Super Tuesday: A Resident Alien Reflects
Somewhere in the early dawn of well-trodden savannah grass under the bleachers, lying pisteratically inebriated, chugging like Smoky Joe, a superannuated djab malaise sans half the costume sleeps, while strewn all around him are used condoms and discarded cellophane wrappers in rainbow color, evidence of the abandon of Carnival Monday night. Soon it go be the magnificent display of Carnival Tuesday pretty mas competition, for which this little island lives and breathes and daily counts down the jumbie beads in that special calabash calendar; it is the pageantry for which, annually this place welcomes the world. Carnival Tuesday is the highpoint of every native’s year, every year in every native’s every lifetime.
I used to live for this time. I counted my mother’s birthday as exactly ten months and a day after carnival, not exactly three weeks before Christmas, if you get my drift. Life’s watersheds were ranked based on how close to or how far removed from Carnival they were. I had my first major surgery on Carnival Tuesday, right there in the General Hospital across from the Grand Savannah where the competitions were taking place. I forget what year that was but I will always remember it was a Carnival time. Lying in my bed, fresh out of the operating theater, my floating organs jumped in sync to the Despers rhythm section. I even had a few visits from erstwhile masqueraders in full costume, but none from those friends too busy partying to study me.—you know, the usual suspects.
Yet another Carnival Tuesday, playing sailors ashore in a-much-reduced-from-Carnival Monday Burrokeets, I almost massacre another crew member who roll up too close to my husband for my comfort, though to his absolute and way-too-salacious delight. It was another Carnival Tuesday when I got a huge gash in my foot from the loose wires sticking out of the Queen of the Band’s costume. That day I ended up in the same hospital getting sutures. That was when the honey fled the moon in indecent haste and we had our first argument. He left me there and returned to his section; you see, for him, it was either that or suffer a premature end to enjoyment until yet another too-distant next Carnival.
At Carnival time, too, I gave birth to my first and only born, and henceforth did double-duty babysitting the neighborhood children hastily discarded by die-hard masquerading parents for annual birthday celebrations en mi casa. I did not mind; I was at home and could watch it on TV, listen on radio and immerse myself in the excitement that seeps through your every pore, quite in spite of yourself.
So having survived eight years out of costume, I figured I had kicked the habit. I was a fully recovered Carnival addict. So it was not too difficult to survive 13 years of no Carnival or rather, of Carnival Tuesday sitting at my desk or teaching a class about all matters profound having nothing whatsoever to do with Carnival, if indeed such a thing is even possible as a true Trini will argue. All inclusive fetes, Sprangalang and Tommy, Machel, 3Canal, Sugar Aloes and Crazy, Minshall, blue devils, Panorama and Exodus were all submerged memories. I thought about it; read about it; talked about it; but could survive easily away from its presence. You see I was and always will be Trini to de bone; I did not have to do anything to prove that and nothing I did would ever take that away. There was no contest, no trophy or Fedex Cup up for grabs, and I was not trying to pull a Serena. I am Kalypsoul – Carnival is me and I is Carnival—immutable identity-- no stress, no pressure. Trini to de bone.
So imagine my surprise this morning when I suddenly realized that the same Super Tuesday, that has singularly dominated my thoughts, sentiments, anxieties, hopes and dreams, is actually Carnival Tuesday, for which, much to my consternation, I had not spared a thought, so caught up was I in the throes of a highly potent dose of Obamafever. IMMEDIATE RESIDENT ALIEN IDENTITY CRISIS. What manner of thing is this that could dislodge with such impunity the Carnival berthed firmly in every gene of my Trini-born soul? It warrants some analysis.
For many years I resisted the pull of the American dream, existed on the margins of American social, cultural and political life, and saw my job as a divine overseas mission and myself as a mere sojourner, a transient worker in the vineyard following wherever the footsteps of the spirit led. I did not live here; I existed, biding my time until I could return to the land of my birth to live out the rest of my years in the sun and above all, in peace. I lived for the times though, short, few and far between, when I could escape to Caribbean climes, far away from the petty squabbles of Republicans and Democrats. I was a tourist, viewing the lives and loves of the US natives dispassionately or sometimes even with mild amusement, and always from a safe distance. I lived among them but knew for sure I would never be of them. I had a country – fatherland and motherland -- where, under that same silk cotton tree back-a-yard, my navel string was buried. I was here for a short while, as the length of whiles go, and, having a penchant for traveling light, needed not collect additional baggage in transit. But as every seasoned tourist knows, not every souvenir can fit into a suitcase and it is not always possible to answer in the affirmative when asked at the border, “and did you pack this yourself?”
The first inkling that I had excess baggage of unknown origin came a couple years back when, after two fun weeks frolicking in the Caribbean sun, my mind turned inevitably to home – not place of origin, but place of most immediate familiarity, where resided all the accoutrement and sundry other appurtenances vital to my continued existence – job, child, 401Ks, bank accounts, clothes, flash drives, desk top, photo albums, documents, writing portfolio . . . you know. . .stuff. Yes, I yearned for home, and having felt, too, for the very first time the urge to applaud on touchdown at Hartsfield, I shuffled the sentiment to the bottom of the pack and gave it not a second thought. That is, until someone asked me if I would jump at the chance to return home today, if given the option.
For a mere nano-second, I hesitated, but long enough to analyze the significance of the pause. I realized that, after two or three weeks, all the reasons why I left in the first place, would come rushing back, bringing with them that same claustrophobia within which I was buried prior to migration. I had visions of all the things I cannot allow myself to revisit -- except in my dreams, which do have the power to weave a wand of magical erasure and out of nothing create the stuff that dreams are made of.
Just a fleeting moment's lapse, I told myself, as nostalgia for my Caribbean home lurks around every corner. Everything I see, smell, touch, hear and taste or feel either reminds me of, or makes me long for, the sights, sounds, smells, flavors and feel of home. I go somewhere and its déjà vu of home; I just have to open my mouth and I am reminded of home or if I am not, some heavily-accented, loud-mouthed, obnoxious, English-butchering Joe or Joan Public will never fail to remind me with some inane remark like, “Oh you have an accent! Where are you from?” expecting, I guess, a well-rehearsed apology for self and place of origin, topped by a 'GodBlessAmericaLandoftheFreeandHomeoftheBrave' spiel. And for God’s sake, don’t noignorantbody ever refer to the Caribbean as “the islands” in my earshot again! For you it may be your cheap, sun-filled playground where you get your one opportunity to strut your crumpled, faded, green-backed condescension to your little heart’s content -- feel free, but while you are at it, please respect that for me and several million others this is home.
I had told myself I’ll retire as soon as my child graduates from college and head South of the Key West border to the place I call home. But return is easier said than done. There are certain don’t's that come with the concept of return. You see, there are roots and fruits to consider. Funny, but roots are living things that continue to grow deep and strong wherever you stand too long, even where you did not intend to tarry. And even funnier, roots have a way of sprouting branches, subsidiary roots but just as binding. And roots have a way of pulling you back, reining you in just when you think you have escaped. And then, there are the fruits. . binding in one way if you have them, and in an entirely different way if you have not yet been fruitful. Either way, plans of return are smoked.
So you finally understand and acknowledge reluctantly to self that permanence of return can exist only in the realm of imagination. That is when you slowly and tentatively begin to acquire the outward signs of that inward resignation. You buy a house; for the first time you even . . heaven forbid . . .consider citizenship, all the while telling yourself it means nothing, just the upholstery of temporary comfort. . . nothing more.
And then, out of the clear blue, just when I was minding my own business, comes Obamafever. And you find yourself swept off your feet and propelled forward in this Billowing tide, rushing pell-mell toward change. So exciting and empowering, you cannot help but surrender to its power. The force has possessed you so completely that as Super Tuesday rolls around, you do not even give a thought to the Carnival fever sweeping your little nation. You spend Dimanche Gras watching reruns of the presidential debate on MTV and thinking how he (Obama) ‘kilt’ the competition, and e-mailing friends with requests to join the ObamaforChange grassroots group you have just started. J’Ouvert morning you wake up to the strains of Black Eye Peas singing with Obama “Yes we can!”
It is like the 60’s all over again – watching Woodstock or MLK or X on TV, or with your ears peeled to the radio while Eric Williams holds forth in The People's Parliament of Woodford Square and hands over the keys to your nation's future to you -- the schoolchildren. You sense an agency and urgency so profound it defies definition, description and denial. You are shaken to the core by an excitement so tangible you can almost touch it. You know where this is heading and you want to be there with it. Almost in spite of yourself, you have become part of the wave of the future, the movement that has brought hope to America and to the world and has renewed your faith in the power of global change.
In the eyes of many you may be just a spit in the ocean that is America – just as insignificant and just as disdained; you may be just a island goldfish swimming out of time in this vast aquarium; you may be just a resident alien – not yet a US citizen, but somewhere deep within you, it suddenly becomes clear – you are part of a global movement for change that knows no country, no bounds. Carnival and Mardi Gras have become one with Super Tuesday and it does not matter where you originally hailed from because you now belong to the OBAMANATION.