Caribbean-Canadian or 'Trini to de bone'?
"I think I'm both,” soca star David Rudder told Caribbean Intelligence © .
“I'm Trini to the bone, living in Canada, but there is such a strong Caribbean presence here that I feel a touch of a Caribbean-Canadian spirit also.”
His neighbourhood of Scarborough in Toronto has a strong presence of Trinidadians, Grenadians, Jamaicans and Guyanese nationals.
David, best known for his song Rally Round The West Indies, which has become the anthem of the West Indies cricket team, says he was pleasantly surprised to learn that West Indians held upper level positions in the teaching and medical services in the area.
“It's beautiful and comforting when your specialist can say to you, ‘All yuh make oil down [Caribbean breadfruit dish] an’ yuh couldn't bring some fuh meh, dat is very shameful,’ and you both share a laugh escorted by a deep understanding,” David explained to Caribbean Intelligence©.
The roti shops in the area do their bit to make sure that Caribbean people feel at home. In fact, some locals affectionately call the area Scarboroti.
"West Indian-type shops and supermarkets are to be found everywhere and even those owned by Koreans say they like to bring a sense of home to the people they call Northern Caribbeans.
“I remember I once went into a store to buy some julie mangoes I’d sighted on the shelf and the Trini butcher signalled me with a facial expression that said, 'Cease and desist,' disappeared into the back of the store and emerged with a sealed box."
While cutting open this "holy grail" box, the butcher excitedly informed David that the mangoes in the box came from a tree on the University of the West Indies' St Augustine campus in Trinidad, near to the corner "weh de doubles men does set up".
“Up to now,” David explains, “I don't know if the curry from the doubles somehow flavored the julies, or if eaten, they heighten one’s intelligence because of the close proximity to the university. But I suspect it was simply a reaffirmation of the Trini connection, that sweet scandal, buried in our bones.”
Caribbean people in the area hold down a variety of jobs. Some work in the public services, including mass transit, surveying and law enforcement. Some are self-employed, working in computer programming, building and construction.
There are quite a few teachers and David insists that there is one street where a number of primary school teachers who moved from the Trinidad suburb of Belmont all live after migrating to Canada in the 1960s.
David has special mention for his next-door neighbour, an inventor who designs parts for some of the world’s top motorcycle companies.
The Caribbean community in the Rudder neighbourhood also boasts doctors, shopkeepers, owners of restaurants and salons, and even a couple of billionaires.
So, does the star who penned the classic song Calypso Music miss Trinidad in this microcosm of Caribbean life in Canada?
“I guess because I travel to Trinidad almost once per month (David appears on stage back in Trinidad for most major music and festive occasions), it helps.
“And yet, in the winter months, I wish we were on the islands for the entire duration. I'm also missing Trini now because of the cricket.”
Like many people living in the diaspora, David expresses the need to escape smaller island societies every now and again.
“When Trini gets a li'l too mad, I could go cool off in Canada, which has a pretty rural feel about it.”
Unless he takes the entire family with him during his trips back home, David says he misses his family while in Trinidad.
Education with a Caribbean flavour
David reckons that education also has a Caribbean flavour to it in Scarborough, with many teachers in the area coming from the Caribbean.
Caribbean teachers help children navigate their way through the Canadian way of doing things, but with the Caribbean insistence on “manners" among the young, something that some in the diaspora feel has not been drummed into the children born in Canada.
The social benefits of a good Caribbean "lime" can be found, particularly in the summer, with weekend activities ranging from cricket and football to hockey and swimming.
Canada’s indoor sports sites mean that the lime (except for the cricket) continues through the Canadian winter.
So why does Canada work so well for the Caribbean man?
“Here, they allow you to be who you are,” David told Caribbean Intelligence©. “The Canadian style is to allow people to be who they are while living in Canada.”
Caribbean Intelligence asked David whether he could get a roti as good as home in “Scarboroti”.
“Yes, the rotis are just as good here as home, I would say, though I'm yet to taste one that is close to the taste and texture of Ms Kanhai's roti in St James [area in Port of Spain]."
The search for a good roti can be one of the many symbols Caribbean people seek as they yearn for home while doing well outside the region.
One of the flip sides of life in the diaspora for the Trinidadian singer is the fact that many nostalgia products can be found in the States and in Canada.
He points out that many who moved northwards from the Caribbean in the 1960s will ask shopkeepers for what many back home might consider old-time products. He cites how paradise plums, Ovaltine and Ferrol can all be found, as the diaspora keep up the pressure on local shopkeepers to seek out the products of their youth back in the Caribbean.
In addition, being out of the region for large amounts of time gives people a bigger perspective which often people at home might not get.
“It’s like time-frame photography. I get to step back," he says. "When you live in the Caribbean, your nose is against the wall.”
David admits that he is lucky, always travelling back to appear at Trinidad Carnival during the Canadian winter months. He points out that some people save for a couple of years before being able to spend a couple of weeks back home.
He says that some of his songs, Trini To De Bone and Lonely Soul, aim to portray that feeling for the diaspora living away from home.
“I write songs about the yearning, but I don’t dwell on it.”