The Bocas Lit Fest 3rd Place Winning Essay

February 7, 2024

The Bocas Lit Fest 3rd Place Winner Rebekkah Murray and Bocas Lit Fest CEO Mr. Jean-Claude Cournand

Next Flight Out Of Trinidad And Tobago 

If you were given the opportunity to get on the next flight out of Trinidad and Tobago today, would you? Migration is indeed something that has crossed almost every Trinbagonian’s mind at least once. We’ve all imagined what it would be like to live in the Big Apple or dreamed of the London lifestyle. The young and old alike seem to be intrigued by the possibility of a better life beyond the beautiful beaches that surround our twin island. 

This yearning is often attributed to the media’s glamorization of extra-regional countries. It is also believed that the longing to leave a ‘land behind God’s back’ for the metropolitan countries is rooted in Caribbean history. “Foreign is better” is the widely believed perception. With the rise of social media, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have an even greater glimpse of the wider world. Before the internet, however, it was migration that facilitated globalisation. Only those who made it out of the country were so privileged. 

Furthermore, some long to leave because migrating is a means of escaping. When they examine the Trinidad and Tobago in which they reside they find many reasons not to stay. Whether it’s the oppressive system that makes it extremely difficult to succeed in entrepreneurial activities, the regular occurrences of robberies and murders even in broad daylight, the inconsistency of water supply for basic needs, the unsatisfactory level of health care or even the familiar potholes on the highway roads and backstreets. Now who’s to say that overseas their experience would be void of these? It’s true that “all that glitters is not gold”. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, every country has its pros and cons. For those who find that the cons of life in our country outweigh the pros, it’s enough to say goodbye forever. 

Since the nineteenth century, Caribbean nationals have migrated to regions such as North America and Europe. Between 1948 and 1971 workers from Trinidad and Tobago arrived on the ship, MV Empire Windrush to help fill post-war UK labour shortages. Trinidad and Tobago migrants didn’t enjoy the lifestyle portrayed on the big screen as some do now. Only those who had accessed education attained jobs as teachers and nurses, still among the working class. Many worked as cleaners, dog walkers, nannies, bus drivers, train conductors and fruit pickers. Despite the meagreness of the wages paid to migrants, it was relatively high given the exchange rate for Trinidadians and Tobagonians. Money earnt was sent or spent on clothes, appliances and gifts which were packed in barrels. 

Undoubtedly, emigration among citizens of Trinidad and Tobago is still a common phenomenon. From a national census report of Trinidad and Tobago in 2011 an average emigration of 1,545 persons per year was implied. Presently it is educational enhancement, employment opportunities and lower cost of living abroad that seem to be the main motivators for their leaving; unlike many people from neighbouring countries who have resorted to migration due to reasons such as political unrest like the Cubans, natural disasters like the Haitians and economical issues like the Venezuelans. 

Almost every household in Trinidad and Tobago has a family member who has left the country to live overseas. Think about the great stories that are recounted by aunts, nephews, daughters and fathers upon their visits home. Most of them further perpetuate the illusions already painted on foreign television. They describe the limitless fast food options, packaged and processed foods available abroad, the youth in particular preferring it rather than the Caribbean cuisine. Notice how these relatives report about the skyscraper shopping centres and flashy malls with their high end fashion and the latest beauty trends. Only very few actually tell of the hardships they experience such as racism and xenophobia. 

Racism in Trinidad and Tobago looks quite different from that in extra-regional territories. While it is known that there is continuous ethnic tension between the Africans and East Indians in this our twin island, outside our borders both Africans and East Indians are considered to be the same, all blacks. It may not be the blatant segregation of toilets for blacks or the preferential seating aboard buses for whites as before, but when a black boy walks out the door wearing a hoodie in the States his mother still has to pray for her son to return without a scratch. Even in the progressive times in which we live, a Trinbagonian in a foreign land has to work ten times as hard for everything despite having qualifications, all because we are considered outsiders. 

Trinidad and Tobago experiences both positive and negative impacts of the emigration of its people. Unfortunately, the nation suffers from brain drain which is the loss of trained and educated individuals. In most cases where they do not return to further develop the country this has become one of the biggest drawbacks. In addition, the impacts of the diminishing of the workforce is dire. It creates a greater degree of dependency on the government for already limited resources by the elderly and children often left behind. 

On a different note, it is claimed that there are benefits of remittances. While the contribution to the general growth of the economy may not be as large as other Caribbean countries, its importance can not be denied. Wherever Caribbean people settle, they influence the cultural life of that society. Hence, elements of Trinidad and Tobago’s culture are exported. Our local foods such as doubles are accessible in places like Toronto and our national instrument, the steelpan, is played on the streets of New York City. Foreigners often travel to the homeland to experience our culture firsthand which has boosted tourism. 

There is no question that the countries to which citizens of Trinidad and Tobago migrate have been indelibly influenced. Along with migrants of other Caribbean countries, the diaspora has developed Carnivals abroad such as Caribana in Toronto, Labour Day in New York and Notting Hill Carnival in London. Through these, our culture is taught to their local communities and we have added to the multicultural dimension of their societies. Regardless of initial resistance, these foreign governments now allocate large amounts of state funds to facilitate these events each year. 

Not only does the emigration of Trinbagonians affect the nation collectively, but also the families and communities within. During the mid 20th century, the majority of migrants were male. Inevitably this led to gender imbalances where some women had to adopt the roles of their male counterparts in their absence. Migration is to blame for many disjunct families. It is the reason several individuals don’t have healthy relationships with their relatives to date. For instance, most barrel children often grow to resent their parents. A further implication is the societal problem of juvenile delinquency. 

Ultimately, there is much to consider before taking the next flight out of Trinidad and Tobago. Although migration appears to be the ticket to a new and improved life, a lot of factors must be analysed before making the decision. Migration has advantages and disadvantages impacting more than just the migrant. So are you getting on the first plane out or like the late Denyse Plummer sang, you ‘nah leaving’?

Almost every household in Trinidad and Tobago has a family member who has left the country to live overseas. Think about the great stories that are recounted by aunts, nephews, daughters and fathers upon their visits home.
Rebekkah Murray