I left the country for the first time following my freshmen year of college. The summer of 2006, I packed my bags and headed to the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago. While my peers were thrilled to study aboard in Europe; the West Indies was calling me. Beyond learning more about the African Diaspora, my dream of lying on the beach while eating shark and bake and listening to my favorite soca jams was about to get real.
I went to study film and documentary at the University of West Indies, St. Augustine. Staying in the dorms with local university students was really cool; late night food runs and heated conversations about culture and island politics. It was interesting that few people wanted to address the issue of race and whether racism impacted the daily lives of Trinidadians. I found that there was more of a collective identity; that most locals took pride in merely being Trinidadian. This challenged me to further explore my own identity as a Black American. What does it mean for me to be Black in America and how has that shaped my point of view? I had never explored my identity as an American because my Blackness has always taken precedence prior to leaving the country.
I teamed up with my peers and created a documentary highlighting the Tobago Heritage Festival, an annual event established to preserve the exclusive cultural traditions of Tobago. This opened my eyes to the island’s rich history and culture.
This experience was a lot of firsts for me; my first time picking up a camcorder to film, my first time meeting the legal drinking age of 18, my first time being in a country where a least a third of the population looked like me, the first time I’ve being in the room with black people (black Americans, Trinidadians, and Bajans) and could barely comprehend the various dialects of English.
Learning to navigate the streets of Port-of-Spain taught me a lot of valuable life lessons; I blend in if I don’t open my mouth and that is the golden ticket to a world of new experiences.