University News

At Heritage Week kickoff, a plea for work in Caribbean

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Professor of Africana Studies and Sociology Paget Henry gave students some academic career advice last night — work in Caribbean universities — as he made his plea for intellectual leaders in the region.

“We need you to forget about Harvard, to forget about Yale,” Henry told about 40 students in List 120 last night at the convocation for Caribbean Heritage Week. He urged students to instead consider future work and study at Caribbean universities like the University of Antigua or the University of Barbados.

For the past century, he said, intellectual power has alternated between the Caribbean and people of Caribbean heritage that no longer live in the region, a community known as the Diaspora. But now “the intellectual baton has passed once again to the Diasporan community,” he said. He attributed this shift to the region’s crisis in political and economic projects, as well as its inability to meet the demand for higher education.

New universities being founded in the region do not have enough local graduate students to staff them, he said, mentioning the University of Antigua, for which he is on the development committee.

Tracing the history of the Caribbean Diaspora, Henry spoke of the “liminal state” of the immigrant experience, where the migrant experiences a “period of social death” as part of the “American race-ethnic ritual.”

Henry spoke familiarly to the group of students, invoking their personal Caribbean heritage.
The talk, titled “Caribbean Intellectuals in the Diaspora,” was the opening convocation for Caribbean Heritage Week at Brown.

While Haiti has garnered much international attention after last month’s earthquake, Henry’s talk did not focus on any one country in the Caribbean.

“I thought that on an occasion like this, it’s better to speak to kids about their own intellectual lives and how they can relate to the entire region,” Henry said, noting that he had chosen his topic before the earthquake.

Yanely Espinal ’11 and Yahellah Best ’11 are the two organizers for this year’s Caribbean Heritage Week, which is centered around the theme of the Caribbean Diaspora.

Espinal and Best expect a larger turnout for this year’s events as a result of heightened awareness of the Caribbean region due to the recent tragedy in Haiti, they said.
About half of last year’s events were about Haiti, but there was not much interest, Best said. “It was good, but people didn’t show up,” she added.

The recent earthquake “definitely” impacted planning for this year’s program, Espinal said. There will be a charity showcase to raise money for Haitian relief efforts, as well as a film presentation on the Haitian Revolution, she said.

A keynote speaker that the organizers originally considered could not attend because she was organizing relief in Haiti, Best said.

Some other events include the annual Ebony Soiree, which will feature a fashion show by a Guyanese designer this year, and a discussion panel on accents and self-identity, Best said. This weekend will be Cape Verdean Heritage Weekend, which will include events like a presentation on the Fox Point neighborhood.

When some think of the Caribbean, they immediately think of beach vacations in Jamaica, Espinal said. But she hopes that people will view the region as “more than just this touristy place where you can go for spring break.”