Consul General Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam is credited with overseeing the transition of T&T’s New York consulate from a passport-dispatch centre, to the hub of cultural events and community empowerment. Her “people first” mantra has won her praise from the diaspora. In recent weeks, though, with the T&T 50th anniversary of Independence looming, the consulate has been silent, raising questions about its readiness to respond to the grandiosity of this milestone.
In an interview with the T&T Guardian, Ramgoolam answers her critics and lays out the work her office has undertaken to honour the significance of the nation’s 50th birthday.
TG: How do you respond to the chatter that the consulate is not doing enough to mark Independence celebrations? There is some talk that Jamaica has outshone us in every category…that we are being outspent?
CG: We have always been focused on August 31.
As you know, this year we celebrated three major events honouring our different religious and ethnic sectors. We had, for the very first time an event to honour Spiritual Baptist/ Shouter Liberation Day. And for the first time, the consulate kept true to its word, and held a huge event in Queens to honour Indo-Trinidadians. In a few weeks we will be doing the same in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, as we celebrate Emancipation Day.
My point is, in addition to events specially geared toward Independence, we have used these cultural occasions as a build-up to the big event. They are all interrelated. One cannot exist without the other. I don’t think that some of the Caribbean consulates have these unique challenges.
In respect to Independence, what event stands out at this juncture?
We officially marked our 50th birthday with an interfaith event at York College Performing Arts Center in April. The event drew hundreds of well-wishers and was covered by the local media. A highlight of the evening was the issuance of a proclamation by Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz to the people of T&T on the occasion of their Independence.
At the event we launched the T&T Interfaith Council in New York, that has worked alongside the consulate during Indian Arrival Day and Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day. This body is growing in visibility and will be pivotal in forging better relations among our people in New York. This is an Independence gift like no other. The consulate later launched a magazine to coincide with Independence. It is appropriately called The New York Trinidad and Tobago Bond, and is the first of its kind among Caribbean consulates. An exhibit is planned at the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture. It will feature the works of our politicians, historians, social critics, novelists...and will run for a month.
Festivities are also scheduled, for example, a sporting event involving well-known figures. We will be having a family day, a cruise and a black-tie gala.
So I would advise all to visit our Web site…there is so much going on.
We also worked with the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation to bring the Signal Hill Alumni Choir to New York. We are also hoping that our planned symposium on the future of Trinidad and Tobago will create an economic think tank.
What we are really doing is building a meaningful foundation to empower our people and raise our national image. Our work does not end on August 31.
In some quarters, there is criticism that the consulate has politicised Independence events; that in keynote addresses, there is never mention of Dr Eric Williams, who is seen by many as the Father of the Nation.
Absolutely untrue. If you can recall during Black History Month commemoration, I extolled the contribution Dr Williams has made nationally, regionally and globally. He led our nation to independence and was ably supported by the Opposition and Dr Rudranath Capildeo, another visionary. We cannot fail those who have given us such a solid foundation.
What does Independence mean to you, and what do you expect of our nation after the glitter and fireworks?
Talking about glitter, do you know the Empire State Building will be lit up in red, white and black on August 31, 2012? Coming back to the question… Independence is about self-reliance and having definitive national identity. This is only possible by creating a sound cultural foundation and implementing economic policies that promote ingenuity and competitiveness. Citizens, therefore, must act responsibly to safeguard their fundamental freedoms as individuals, irrespective of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex and to work together, whether we are home or abroad to build one strong united nation—Trinidad and Tobago.