Dem Pagli Guyana People

This past weekend was Guyanese Independence Day, commemorating the 39th anniversary of Guyana’s independence from British rule. As a more-or-less proud Guyanese ex-pat, I happily manned a booth to advertise the HIV/AIDS/Tb/STD project that I consult on. The responses of passersby were interesting. Some were more interested in me than in the project, which is a nice homey Caribbean thing. Others were not particularly hesitant in their homophobia, scoffing at the HIV/AIDS part of our mandate. Interestingly, the most vocal of the homophobes was interrupted in his rant by a male friend wrapping his arms around him from the rear and cooing his name. They might as well have been standing in an open closet.

The festival, hosted by the consulate of Guyana, was fairly well presented –by “pagli” Guyanese standards. (I can’t find a link for the word “pagli”, so maybe you can do your own digging.) Mayor David Miller was there, as were several MPs, MPPs and the brass of the Toronto police force. In fact, one Trinidadian cop made it a point to try to get me to join the force. Apparently, they accept applicants up to 65 years of age! Hey, my fragile ego can do with a badge and a gun; maybe I should consider it? Seriously, there are worse options out there, and Toronto can always do with more brown cops, no?

There was also a corner dedicated to Guyanese writers. On one table was the big bibliography of all authors of Guyanese extraction. I happily thumbed through it. All my friends and contacts were there: Sasenarine Persaud, Paloma Mohamed, Ruel Johnson, David Dabydeen, Cyril Dabydeen, Frank Birbalsingh, Harrichand Itwaru… But wait! Where was I? Yes, I confess, I searched twice. I was nowhere to be found in any of their author literature, not even in the comprehensive directory of writers!

Now, I don’t like to make a stink out of things like this; it’s undignified. But I must confess to feeling more than a bit slighted. I mean, really, I won the country’s freakin’ national book award! Surely, that warrants a simple one line entry into the big book of writers? Yet, once again, I have been slighted by the nation of my birth. I wonder if it has something to do with a sentiment Ruel expressed in this article, about me not being Guyanese enough.

I won’t lie; it’s all a tad hurtful. We Indo-Guyanese ex-pats already suffer from a little identity crisis. Are we Guyanese, are we Indian, are we Canadian/American/British? I’ve tried to walk the tightrope between all points, with mixed results. But I won’t forget that in February, India accepted me, with extremely open arms, as a writer of note, while Guyana, despite bestowing upon me the single greatest literary honour of my career thus far, seems intent on diasvowing me.

Fine, then. From now on, I’m Indian-Canadian. The Guyanese portion is in the dog house.

Aside from my bit of whining, there is a lesson here. It is this: all lists, bibliographies, diectories and registries are of flawed methodology. I’ve been involved in making such things in the past, and ultimately one collects names through word of mouth, through people campaigning for inclusion, and through stealing names from other peoples’ lists. So I will get over my bit of huffery by tomorrow morning and will be a proud Guyanese ex-pat again by lunch. Until then, though: hmmph.