2023 & Me: Rediscovering my Indo-Caribbean Identity
Written by Felicia Gopi
Sunday January 1, 2023
I can remember the exact moment when I first had to clarify to someone that I was Guyanese, not Ghanaian, to someone whose background was neither. Yet, she insisted on correcting me, until I pretty much gave up. I was 5, I didn’t have the tools or the fight I have in me now.
I remember when my second grade teacher repeatedly told me I was Indian, despite me telling her that my parents were from Guyana. She then quickly sniped at me that I was Canadian since I was not born in Guyana. True, I am Canadian, but why didn’t I feel like it? It’s worth noting she was also at least partially right about my Indian heritage as well, but it wasn’t as simple as she was making it out to be.
I grew up not knowing exactly where I fit in, I wasn’t Indian enough for the Indian kids and as much as I identified with my Afro-Caribbean peers they knew, and I knew that I was different. Still, that’s where I found the most acceptance. In high school, things were divided even further, at least in my new neighbourhood of Woodbridge that is. Cliques were racial, period. After that, there were secondary groups that mirrored your typical high school TV expectations (athletes, music/theatre kids, and of course, those who peaked in high school - no shade).
It was at that point in my teenage years I started to shy away from my identity, evading the nonstop questions because otherwise I was subjected to explaining all the things I wasn’t. And so it began, my young adulthood where I never wanted to appear “too Guyanese” and where I did my very best to embrace being Canadian, or rather mimic being white, or at least racially ambiguous. Looking back, we know it was cringe, but it also felt a lot like survival.
Of course, I was never going to be white and so at some point, I shifted - again. My cousin/aunt (if you know, you know), was pivotal for me in our mid-twenties. Together, we went out a lot. During that time she got me to bring my walls down and embrace our culture through music. It’s not like I had shut off the Guyanese part of me completely, but like many of you reading this, I just sort of, left it on the back burner. I needed that time spent with her, and it was a crucial part of reigniting my pride while also making me really protective over my identity.
I was braver, more confident, and had no room for any amount of self-loathing. However, I do have compassion for those who exhibit signs of self-loathing or who wrestle with accepting their own identities. I’m sure many of our friends from different ethnic backgrounds battle with this as well. While I wouldn’t categorise myself as ever self-loathing my identity, I know where it stems from: from systemic racism, from the absence of our history being told, and from not being seen.
In 2020 I advocated for my employer to change their diversity, equity and inclusion survey to include Indo-Caribbean as an option. I was so proud that they swiftly made the changes - it felt like progress. When I went for a routine check up I noticed the doctor’s office (albeit based in Toronto) had Indo-Caribbean listed as one of their check boxes. I was so overjoyed I may have shed a tear… maybe. It’s important, representation matters, it matters a whole lot.
The Indo-Caribbean identity is anything but simple; it’s layered, its history is loaded and its characteristics are blended. Thanks to all the Indo-Caribbean content creators out there, there seems to be a revolution of sorts when it comes to reclaiming our lost identity. The sense of community online and in-person that I found when connecting with the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association is one of the ways that helped me continue to feel a sense of belonging.
There is also great power in vocabulary. Our terminology, words, and language as a whole empower us to describe, identify and validate our feelings, our experiences and not to be dramatic or anything - but also, our entire existence. Hearing and reading content creators repeatedly refer to our community as Indo-Caribbean gives legitimacy and validation to the term. Suddenly we have a unified sense of being and a name to house our experiences.
Accounts like @CutlassMagazine or @BrownGyalDiaries and of course, @IndoCaribCdn spend their time pouring out content that’s educational, historical, funny, community building and newsworthy. The discussions they’ve started have bonded us in ways that have undoubtedly provided much needed validation. If you haven’t already, I urge you to check these accounts out and share them as well as other resources with your friends and family, it’s truly a gift.
We, as Indo-Caribbeans, have many roads ahead of us when it comes to advocating for one another, but it all begins with letting the rest of the world know who we are. That’s when the check-boxes will start to look more and more like something we’re proud to check off, and let’s face it, Caribbean people are nothing if not proud. So this year, and in those that follow, I am going to channel that pride and continue to work to make inroads for us to be seen and heard. It’s about time.
About the Author
Felicia is the editor in chief of Story, a newsletter by the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association. She also works in digital marketing with a background in beauty in fashion. She began volunteering with the Indo-Caribbean Association to contribute directly to her community and to learn from other like-minded individuals.
For more information visit feliciagopi.ca