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Upcoming Caribbean Conference Provides Opportunity For U.S. Diaspora To Shine

Commentary By AnneMarie Adams

Hardbeatnews, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Mar. 30, 2007: Brace yourself. This June, you should expect to witness an event in Washington, D.C. that could crystallize the political awakening of the Caribbean region and its Diaspora in the United States.

The U.S. State Department and the Caucus of Ambassadors of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are gearing up for a summit: "Conference on the Caribbean: A 20/20 Vision." The aim of the summit, scheduled for June 19 to 21, is three-fold: to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and the Caribbean governments, to expose investment opportunities in the region and to engage most of the estimated five million people in the Diaspora. If they stick to the script, instead of reinventing the wheel, they'll succeed.

The script for the Diaspora forum is already in place. A look at The Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group with about 300 affiliates, and which commands political respect and media attention that comes with it, will reveal the way. La Raza is the Hispanic-American answer to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP. Granted, the embattled NAACP is struggling with leadership issues. But its political power is unquestionable.

Now here's where I'm tickled purple. On June 19 and 20, the Diaspora will have an opportunity to interact with governments and private sectors from the Caribbean. The Diaspora can still shape the direction of the forum to ensure that the desired outcome is an institutional structure that reflects our collective strength and establishes a Caribbean voice in the political landscape. Our community has too many small nonprofit groups with no political clout, just avenues for self-aggrandizement rather than community empowerment.

Besides that, the current debate about presidential candidate Barack Obama's degree of blackness should be of concern to the Diaspora. Embedded in that debate are political, social and economic implications. These debates about defining blackness in the American context dominated radio talk shows, major newscasts and newspapers. Moreover, there have been significant discussions among Black journalists about its implication. The gist of that debate was this: Some American-born Blacks without links to Caribbean or close African connections are upset that Black immigrants and their children are encroaching on what "they" fought for during the Civil Rights movement.

I've heard this absurd argument before. The incorrect assumption here is that "they" who fought the Civil Rights movement were only American-born Blacks, not Caribbean-born and Caribbean spawned, such as Stokely Carmichael, Shirley Chisholm, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Malcolm X, Farrakhan and numerous Caribbean nationals who have been migrating to the U.S. since the early 1900s, such as Marcus Garvey. This erroneous argument tinged with hostility is pervasive, and is not new, in Black communities across America. This unfortunate affair stems from all Blacks being lumped into the African-American category on the Census box. We need to start educating our American bothers and sisters if we expect to build political coalitions. And we need to reach out to first, second and third generation Caribbean-Americans as we interact with Congress, said Howard University Professor Ransford Palmer. That's because, he said, "most of them are more in tuned with the political establishment of the country."

Now, I am aware that wanting to be identified as Caribbean-American could feed into the divide and conquer strategy. This desire is warranted; the anti-Caribbean or anti-foreign black sentiment is a harsh reality found on jobs, in schools and in churches. Caribbean nationals in New York, Washington, DC and Hartford can attest to that.

So that's one reason why this forum is crucial. The U.S. Diaspora has a chance to announce its presence and its contributions to the U.S. in a significant way using mainstream media, not just our insular Caribbean-Diaspora media. In addition, each person can spread the word, show up for the conference and make sure Diaspora concerns register with organizers. After all, if the Caribbean Diaspora is weak, how can it help strengthen the Caribbean region?

Here are a few tips to ensure that your concerns help shape this conference and its outcome:

1. Before you unleash years of pent up venom or frustration against the Caribbean governments you feel are doing little to address crime and other social ills, you should preface your comments with a paraphrased quote from an American politician Adlai Stevenson: I criticize my country so that I will have more of it to love.

2. If you feel excited about the possibilities of this conference and want to show your enthusiasm by working with organizers, you should call your embassies or consulates and offer what little time you may have left after you clock out of both your full-time and part-time jobs.

3. If you feel you have professional skills sorely needed by organizers, call them. If they say they can't pay you but would love for you to volunteer, smile. You should then explain to them that your ancestors walked off plantations in 1838, got their piece of land and have tried to be self-sufficient ever since; tell them your ancestors developed higglering and huckstering that spawned Sunday Markets, just so they could remain economically independent from their former masters; tell them when your ancestors emigrated to Central and North America, they started their own businesses because of that unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit; they simply refused to work for free or "for love of country." Then you pause and say that your government officials’ inability to raise sufficient money to make their institutions efficient raises serious concerns about their ability to garner resources for the Caribbean region.

4. Emphasize that refusal to work for love of country doesn't mean you don't work pro bono. You just expect transparency to determine if their request is an insult to your intelligence or a disregard for your entrepreneur pursuits. Or they are just out of touch with reality. And while you have them on that subject, tell them you'd like to see an open and fair procurement process of other services within the governmental structure in your home country so that you, too, can invest in and benefit from the exciting economic opportunities that is now in the region.

5. No matter what your frustration level may be getting through to your consulates and embassies, be patient. And show up at town hall meetings and the conference anyway. You want to be counted. Organizers need impressive numbers to use as leverage when they interact with Congress. And you don't mind being used like that.

So far, town hall meetings to talk about the forum is scheduled for New York, March 29; Hartford, March 30; Philadelphia, March 31; Atlanta, April 11, Miami, April 13; Boston and Los Angeles to be determined. If you are not on your embassies and consulars' contact lists, call to sign up, or visit the website at www.conferenceonthecaribbean.org.

This is indeed an historic event, and you should bear witness.

Ann-Marie Adams teaches journalism at Howard University and is pursuing a Ph.D. in US and Caribbean history. You can reach her at annwritestuff@msn.com. ­ Hardbeatnews.com


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