Post 293.

On dewy mornings, my mother’s white car slowly crept under the Poui trees. They were mostly lilac and pink, but sometimes yellow. I lay on the backseat on a pillow listening to 1950s music, and looking up at the endless blue sky out of the back windows. I was eight years old, and the traffic from St. Augustine to Port of Spain meant being guided for a little way by the soft colours and even softer petals carpeting the hollowed grass between north- and south-bound lanes.

Along the highway, the Pouis towered like hallowed deities surely no one would put God out of their thoughts to desecrate. Thousands of people passed them each day, twice, their wearied spirits lifted by the flagrant flounce of such exuberant blush and dry season bloom.

Those trees were a backdrop to my childhood. I knew their scalloped, slender bark, and their branches reaching like a breath of fresh air, like oxygen for bodies and minds slumped and dying in daily exhaustion, tension and car fumes.

The resilient green of the Northern Range filled the landscape on the right, Kay Donna slowly inched closer and then past on the left. Poui trees lined the middle, reliably beautiful like ladies bejeweled in yellow afternoon light, or like the sweetness of being serenaded by your beloved on lavender-hued evenings of patient, gentle courtship.

I don’t know if the past gifted you these memories, but that’s all they are now. The Pouis are gone, the gutted scars in the ground where they once stood tell a story of loss of the sacred for the generations for whom these trees were as close as family, a rare thing in a country which finds common solace in concrete.

It’s the same neglected promise of care that lets Port of Spain’s most beautiful buildings collapse under the weight of modern ambitions, and abandonment of beauty as a public good. It’s the same disregard that would have Pres-T-Con replace iconic iron bridges with slabs that stubbornly block the pleasure of looking at the rivers as families drive over, as if nothing matters in the entire surrounding ecosystem but the authority of soulless engineering.

It’s the same disinvestment in a higher good that meant Maracas is somehow uglier, the view of the sea shortsightedly blocked from those passing the beach, and the mangroves abandoned like cheap trash rather than rehabilitated with science displays for children to run through with sandy feet, and a small boat tour that can explain why trees are more sacred than contractors’ profits.

The Pouis, torn from the ground for a planned interchange, feel like any one of us is dispensable, without mercy, nostalgia or tears. In the normal, crushing march of progress, it’s just a matter of when your time comes. And, when it does, will anyone care?

Did you ever bring us beauty? Did your soft petal fingers gently stroke thousands of heavy hearts trying to get through a hard day? Did we know you like we know our own childhoods as you stood by, pink, lilac and sometimes yellow, for decades?

A whole generation of little children will never share these memories. Maybe it’s better they will neither understand or care what they’ve lost. It’s unlikely any Pouis will ever be planted again along our highways unless their planting was budgeted in the interchange’s plans. That aesthetic is for long-time, like an old Hunter Hillman car which today would feel quaint and obsolete, or like a teacher riding a bicycle to school in the cool, early dew.

I don’t know when I reached the age when nostalgia aches in your chest, but I now know how it feels. Perhaps, thousands of others also look at the emptiness left, unprepared for the turn of time from colour to black and white. Once, I could renew my childhood memories of lying in the backseat of my mother’s white car every morning, connect to a small self that once looked up at the sky.

Those moments were already in the past, and the Poui trees were all that was left. Now, when I look, I still see them, like mourning ghosts, though there’s nothing there, but my own soft grieving.

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Post 210.

Those very struggles established in slavery and indentureship have not yet been won for all Caribbean women. Sisterhood and empowerment are a commitment to their individual and collective achievement, and that commitment is the fire and hope of Caribbean feminism.

Let us take the words offered by this movement while also embracing Caribbean feminism’s radical history and intent, its lessons and wisdom, its analyses and aims. Let us love ourselves and each other, building community in ways that claim our place in continuing its legacy. When it comes to hundreds of years of our region’s women desiring and labouring for change, let us feel no fear or shame.

The feminist movement still keeps this controversial label because this is the only movement in all of modern time that has unapologetically placed  women’s real issues first, not because addressing them helps to improve the economy, the family or the nation, but to make the world right for women.

Advocating for maternity leave, domestic violence, anti-discrimination or sexual assault legislation. Challenging sexism in school curricula. Recognising housework’s economic value. Creating global agreement that women and girls can achieve any aspiration. Insisting that femininity isn’t about lack or weakness, but about women’s own definitions and embodiment of power.

Feminism in the Caribbean wasn’t imported, it emerged from the conditions of our lives and our dreams for equality and rights. It was never built on hatred or discrimination, but on the long struggle for true emancipation. It never aimed to make women superior to men, rather it aims to enable women to live on terms not defined by male superiority. It challenges racism as it is knotted with sexism, distorting women’s and men’s experiences of their bodies. It seeks a world in which all women can be who they are, and be valued simply because they are, regardless of their sexual choices.

Caribbean feminism gives us words to describe realities and resistances that are only ours, to describe a movement led by everyday women for every woman, without apology. Let’s not forget those foremothers as we also enjoy the rewards of looking good, having disposable income, networking within rather than across class, and improving our individual capacities to earn more money. Let us not forget the implications of a Beyonce brand of sexy feminism in heels and on fleek in bright lights and big stage, for women who refuse sexiness, but still wish to be seen as beautiful.

Reproductive rights, safety from sexual violence and exploitation, equal pay for equal work, fair sharing of family responsibilities, a right to independence and decision-making, and a sense of self free of racist ideals regarding our beauty are the roots of Caribbean feminism today. If you are a woman who believes any of these are important, then you believe in feminist ideals which centuries of struggle have made more legitimate and worth fighting for. Disown stereotypes and misrecognition, and fearlessly tell them that this is what a Caribbean feminist looks like. And, then, however it feels right, rock this politics’ insights and inspiration in your unique contribution.

Sisterhood. Empowerment. Financial independence. A supportive community of women. Sexual freedom. Fearlessness. Equality. Choice. Self-acceptance, self-determination and self-care. As we invest in these in our lives, let’s also connect to and celebrate the Caribbean women whose feminism gave us these words to make ours and to confidently share.

Post 67. 

Pretty.

I have an uncomfortable, unresolved relationship to the word and the idea. On the one hand, it’s one of the words that I never want Ziya to have to live up to, or use to compare herself to others, or wield against herself as she looks into her own eyes but through another’s gaze. I tell her she’s beautiful so that she grows to see her light, and comes to recognise her unique glow as it shines through, a glow she can only apprehend and appreciate if she learns to love herself regardless of the imperfections she sees in the face, hair, limbs and body that are hers. That’s why, in addition to telling her she is beautiful, I also tell her she is powerful, strong, smart and brave.   

Yet, I participate in entrapping her still. I’ll point out that her outfit is pretty or her combed curls are pretty. I tell her she is pretty and, in so doing, teach her to identify with the word. ‘Who is so, so pretty?’ I’ll ask. ‘Ziya’, she’ll say, beaming, while I wonder if there is another way. I build this connection between being pretty and being Ziya to protect her. Like so many of us, she will spend years of her life unhappy with some part of her physical self, self-conscious about her attractiveness, desiring the validation it brings. She is growing into a young woman in a world where her dougla hair, her sapodilla skin, her tiny frame, her more African than Indian nose and her more Indian than African bottom will all mark points where she doesn’t measure up to a standard, or a series of standards, which she will have more power to apply to herself than define.  I want her to know that whatever ‘they’ think is pretty means nothing.

You are pretty. That word means you. I want you to know you are nothing less, before you even come to know what others have made the word mean.

I want her to know she is beautiful, but I also want her to know, that moment when it matters, that she is pretty regardless of what they say in magazines, billboards, commercials, music videos and more. So, I find myself at odds with my own beliefs. I find myself teaching Ziya a gender socialisation that I don’t believe in because I don’t want the world to determine all the meanings available to her. I don’t see why she has to wear dresses or learn to be feminine or care about her hairstyle and shoes, but I also want to teach her how the world works so that she can understands how it tries to take her power and how she can resist.  

In a world where every woman struggles to not feel ugly at some time or in some way, I want Zi to have the entire arsenal she needs to survive, self-confidence intact through her most self-conscious years. Some of the weapons I give her are dangerous, even to herself, but I guess I’m afraid of not giving them to her anyway. I think about pretty this way, on the one hand an idea to avoid and, on the other, one to conquer. And wonder if I am helping or hurting my little warrior, adding to her vulnerability or adding to her victories, when her fight finally starts in the mirror, as it will one day.