“Are you from India?”
“You look Indian. Are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure. You wanna try again?”
“Are you from the DR [Domincan Republic]?”
“Nope. But you’re getting closer…geographically”
“You also look Egyptian.”
“Err, wrong again.”
“Where are you from?”
My name is Vladamir. I’m from Trinidad and Tobago. That’s in the Caribbean.
Yes, I look like I’m from India. My ancestors were, but I am not. Yes, people with Indian ancestry can come from the Caribbean.
It was called indentureship. Yes, it was a real thing. It did happen.
No, I’m sure. I’m not Middle Eastern either.
Yes, the name’s Russian. No, I don’t speak Russian. No, I haven’t been there yet, but I would like to.
Why do I have a Russian name? No. Idea. My brothers’ names are Yurie and Mikhail.
Is your Dad Russian? No, he isn’t.
His name is Steve…
Over the years, I have had some version of the above conversation with numerous people. And I expect to have many more as long as I am alive.
Truth be told, deep down, I do quite enjoy these conversations. For the main reason of watching the inquisitive looks on the person’s face trying to fit me into a box, while at the same time trying (not very well) to navigate the sensitivities that these types of conversations tend to be riddled with.
I understand that I am a walking embodiment of grey areas, unable to fit into certain boxes or categories.
But this is what Trinidad and Tobago is. A country with a rich tapestry of cultural diversity borne from its colonial past, having switched between the hands of their Spanish, French and British masters.
The centuries of slavery in the Caribbean certainly changed the cultural and social landscape of the islands. Even more so with the migration of indentured labour from Ireland, Syria, China, Portugal and India.
See, the history of the Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, is one that doesn’t allow for boxes or categorisation. Our people, who came from all over the world, have borne the worst experiences in history. And a large part of that history was shaped by a few, and its legacy is now the experience of the many originating from there, including myself.
Trinidad and Tobago is a beautiful anomaly. It is a place where there is real unity and respect for everyone’s culture. Imagine a church, a mosque and a temple, all on the same street. Everyone enjoys each other’s company, celebrates each other’s festivals, eats together and mourn together in each own’s way.
I have traveled to many different places, and in my job I see how certain narratives in religion, culture and ethnicity can stir differences for political gain; a reality even Trinidad and Tobago cannot escape.
But there is something special about home. We come together with a sense of enthusiasm, often bordering boldness, to truly mix and be with our neighbours, regardless of our differences, our history and religious belief.
The only boxes that exist are the ones that we take home filled with food or sweets.
So where am I from?
I am from Trinidad and Tobago.
And that should be enough.