People from India and China make up the largest Asian communities in the Caribbean. In the middle of the 19th century, immigrants from southern China began to arrive in various parts of the Caribbean, especially Cuba and Jamaica. At the same time, immigrants from India mostly settled on the English-speaking islands of the Lesser Antilles, especially Trinidad, and in Guyana on the Caribbean coast of South America.
Some of Cuba’s most respected writers are of Chinese descent, such as José Lezama Lima, Severo Sarduy and others. Other authors have written about the mark left by the Chinese community in Cuba, such as Mayra Montero, Daina Chaviano and Cristina Garcia with their novels Como un mensajero tuyo, La isla de los amores infinitos and Monkey Hunting, respectively.
With its large Chinese community, Jamaica also has several authors of Chinese descent. Two important examples are Olive Senior (Arrival of the Snake Woman) and the poet Staceyann Chin. Some Jamaican novelists have also used the story of Chinese immigrants to Jamaica as the backdrop for their stories. Examples are Patricia Powell with The Pagoda and Margaret Cezair-Thompson with The True History of Paradise.
The Indian community in the Caribbean has made a very valuable literary contribution, in part thanks to V. S. Naipaul, winner of the Nobel Prize in 2001. Born on the island of Trinidad, Naipaul wrote various texts that addressed the Indian influence in the Caribbean culture, such as his novels The Mystic Masseur and A House for Mr. Biswas. Naipul also wrote several books of essays about India. His countryman, Michael Anthony, has also explored the cultural conflicts between Trinidadians of Indian origin and black Trinidadians in his novel Green Days by the River. Similarly, in For the Life of Laetitia and No Pain Like this Body, Merle Hodge and Harold Sonny Ladoo, respectively, examine the complex ties that unite and separate Trinidadians of Indian origin with the other inhabitants of the island.
The cousins Cyril and David Dabydeen have given voice to the Indian community in Guyana and have tried to understand the tensions between it and the country’s other cultures. For both authors, the question of identity is made more complicated by the experience of exile. Poet Martin Carter has pursued similar themes from a markedly more political angle. Rooplall Monar (poet and short story writer) and Shani Mootoo (novelist and short story writer) have addressed the question of Indo-Caribbean identity. Meanwhile, some Guyanese artists have turned to the theater to recreate the experiences and cultural coordinates of Caribbean people of Indian descent. Examples are Basil Balgobin, Sheik Sadeek, Harold Bascom and others. Balgobin worked for a while with the British Guyana Dramatic Society and wrote several works that the theater company presented. Sadeek, who also wrote short stories, wrote several one-act plays with Indian topics (Namaste, Black Bush).
Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: May 31, 2012.
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