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Galy: ‘Trinidad, this is my place’
Alfred’s father started off in business on the then Marine Square where the Chee Mooke bakery is now situated.
Galy senior eventually brought his business to Charlotte Street closer to the centre of the city.
When Alfred took over the business from his father, he realised that this “pots and pans trade would not get me very far.” On Charlotte Street he sold jewelry, actually making jewelry on the compound at the shop which was located a few doors south of the market.
Next stop was to rent premises on lower Frederick St. He subsequently up-scaled into high fashion, high-end sales of garments and underwear in the Duke to Park Street block on Frederick Street
But when 1970 exploded with urban blacks seeking to assert Afro identity, and demanding equality in a post-colonial society, certain families and members of the business community and social groups took flight. They perceived the upheaval as one in which they could become victims.
When even more violent behaviours erupted in 1990, for very different reasons and under very different circumstances, once again members of the business community took flight.
“I had my shop on Frederick Street, the show windows were broken. They came into my shop with the flags of various communist parties, but just left without harming anyone; I believe it was a threat,” says Galy saying he chose to stay while others were leaving.
“Then in 1990 my business on Frederick Street was destroyed, but that did not deter me. You have to come good to get rid of me in this place; it ent so easy” … laughter.
Today he operates as investor and project developer from his Frederick and Prince Streets premises; but does all of this make him “Trini like all ah we”, I asked, he having been born in Syria and transported here by his parents 88 years ago at the age of one?
“I have visited the home country on two occasions, but I always long for my country—Trinidad, this is my place and this is where I am. I have participated in all Trini activities: played mas, partied at every level; I am with everyone. I have never discriminated and never will. At home we eat all Trini foods: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Creole, Arabic, and now that African foods come on the scene, we will try that,” says Galy.
Alfred’s father went to Syria in the early 20th century to search for a wife “as the pickings here in those days were small.” Senior Galy returned with his wife and Alfred. So did he follow his father’s footsteps in search of a bride? “My wife is from San Fernando of Syrian background.”
A favourite claim among many is that if a Syrian marries outside of his/her race, he/she will face disgrace and expulsion from the community.
“There is no truth in that claim today,” says Galy. “Initially there was very little inter-marriage and very little social activity. To marry French-Creoles who dominated the scene, was very difficult. There was very little interaction with the Indian community; but we mixed with our African brothers and sisters,” says Galy, repeating the “African brothers/sisters” claim as my quizzical look asked questions of him.
“There is now intermarriage with Indians, Chinese, Africans, mulattoes, nondescript and every ethnic group, and it is not true that Syrians who marry outside of the community get abandoned by family,” he says.
But Galy is sure that all peoples want their children to marry within social circumstances from which they come: “ethnicity is secondary to social and economic considerations,” he says.
The businessman says today’s generation of Syrian-Lebanese descendants are becoming doctors and attorneys, among them are his own children. “But I have told my children (six) that I would also like them to continue with the present business as investor and property developer,” says Galy.
One Mario Sabga-Aboud, described by Galy as being “rather boastful as a successful businessman,” uttered the now infamous words to an American television interviewer that the Syrian community makes up only one per cent of the population but is the most powerful.
“He lacked humility; there was an unguarded moment when he uttered these things, and I don’t agree with him; but he has apologised,” is Galy’s response.
From the Syrian-Lebanese community comes big financial investors in the ruling People’s National Movement. “I am not one, and I have never got any concessions from any government. I vote according to my conscience,” asserts Galy.
But he does not deny that among his community are businessmen who favour the PNM: “Every community has its favourites; the Syrian community is no different. The Indian community is no different; our African friends are no different regarding the party of their choice.”
Facing the economic and social difficulties ahead, Galy says “I don’t have any difficulty in living in these times. I have grown up in the ranks and am attuned to whatever is taking place; I am flexible and adjustable.”
Galy accepts that the Syrian and the general business community need to get deeper into production for export, but says the government has to meaningfully and efficiently facilitate production for export.
“If you really want to push diversification you must start from within,” and the administrative regime must become dynamic in its thinking, says the businessman who walked the plank from east Port-of-Spain to Frederick Street.