Young people represent hope for Caribbean

Interactions with bright, young students during class at the WACC Summer School, Mandeville, Jamaica.
Photo: contributed

Earlier this week I travelled to the Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica to engage in two presentations and a film showing with the students and faculty of the WACC Summer School.

My first presentation was on THE CARIBBEAN AND THE RIGHT TO MEMORY which dealt with the importance of memory for the definition of identity, the strategies Caribbean people have employed to preserve memory restricted and prohibited by the colonial system and the role of media in recording memory and preserving them in accessible archives using as example the vast Banyan Archive of over 14,000 video records of Caribbean culture and society ever since the invention of the videocassette.

The second presentation was on BUILDING A CARIBBEAN CIVILISATION in which we explored the concept of ‘civilisation’ and its application to the vision of a unified Caribbean including those countries boarding the Caribbean Sea and those on the South American continent such as the Guyanas and even Brazil which share common heritage and the presence of populations originating in Africa.  We examined the role of media, specifically film and video in sharing examples of cultural similarities, differences and development.

The participants of the Summer School were drawn from Suriname, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Malawi, Germany, India and Colombia. For the Caribbean participants the videos shown as part of the presentation were ‘eye-openers’. Many expressed the amazement at being able to see what poet, Derek Walcott or novelist Earl Lovelace looked like as they had no idea what they were like! The history of the West Indies Federation was also a surprise and participants were fascinated by the flag of the West Indies Federation that I showed them.

I never cease to be astounded and distressed by lack of information our young people have of their own countries and region. The participants were all bright, engaged young people, but some of them felt they had no room for growth in their own environment. On seeing the presentations they expressed the desire to look again at their attachment to the region as they had been considering emigration to North America. They found that the vision articulated in the presentations gave them pause and presented the possibility of hope for their intellectual and professional advancement in the region.

As media workers the participants also remarked on the refreshing and emotionally affective perspective that media produced in the region presented. So much of the media about our region has been produced by producers from outside the region who tend to treat us as anthropological subjects to be studied, often not for the culture we have created but for the remnants of diasporic cultures. Due to the bombardment of foreign productions shown on our media Caribbean people have become adept at decoding these foreign productions in order to identify and adapt their stories to our lives. To see ourselves and the world through our own eyes provokes intense emotions as the filters we usually apply to our media become redundant and reach us directly through the screen unfiltered and with no need to decode them.

After nearly half a century of work in endogenous video and film production in the region I tend to take things for granted so it was extremely rewarding to find that my presentations had had such radical effect on these bright young people. Hopefully they will take their insights into their other disciplines and with luck the region will not lose such potentially influential and inquiring minds.

Christopher Laird was invited by WACC to teach at its Summer School at the Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica from 25-29 July 2016.

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