Friday, 26 April 2013
Foreign is better: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
This is an assignment I wrote this semester for a course entitled Geography of Development (we had to write about something that we feel passionate about)...This post stands as a tribute to this course, representing a voice I never had the confidence to let out prior to this semester. If I had to sum my experience up in one statement I'd say I've learned a great deal about what it means to be 'developed' versus 'underdeveloped' in a world where everything status-related is decided for you by higher forces. While I hope this won't the continuous tone of my blog, I was quite proud of this piece and so I'd share it with the Internet. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Yours in writing, Hannah.
Foreign is better: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire
The more I learn about the Caribbean and its development strategies, the more I feel that the region is characterized by a series of ‘get-rich-fast’ schemes some of which have left us handicapped. The Caribbean is plagued with a warped sense of what it means to be ‘developed’ and a severely devalued self image. In reading case studies of various islands of the region I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated as more and more, the Caribbean seems to be expending all of its resources for the sake of economic growth, ‘developed nation status’ and ‘modernity’ with help from the always extended arms of transnational and multinational companies. We as free Caribbean nations seem to always be ready and willing to concede to the top-down version of what it means to be ‘developed’ forgetting the people we have on the ground and forgetting the struggles of our ancestors in their fight for freedom, equality and a future in which we do not second guess ourselves, our people, our expertise and our ability to be ‘developed’ without foreign intervention.
‘Foreign is better’- We teach our children to aspire to be doctors and lawyers not bred in the Caribbean, but at the best schools in America and Europe. We buy imported cereals and snacks at the grocery because of the variety, foreign meats because they seem to be of a higher quality and foreign vegetables because somehow they look cleaner or more appealing. When it comes to development we are quick to jump onto bandwagons of ‘Invitation’ schemes and foreign aid. Everything is foreign: the television stations we look at, the words we say, the clothes we wear and now more than ever the thoughts we have. Somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that being waiters, servants and puppets in our own country is acceptable. Tourism, Education, Commerce: all better if they are foreign, if they are white, if they have the global North’s stamp of approval. When Sir Arthur Lewis publicized his Industrialization by Invitation plans, Trinidad was one of the countries in the Caribbean that supplied multi-national corporations with facilities, equipment and labor in return for the expansion of the oil and gas manufacturing industry. Tax holidays, environmental degradation, the move away from agriculture and self-sufficiency all seemed like ‘necessary evils’ at the time, given the rapid growth of the population. As mentioned before, get-rich-fast seemed to be a first priority, but to what end? In terms of education, I remember teachers and students alike complaining about the switch from GCE O and A level examinations to CXC and CAPE because it was too much work, a waste of time and not accredited. In other words, it was not foreign and of course anything that does not come from ‘up above’ is a complete waste of time and energy in our eyes. When I entered UWI, the mother of a friend of mine asked me what my plans were, so I told her “well, I’m going to UWI to pursue Geography and Psychology”. Her reply to me was “why are you going to UWI? It’s such a waste of time; no degree you get there is going to be worth anything”. The moment that made me truly realize how our people view themselves was when I asked her what university she went to: Her reply was, “UWI”. How is it possible to downplay, degrade and as Trinidadians say, ‘bad-talk’ the institutions our very own ancestors fought to create and preserve? How can we, as proud Caribbean people, prefer to do what others tell us, rather than to make our own way? In terms of recreational activities, ‘foreign’ seems to be the only avenue we endorse. Currently the cinema complex Movietowne we all love to go to is built on precious mangroves but we’re happy to let it all slip away for air conditioned buildings, big screens, comfy chairs and popcorn. I have often heard Movietowne referred to as ‘our very own slice of America’. We are proud to say this and support the services it offers, yet how many of the outlets and services are local and can be seen as representative of Trinidad’s progress and development? As far as our government sees it, development in Port of Spain involved the water front development and NAPA, our very own National Academy for the Performing Arts. However, how much of ourselves and our culture are truly invested into these establishments? We use foreign architectural designs, foreign planners and architects, even foreign construction companies! We say that NAPA is the landmark of culture and the arts within Port of Spain, yet literally across the road is the Queen’s Park Savannah, the hub of Trinidadian culture for past generations, forgotten and overshadowed. Why must development involve skyscrapers, large highways, foreign franchises and policies? Why instead of the Hyatt Regency on the national waterfront is there not a park for children to play in, or a cultural space for Trinidadians to express themselves? Is our idea of development and progress a Port of Spain skyline where the Twin Towers are barely visible amidst a sea of foreign glass towers and hotel chains?
Without a doubt Trinidad and Tobago is experiencing growth because of outside investments into our oil and gas industries, commerce, recreation and education and it is through foreign loans that we were able to further develop our nation, but at what cost? Out of the frying pan of slavery and colonization, and into the fire of industrialization by invitation, environmental degradation in the name of ‘development’ and a brainwashed region who believes themselves to be servants, waiters, second-in-command over their own lands and their futures. Our way of thinking must change, the way we evaluate ourselves, our worth and our abilities must be corrected. Caribbean people are not damaged, we are not abused and we are not a dependent people. Local is better, believe it or forever be chained within the age of mental slavery that is, development away from the ‘local’.