Tzarina T. Prater
The term “diaspora,” with etymological roots in the Greek “-dia” which means “across,” and “-sperien,” which roughly translates to scattering or spreading of seeds, was initially associated with the dispersal of Jewish peoples. Diaspora, in the context and study of the Caribbean, functions as an anchoring concept for the inherently processual. It challenges both the cartographic impulse of empire (colonial, neo-colonial, and imperial), signifying complex historical processes resulting from brutal settler colonialism, the displacement of Indigenous and native populations, enslavement of Africa-descended peoples, and indenture of Asian and South Asian labor as well as interlocking ideological mechanisms of the nation-state.
To invoke the term diaspora is to call into question relations of migratory subjects – the migrant, immigrant, emigrant, and refugee – to place and movement, forced and free. In Stuart Hall’s “Negotiating Caribbean Identities,” he posits diaspora as a state of perpetual dislocation, in which members “liv[e] in a place where the centre is always somewhere else.”1 While this configuration suggests loss, fragmentation and trauma, it also allows for the possibility of resistance, with these subjects functioning as “the break with those originating cultural sources as passed through the traumas of violent rupture.”2
“Diaspora” is a tool to think through the effects produced by the modern nation-state and its others. Diaspora is ideological, signaling intersectionality as methodology, displacing former seats of colonial power and reductive taxonomies of race from the center of analysis. Inherently intersectional, diasporic subjects embody a multiplicity that confronts and pushes at the limits of the nation-state and its conceptualizations of citizenship. The diasporic body becomes a semaphore of national belonging and its (im)possibility. While “the diasporic condition” may be characterized by mourning, loss, grief, displacement, and shuttling identifications between home/land of memory and host nation/land of present/future, it is also marked by innovation at the level of techne. These are people that “mek do.”
By focusing on the processual, “diaspora” highlights difference, belonging, and anxieties about centrifugal forces of dispersal that flatten difference and cultural heterogeneity in favor of homogenizing asymmetrical power relations. As Hall notes, “wherever one finds diasporas, one always finds precisely those complicated processes of negotiation and transculturation which characterize Caribbean culture.”3 Residuals, remembered and forgotten, continuities and ruptures, are all part of an epistemic framework that illuminates “the experience of dispersal and fragmentation, which is the history of all enforced diasporas.”4 Diaspora pushes at affinities tied to place. The dynamic interplay of nation-state rhetoric of symbiosis and synthesis belie the parasitic reality of neo-colonial and imperial forces. As a key term, diaspora allows for the speculation of Caribbean ontology, what it means to exist in the present and what it will mean to exist in the future despite, and in conversation with, those forces.
One need only consider Caribbean music to see diasporic complexity. I have noted elsewhere that early Caribbean music emerged out of several diasporic formations: African and indigenous informed mento and kumina contributed to the evolution of dub and raga into ska, rocksteady, and roots reggae.5 Reggae later incorporated melodic and structural influences from African American rhythm & blues. At the level of performance and production, reggae brought together black, brown, and Chinese Caribbean folk. With Jamaican reggae as a base, and the incorporation of calypso from Trinidad and Tobago, meringue from the Dominican Republic, and rumba and son from Cuba, the genre of dancehall signifies the greater Caribbean. Diasporic musics, flowing through transnational conduits of capital, are the ligaments connecting diasporic subjects to each other and space, however attenuated. One cannot talk about contemporary cultural production without considering the dominance of Jamaican reggae and dancehall, Trinidadian calypso and carnival, Cuban jazz, the resurgence of Afro-beats, and their impact on the “dominant.” These are cultural forms of expression that may be informed by and respond to the dominant, but are not beholden to it. They are the marrow of dominant cultural expression. Without Caribbean diasporic subjects, there would have been no Harlem Renaissance; there would be no Hip Hop; there would, in fact, be no pop music today. African and Caribbean diasporic music have provided the cultural and ideological well from which other diasporic subjects have drawn to innovate languages and modes of resistance for themselves.6
The artifacts collected below range in scope and form. These are necessarily gestural, ranging from social media sites of participatory culture to digital diasporic aesthetic practices and practitioners. Taken as a whole, they function as interlocutors with formal and informal digital archives, with sometimes explicit if not implicit goals of intervening in the narration of historical formations that have produced “diaspora.”
Curatorial Note: This online journal provides a space for the expression of the Indo-Caribbean diasporic experience through an explicitly gendered lens. The themes and topics taken up on this site range in scope from engagements with popular culture to portraits of domestic violence in Indo-Caribbean American communities, meditations on linguistic tensions between the language(s) of intimacy/home and those of host nations, socioeconomic/political critiques of exploitive contemporary relations between former colonial, neo-colonial, and imperial powers and Caribbean nations as well as the participation of Indo-Caribbean diasporic subjects in local/global economics and politics. For example, Safeera Sarjoo, a contributing journalist penned two articles, one connecting racism within Indo-Caribbean communities to discourses of anti-blackness undergirding George Floyd’s murder, and another, “Why the British Indo-Caribbean Community is Facing Cultural Erasure,” considers effects of interlocking discourses of race and nation that demand immigrant assimilation in the context of Brexit era hostilities toward racial and cultural difference.
Curatorial Note: The 1948 arrival of the Empire Windrush troopship brought a wave of Caribbean immigrants to England who were invited to England to help rebuild at the end of World War II. Seventy years later Theresa May had to issue a formal apology for a series of governmental immigration/deportation practices that went into effect in the 2010s resulting in the unjust deportation of hundreds if not thousands of Caribbean immigrants who legally had the right to remain in England. Contributors to this site are community activists, creative writers, academics, and historians. Under the auspices of the British Library, objects collected on this site draw from the exhibition, Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land (2018). In addition to providing access to maps, transcripts of radio scripts, photographs, this site offers articles/essays and sound recordings by creatives and historians like Caryl Phillips, David Lambert, Hannah Lowe, Lloyd Bradley, Andrea Levy, Booker, John Agard, and Grace Nichols. There are also full manuscripts of texts like Andrew Salkey’s Jamaica and a draft of Andrea Levy’s manuscript of Small Island. In addition to links to The Windrush Foundation, The National Archives, BBC, and Journalistic outlets like The Voice and The Guardian, teaching resources for primary and secondary education are also provided.
Title: The Caribbean Diaspora Project: Panorama of Carnival Practices
Creators: Mirerza González-Velez and Nadjah Ríos Villarini
Steward: Digital Library of the Caribbean
Curatorial Note: This project, a digital humanities initiative by The Diaspora Project, collects artifacts relating to “carnival practices and mobility in the Caribbean.” The project specifically highlights the evolution of Carnival practices throughout the Caribbean and beyond. While much has been understandably “put on hold” due to the global pandemic and the inability of diasporic subjects to fully engage in Carnival celebrations and related practices, this site has established “micro-projects” that bring together established digital archives, in conjunction with the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), other formal and private archives, academics, students, artists and practitioners to create an archive of photographic images of carnival practices, a timeline that explicitly engages the socio-political events and key figures throughout the Caribbean that relate directly to Carnival, a cartographic digital project charting Carnival practices across the Caribbean, and a project focusing on the music of Carnival.
Curatorial Note: “Chinese Rocksteady” is a video captured on a cell phone and posted on YouTube by user, EBMx. In this video, recorded at the underground club The Shelter (a club known for playing Roots Reggae, dancehall, dubstep, and local bands, located in the French Concession in Shanghai China), reggae musician and producer Clive Chin, one of the founders of “dub,” and eldest son of Vincent “Randy” and Pat Chin, founders of VP Records and Randy’s Studio 17, plays “Always Together” for the enthusiastic crowd. This Rocksteady “chune” was originally recorded in 1967 by Black Chinese Jamaican music legend Byron Lee and the Dragonaires with vocals by Taiwanese American Stephen Cheng. The clip, and discussion in the comment section, illustrates the movement of Caribbean music, people, and culture.
Curatorial Note: This site boldly declares, “DJ Kool Herc is the father of the culture.” With audio recordings featuring LL Cool J as narrator, this site situates DJ Kool Herc and the legendary Bronx party of August 11, 1973 within the annals of Hip Hop history. Born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, Herc spent his early childhood immersed in sound system culture, and used his father’s cherished turntables to create what he called the “Merry go Round.” It was also in this context that Coke La Rock, functioning as master of ceremonies, provided interjections from Jamaican toasting traditions. DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock were also the ones who dubbed the dancers who took advantage of the break (Break Boys/Girls) to demonstrate their skills as “B-Boys” and “B-Girls.” This site provides photographic exhibits, articles, and audio content.
Tzarina T. Prater is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Media Studies at Bentley University. Her research focuses on Sino-Caribbean cultural production and her book project, entitled Labrish and Mooncakes: National Belonging in Chinese Jamaican Cultural Production, is in process.
Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1993.
Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Identity: Community, Culture, and Difference. Ed. Jonathan Rutherford. London Lawrence and Wishart, 1990.
Hall, Stuart. “Negotiating Caribbean Identities” New Left Review Jan/Feb 1995. https://newleftreview.org/issues/i209/articles/stuart-hall-negotiating-caribbean-identities
Prater, Tzarina T. “Sino Caribbean Performance and Music.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.013.861
Image used under a Pixabay license