It’s a strange phenomenon to grow up with your country. At first, you are unaware of it. In your early years, nobody really fussed about it unless you were actually born on August 31.
But whether you were born before or after that date, as long as you were born in 1962, you are indeed a child of independence, the first generation born into an independent nation.
For this writer, the only time I truly took stock of being the same age as my country was when the Trinidad Guardian was putting together an Independence publication in the early 80s and I volunteered to do a piece. I don’t recall my age at the time but I was in my early 20s, young, contemplative, naïve, silly…all the things one tends to be at 20-something.
It can’t have been terribly deep or life-changing for anyone. But for me, that began my yearly reminder that I was as old as my nation.
So, when Lord Funny sang How Yuh Feel in 1987 at a calypso competition for the 25th anniversary of independence, I was ripe for a pivotal moment, for a line that would ring in my head for every year of independence since then: “Twenty-five years have gone, how yuh feel?”
If you don’t know the calypso, these are the lines (take a listen on YouTube some time and feel that moment when he sings the chorus):
“Twenty-five years have gone, how you feel?
You feel you put your shoulders to the wheel
You feel you perspire and achieve
You feel you clean up the mess
You feel you could stand up proud and say
You feel that you did your best
You feel that we just we just keep moving on
Or backing back on we heel
Twenty-five years have gone, how you feel?”
Later on he sings presciently:
“You feel is joke we joking or for real
You feel we wuk hard and produce
You feel that thing going fine
You feel we reaping the benefits
Or you feel we on the decline…”
One should not let opportunities go by when they present themselves, so as serendipity would have it, I sit here writing for the Trinidad Guardian again four decades later and decided that this is a great opportunity to ask myself and some other independence babies that I have known over the years, how they have felt growing up with their country—if anything at all—and what are the things that concern them, as well the hopes they have for this still fledgling nation.
For high school friends Sheryl Ann, Diane, Anjani and Jacqueline, being born in 1962 had little impact in their early lives. Except for Diane, no one really sees themselves as an “independence baby.”
“I do refer to myself as an independence baby, but only in that I tell people I’m as old as the nation when they ask me my age,” Diane says.
The very pragmatic Anjani declares, however, “I do not consider myself to be an Independence baby, because I was born under British rule.”
She adds: “The good thing about being born in 1962, is that I always knew the number of years of Independence (in primary school). Otherwise, I do not think about it. Human years pale in comparison to years of nationhood— while my country is very young, I certainly am not.”
“When I was younger, it never occurred to me that I was born in an auspicious year, one filled with hope and change (although my birth year 1962 made it easier to remember the Independence date for quizzes!),” Sheryl Ann says, adding: “For my parents, looking back, I could now see them thinking of the hope and change that was to come for their newborn.”
For her, growing up with her country meant that our generation was “the barometer for our independence and that we need to be able to show that the decision to move to Independence was well worth it.”
Asked about their thoughts on the country and their hopes for the future, this is what the women had to say:
Diane: ‘We may have gained independence, but we still hold our colonisers in awe. We think that anything coming out of Europe is better than what we have here. We think a degree from a foreign university is better than what UWI has to offer. We think the same way about goods and services from abroad. This is reflected in the many foreign franchises that flourish here.
“I am saddened when I think about the state of our country. I would not want to live anywhere else. Trinis are some of the nicest people I have met. I love that we do not take ourselves too seriously. Where else in the world can you decide on the spur of the moment to ditch work and go to the beach…but this may be part of the problem too.
“There are some challenges here though. I am most concerned about the crime situation. It used to be that you were safe in your home, but even here I feel scared. I miss the days when you could go for a walk at any time, or sit outside with friends and not have to be looking over our shoulders in fear of a gruesome attack. My hope is that we can return to a time when personal safety was not a primary concern for citizens.”
Jackie: “Although we are an independent country, we are not independent as individuals As a nation, we are still divided by race and politics. Sadly, the political/social leaders use this for their own personal gain and agenda.
“I see a lack of discipline by citizens who are apparently unable to abide by T&T laws and constitutional regulations, especially Town and Country regulations. My hope is that we as nationals see each one and all as ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ citizens, and not judge each other based on colour, creed, or ethnic background.”
Anjani: “Our country is truly beautiful and diverse, where people generally live peacefully with each other. The politicians perpetuate the divisions in order to secure positions in the government. The challenges facing us are crime, inflation/cost of living especially for the poor, and employment opportunities for young people. I hope that we can reach a point where we have a government that is truly non-partisan and cares for the population, where there is an improved tourism sector that encompasses our diversity and eco-tourism, and that there is fair taxation, including for doctors, lawyers, entertainers, landlords, hairdressers.”
Sheryl Ann: “Trinidad and Trinidadians have changed in the last 61 years. Trinidad has become a prosperous island with many companies making it part of their successes. Our resources may be depleted but many families have built successful lives around it. I believe that now is the time to move on to other ways to promote Trinidad. But a change to Trinidadians may be necessary. We need to be proud and own our country, not just for our carnival and soca and shark and bake, and doubles. But we need to start seriously thinking about the environment, helping our neighbours like we did in the old days, bringing up our children with values, which starts at home.
“The main challenges are the influences of the great North American culture of instant gratification and wanting to live life like the Joneses. With this come people who resort to robbery and violence to achieve this. We are the parents/grandparents of these people and as such, did we do a good enough job of instilling good honest values in them?
“My hope is that we can return to early Independence days of hope and ambition to show the world we can be a country where all creeds and races found an equal place, where the potential of our young people can rival any other country, where garbage is not dumped haphazardly, where people want to emigrate for study and careers and not because of fear. I want parents to understand that happy and successful people are created by the values instilled at home. Home is our first classroom.”
My final question to these classmates was the advice they would give to the young people of our country. The consensus was the need for all to take pride in their country and to make a meaningful contribution, whatever that might mean for them.
Diane: “Having been a high school teacher for most of my life, I have seen definite changes in our young people. When we were in high school, we were already learning to be independent, from taxiing to school, to choosing our subjects in Form 3. By the time we were ready for university, we were filling out our own applications and going through the registration process by ourselves.
“But over the years, I see parents making more and more decisions for their children. While we want to protect them, young people must be allowed to make their mistakes, and learn from it. We did not grow up with helicopter parents, so how did we become like this?
“As we celebrate our country’s independence, it is up to us to build this nation. Our young people must be taught to embrace the values of unity, diversity and resilience that have brought us here. We must work towards a society where every citizen enjoys the fruits of freedom. It’s only then that we can truly be independent.”
Anjani: “Seek employment outside of Trinidad and Tobago but return with your wealth and expertise to build our nation.”
Jackie: “It’s time for us to go back to basics—have respect, obey the laws, conserve our environment, be considerate of each other. It’s time for young people to understand that they (young and younger) are part of a much bigger picture called The Future.”
Sheryl Ann: “Be proud of Trinidad and Tobago in a way that is meaningful to Trinidad and the world. In my travels to various countries, I see the fierce loyalty that young people have for their country.
“They treat tourists like they treat their families. There is no sense of haughtiness but an inherent love of their country and their people and they care about what people think about their home. Do not adopt a “what is in it for me” attitude because when you win, T&T wins. This is what we need to instil in our people.”