Whenever I travel to a Black country, I try to build some extra threads of camaraderie by mentioning my family’s Barbados heritage. I usually find it to be a good conversation piece, allowing me to speak about immigration, the diversity of America, cultural identity, race, politics, and a host of other factors. The end result is that it dispels rumors and myths of America’s racial and socioeconomic makeup, and leads to closer bonds between myself and the target audience. Not in Haiti.
Barbados is known as the most British of all the Caribbean islands. It’s not so much a compliment as it is a fact. Barbados never had a grand struggle for independence as did some of it’s neighbors, Jamaica and it’s infamous Maroons being a noteworthy example. And, of course, no Caribbean struggle for independent rule was as grand as that of Haiti’s. As a result, many people in the Caribbean view Bajans (as we are known, rather than Barbadians) as being more British than Caribbean. The fact that the typical Bajan chugs down several cups of Earl Grey tea a day doesn’t help.
There are also cultural differences between the anglophone and francophone islands. Islands such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad, are often grouped together due to similar colonial experiences. (Think about it, where are the three best places to go for carnival in the Caribbean?) Francophone islands, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique have a much different experience, especially since they are still technically part of France. Haiti, being the first independent Caribbean island long before the other islands, is different altogether. It’s French, with none of the benefits, and has been on its own for the longest time. Additionally, given the well-known history of Haiti’s development, Haiti has become the poorest island in the Caribbean.
So in the end, when I introduce myself to a Haitian colleague as being of Barbados ancestry, it really sounds more like: hi, I’m American, I barely speak French and I don’t speak Kreyol, and my family is from the richest Caribbean island, which still has close ties to England.
Needless to say, no one gives a damn.
Of course, I also experienced this somewhat when I visited Guadeloupe. Yet, there, it was more of an anglophone vs. francophone divide. When your native language is French, why go to an English speaking island just to see the same sandy beaches and blue water that you’d see in your own backyard? But in Haiti, it’s more than the use of different languages. Truthfully, I could probably build more cultural bridges by telling them I was born in Texas and have family in Florida. At least then there would be physical reference points that someone could understand. Ah Florida? Yes my brother is up in Miami. Texas? Sure, I know a few people out there.
But Barbados? I might as well say China. Barbados huh? Well, good for you.