I am Indo-Guyanese; so my family is from Guyana in South America. It has a half Indian population due to indentured servitude which was created by the British in the 1830s to both forcibly and coercively bring Indians over to the Caribbean to replace slave labor. My family has been there for generations, but I grew up here in the Twin Cities in north end St. Paul. I would say that Indo-Guyanese people have a strong connection to India, but it is very different. We connect mostly through religion and a little bit of language depending mostly on what generation you are. My family, from what I have been able to track down, came from the Madras presidency which is modern day Tamil Nadu so mostly South Indian. I had some ancestors that came from Kolkata and West Bengal and the North of Sri Lanka.
I would connect with Indians immediately in conversation, but the question of where I was from in India would come up, and I wouldn’t be able to answer. My Dad didn’t know much either, so I had to do a lot of digging into my own history and culture to really understand the huge implications of us being Indo-Guyanese. Even though I enjoyed watching Bollywood with my sister and my grandmother, I never felt fully included in the Indian community. A lot of Guyanese people have a very romanticized view of India, but when I went there, I only felt partially accepted into the broader culture. With casteism a surname explains where one is from. But whenever my surname was brought up to Indians, I would have to explain that my surname is not found anywhere in India and our surnames were merged through inter-caste marriages.
I grew up in a low income setting and am a first-generation college student at Macalester, so this accomplishment was a big deal, and my family is very proud. I am also on the board of our South Asian organization on campus MASECA and started our school’s Caribbean Identity collective, and am planning to study in Pune, India next year. I appreciate the fact that I can share Guyanese history and celebrate my culture. If I could, I would tell my younger self to continue my quest for knowledge, that times will get tough; however, God will be right by you.