uncle Kali gave us many reasons to come together as an early advocate for the Indo-Caribbean community in New York. We're a strong, thriving community today, in part, due to his efforts.
He was a donor to ICA and proudly supported our Hindi language classes.
Fans rang in 2017 with the shocking news of legendary chutney artist Anand Yankarran's death. Suffering multiple strokes, he passed at age 51. Mr. Yankarran achieved stardom with his breakout hit Nanda baba in 1989. He will be remembered for several hits including Humsa Bolaway, Ranga Dal, Oh Nanda La La and several others. His fans in New York, led by the Ramotar music family, held a tribute the evening of his death with hundreds in attendance at the Cricket Wicket. He was cremated on January 5th at Waterloo, Trinidad.
4. Women in power
In a year defined by the aftermath of Hillary Clinton's historic Presidential nomination, the Women's March and more recently, the Silence Breakers from the #MeToo movement, Indo-Caribbean women are also taking action. Although not directly tired to those movements, 2017 saw Indo-Caribbean women champion social justice causes while challenging politics and history as we know it, and questioning cultural taboos that are often directed at women.
In September, Shivana Jorawar, an attorney and Steering Committee Member with the Jahagee Sisters, wrote about her personal experience as an abortion rights activist and how this has influenced her career. Perhaps for the first time, an Indo-Caribbean woman is speaking openly about having an abortion. Ms. Jorawar has also written about limitations placed on Hindu girls and women and "slut shaming" in Indo-Caribbean communities.
At the grassroots, activist and attorney Aminta Kilawan continued to fight stereotypes, often dealing with religion, politics and conforming to gender roles, with a weekly column in the West Indian newspaper and by working directly with residents at the Mandir, at rallies or roti shops. Of course she also drafts some of the most progressive legislation, under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, as part of the day job with the City of New York. She has emerged as one of the most respected voices within the community.
Another attorney, Elizabeth Jaikaran, published “Trauma”, a series of short stories that chronicled the experiences of Guyanese women and girls. She also wrote an article for Playboy.com exploring how young Muslim couples find new freedoms in online dating.
Author and Professor Lisa Outar launched “Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought” in July at Queens Museum focusing on how Indo-Caribbean women have contributed to ideas of knowledge in the Caribbean. Professor Outar has been a consistent speaker on issues affecting Indo-Caribbean women both in New York City and in the Caribbean.
Women, and specifically these Indo-Caribbean women, have made 2017 an inflection point for society.
3. The roti shop "raids"
“Roti shop raids” was how the rumor got started with a social media post by a bored employee at a local restaurant. Soon, panicked employees, families and their children were worried about going to work, school or public spaces. By February, only the 2nd month after President Trump had been in office, many feared his worst promises were unfolding. Before the rumor could be dispelled, it morphed into an avalanche of fear –burying efforts to dispel it. By August, as additional immigration proposals were unleashed, the New York Times caught onto the large impact it would have, explaining that “The Guyanese community brings in more people through family preference visas than any other immigrant group in the city”. Among the community’s responses was the public declaration of the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir as a sanctuary, in partnership with Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, to protect undocumented residents from Federal immigration enforcement. It became the only Hindu temple to take such a stand, joining 800 other places of worship across the country. Still, not a single person or family has utilized this facility.
With a drastic decline in the economy in Guyana, even more Guyanese are expected to arrive in New York.
2. Seeking political representation, a continued effort
Democrat Richard David launched a campaign for the City Council in South Queens, encompassing many Indo-Caribbean enclaves. After almost a decade of neglect and a lack of funding, residents were demanding a more capable elected official. ICA, for example, was unable to receive discretionary funding and had to go outside the district to request funding from other elected officials - the only Council District among 51 in New York City. Several youth programs had to be curtailed or eliminated entirely. Offering 10 years of government experience, activism and community board involvement, Richard promised a fresh start and fair representation for all communities in the district. The campaign saw thousands getting involved, many registering to vote for the first time and others donating. The election resulted in historic levels of participation and almost unanimous support from Indo-Caribbean and South Asian leaders and residents, a break from prior elections in the community. Yet, it was not enough. While he did not win the Primary election, Mr. David secured more votes than any prior South Asian or Indo-Caribbean candidate for City Council in New York City history. Adrienne Adams, also a Democrat and the former Chairperson of Community Board 12, won the election.
Richard is a co-founder of ICA and a former Board Member.
1. Commemorating 100 years since the end of indentureship
For the Indo-Caribbean community, 2017 marked 100 years since the abolition of the British indentured labor system. Commemorative events and programs occurred at almost every turn, from Queens Museum to college campuses and across different countries. It was a reminder of the progress the community has made, and lack of, as well as the continued fight for survival of this uniqueness history and cultural.
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The Top 10 List are people, events and policies that have had the greatest impact on the Indo-Caribbean community in 2017. The List is only meant to spark discussion and reflection. In the interest of full disclosure, we explained our involvement with any item on the list while we intentionally excluded ICA's core initiatives to offer an objective perspective. We welcome suggestions and feedback.