What does it mean to study multiculturalism? What did I do in Trinidad? In trying to understand a country you can look at census data and see the numbers aligning with each ethnic group and the distribution across the country, average SES and education levels. But I felt that numbers alone did not tell me quite enough. Who decides to put what on a census form when you are so multicultural? What meaning does self reported ethnicity have to the people that differs from how it is used by institutions? At what point does it no longer matter? Our world is only getting more mixed, maybe Trinidad can show us where we are headed.
After 6 weeks of research in Trinidad, a measly amount of time, but a good start, race still matters. Interviewing university students and asking about their home towns, secondary schools, hobbies, siblings, parents, families and friends, I made a lot of new friends, and learned what it is like to create an identity in a mixed race country. So many cultures are mixed up together in Trinidad that everyone celebrates every holiday and festival that comes through regardless of skin color, religion, or family heritage. Still, even the most mixed people are still expected to identify within some racial boundaries.
Of the people I interviewed, some refrained from stating their ethnicity in most situations. Others chose one race out of their mix to be more dominant, and others chose to simply state they were mixed without further elaboration. Most people were proud and grateful to be mixed and to be a part of so many different cultures. They felt it gave them an advantage of being more open minded and understanding of differences, as well as more progressive. Others wished people would stop projecting labels onto them and giving them so much attention for their curly hair, fair skin, or light eyes – rare features outside of the mixed population in Trinidad.
In Trinidad I met a lot of people like me – the racially ambiguous kind. People who don’t put much value on their racial or ethnic background but receive a lot of attention from others about it. We aren’t fond of labels and the ones used on us differ day to day and person to person. But we have the privilege of discrediting racial stereotypes and segregated spaces. Trinidad is more mixed, and many of its people are more open minded about new cultures and beliefs while others actively work to preserve their own culture. Some members of younger generations here want to see race diminish entirely as a way of thinking about other people and have begun to do so in their own lives. I only hope this trend continues.