“Can I ask you something?” people would ask me when I mentioned I wanted to birth my soon coming child in Trinidad. I always wanted to respond, “You just did,” and end it there because I already knew the question coming next.
“Why would you leave the United States to give birth?” Americans and Trinidadians alike asked. “Wouldn’t you want your child to have that powerful citizenship?”
I suppose it depends on one’s priorities.
“But the papers!” People cried. This concern was usually voiced by immigrants to America—African, Asian, European, no matter. Even American-born, first-generation people of color would question the notion. “The papers! The papers!” All of this from people who left their home countries only to find that the gold-paved streets of the American Dream are illusory and found themselves driving taxis, working for minimum wage, or unemployed despite their Ph.Ds, or unable to ever fully assimilate into society. “The papers!”
“But what about college?” Others asked. This concern was usually voiced by someone working in a field completely unrelated to whatever they may have delved into in undergrad.
Really? You’re worried about my unborn fetus’ higher education in 18 years? Are you opening a Gerber Savings account? Will universities still exist in their present form a generation from now? And who’s to say that people born in other countries are impeded from American higher education? And even then, who’s to say that the American education system is the most valuable or even desirable? I completely beg to differ. My priorities are different.
There was also one laughable protest of, "Oh no! Y'all won't be able to bring the baby back to the States with you!" ...as though I would plan to birth a child abroad without doing research on how to maneuver the traveling process. Gah.
When I first came to Trinidad in February 2012 with Dread, I instantly knew and publicly declared that this was the place we would start our family.
Most importantly, I intend to raise my children in places where they are not referred to as the “minority” (especially when brown skin covers the majority of the people on the planet, whereas white skin is the genetically recessive minority). That lie of a label is deliberate detriment to the brown child’s psyche in America, which is a land that was always originally home to dark-skinned people.
Trinidad’s livity is real. Our produce doesn’t require “organic” stickers. Our ketchup, soft drinks (we call em “sea drinks”) and bread list “sugar” on the ingredients list, rather than high fructose corn syrup.
The most inclement weather we can expect is a day of rain. Speaking of, our skies aren’t chemtrail-laden, and drinking and bathing in rainwater brings an incredible vibrational shift (and you’re encouraged to take advantage of it; not fined for collecting it!).
As I've emphasized, this is a place where you can do what you want without life being such a fight to the finish. Want to live exclusively off the land, off the grid, deep in the bush? It’s easy. Want the fast-paced, high-commerce hustle and bustle of the city and a lush condominium? Go and get it.
We live in the southwest part of the country in a borough called Point Fortin. It’s a smaller town so people know and recognize each other more closely, but it’s still spread out with diverse neighborhoods and districts.
Unlike some of the larger regions up north, materialism is not such an issue here, and I think it’s because people work hard and build up their lives for themselves by any means necessary. Things aren’t clique-ish, and people aren’t worshipped for having more or nicer possessions. Sexy sportscars and rickety clunkers coexist, and people owning the former don’t really get big heads, nor do people owning the latter feel shame.
Beautifully designed multi-story brick-and-concrete homes sit next to decades-old nailed up boardhouses with galvanize tin metal rooftops. People can build mansions by having a permanent corporate job or selling handmade sandals or sandwiches. There aren’t the same barriers to entry, and anything is possible with the proper mindset.
Unlike the main city of Port of Spain, we’re in the thick of plenty natural produce—fruit trees abound and herbs and vegetation spring up automatically, in season. You couldn’t starve down south if you tried—walk down to wherever water collects (a swamp, creek, river, or even the drainage system by your house) and pick some dasheen bush (a green leaf akin to spinach) for lunch. Come mango season, mangoes only wastin’ as you pass in the bush walking on a literal mango carpet.
People trust one another, and there’s a general sense of collectivism, regardless of what kind of person-to-person bacchanal might flare up. Things flow naturally. I notice a difference in traffic patterns and behaviors due to the right-hand side drivers’ seat cars traveling on the left side of the road. Also, there are like, only two major stoplight intersections along the 2-hour drive from Point Fortin to Port of Spain.
In Chicago, you wouldn’t stand on the side of the road with your hand out and enter the first unmarked car that pulled up to give you a ride down the road. But that’s how plenty people travel here in Trini—the default setting is “trust” over “fear.” Personal private cars (taxis) and minivans (maxis) transport thousands of people every day. Contrarily, Americans don’t trust strangers, and want clearly labeled taxis with insurance policies, 800-number complaint lines and digital fare meters, in the name of “security!”
Drivers honk to say “hey!” to other motorists or people along the road. Car horns are used cheerfully; in acknowledgement rather than in anger. We currently live along the main road, and during the morning rush, the horn sounds come in pairs: every beep receives a reply.
To compare: New York City drivers are assholes. Attempt to make a legal three-point turnaround, and suddenly you’ve a chorus of 15 horns blaring at you from all directions. Here in Trinidad, if a driver stops to pick up or drop off a rider, or has to back out of a driveway and causes a temporary pause in traffic, there won’t be a bevy of pissed-off people. What’s the major rush, anyway?
So what’s there to citizenship? What’s there to all these boxes in which we place ourselves?
“We’re not just GIVING away citizenship,” the man at customs scoffed at me and Dread last year, barely hiding his disdain at the notion of me, a foreigner, American at that, daring to want to give birth in his country. As if it was a personal affront. “We don’t just go up to your country and have children anyhow.”
“Uh, but yeah you do,” I said. I started to go into the notion of anchor babies and the fact that there are so many first generation ethnic children born in the U.S. all the time and there’s little people can do to stop it—and why should they? Heck, when I turned 21 I petitioned for a green card and American residential status for my Zambian-born mother. There are countless examples, and Trinis do it all the time. Hop on up to Miami for a “vacation,” give birth, recover, and days or weeks later take the 5-hour flight back home.
But I stopped myself. Sometimes it’s best to pick your battles and let people with “important jobs” have their little power trips. I *know* my presence is a present, as Kanye would say, but I don't need to assert it verbally. ;)
Ethnicity does not define who is or isn’t a Trini; it’s culture. If ever a region existed that shatters the flimsiness of American-esque race constructs, the Caribbean is it. Ultimately, the majority of Trinidadian residents today are children of someone who was indentured, involuntarily brought over, or immigrated recently or several generations ago. Chinese, African, Indian or whatever, most Trinis here today are not indigenous peoples to this land mass.
But what on earth did this guy mean by “not just GIVING away citizenship?” What was it to him if one more child was born on Trinidad soil? Hundreds of children born daily; what difference does it really make?
The difference is protocol. These institutions and government agencies don’t want your unique, inspiring story about how you decided to unplug the American Babylonian Matrix and bring your child to a melanated country. Customs offers a finite number of options you can check as valid reasons for entering a country: vacation / work / study / etc. Answer anything outside the box, and the robots don’t know how to respond. Keep it simple and don’t overshare all your personal liberation details with the gatekeepers, and the doors fling wide open.
I’m what Uncle Sam would consider an “American citizen.” My nationality is Zambian-American. My ethnicity/tribal identity and familial dialects are severalfold—Bemba/Tumbuka/Xhosa/Zulu and more—and they are not bound by colonialism-created boundaries. But my identity is much more complex than skin color or birthplace or genetic makeup—mentality, consciousness and culture all play roles in my Story.
In truth, spending time in America is much more enjoyable to me knowing that I always have the choice to dip the hell out whenever I feel—it’s no longer so much a Babylon trap as it’s an option with lucrative opportunities and much of my kindred. And since I possess a U.S. national passport, any child I birth anywhere on the planet can automatically receive citizen status should I choose to claim it for them.
So why did I give birth in Trinidad?
To give my child even more options. To have her not be confined to any one box of identity. To show her the world, and the universe at large. To give Eleven Tembo Barriere the greater rights to choose WHERE on the planet she wants to be, without interference.
Eleven is a global citizen; technically a triple citizen—American by inheritance, Trinidadian by birth, Zambian by lineage. She’s covered from A to T to Z.