The song, “God Bless Our Nation”, was written for Trinidad and Tobago by the late Marjorie Padmore to celebrate our status as an independent state. The three last lines in the first stanza are as follows: Let it be known around the world, that we can boast of unity, and take a pride in our liberty. We are a country made up of diverse peoples, descendants of ancestral stoicism and courage. Unity in diversity is an expression of harmony and the coming together of dissimilar individuals or groups who, despite their differences, work and build a society in the interest of the common good. As far as I know, no elected government has ever forbidden the celebration of our different festivals and the continuation of our rituals and religions in this pluralistic society. For the past 58 years, we have enjoyed liberties and freedoms that are still non-existent for many people around the globe, where penalties and loss of life are the realities for those who openly practice their rituals and cultural beliefs. Therefore, the newly formed government must continue to use its legislative powers to uphold certain standards of moral behaviour and to resolve the complexities of extreme political partisanship that characterised the last few weeks. Our leaders must encourage unity, and inspire feelings of patriotism and civic responsibility through its many programmes. The mentality of an “us” versus “them” society should not be tolerated, and it is important for the survival of our different ethnic groups in these uncertain times that we learn to treat each other with kindness and care, and seek to diminish incivility, conflict and inhumanity.
To highlight the historic composition of the various ethnic groups in Trinidad and Tobago, author John Mendes wrote: “Our language, while Britannic in essence, is thoroughly marinated in First Peoples’ raw defiance, the elusive Spanish gold, French assaults steeped with Indian Taalkadhii; a history rich from the Negre Jardin, the buss-head blood of the Batonye, seasoned by the colourful expletives of the jamettes, and finally sautéed over the fires of the retaliatory Cannes Brulees by the vicissitudes of aristocracy’. In this quotation, Mendes describes the majority of the people in this society who are of African and Indian heritage, French-Creole, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Portuguese and other groups. The cultural identity of the Caribbean, like other diasporic cultures, became products of the forced migration of our ancestors from various continents so that when divisive elements in the society seek to debase and ridicule each other, there is an ignorance of not knowing our history, especially when 28 per cent of our population is categorised as “mixed”—a percentage which I believe to be much higher, being a descendant of Carib, African, East Indian, Lebanese and Scottish ancestry myself. As a people, we have been liberated from the clutches of colonialism, and out of the storms and perils of that time, we are thus able to celebrate our Independence every year on August 31. Can we boast of our unity as a people? In the midst of our liberty, can we truly state we are tolerant and respectful of others, and that empathy and communality are intensified in the face of prejudice?
Many people have been raised in environments that nurture and condone differences and an “othering” mentality, and prejudices are feelings and thoughts about issues and people. However, unity becomes disunity when these thoughts and feelings are taken a step further and translated into hostile behaviours or discriminatory practices against another. Whenever you see this worst behaviour in others, respond with your best self. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” On this Independence Day, let it be known around the world that the people of Trinidad and Tobago will make every attempt to strive for unity towards others so that we can proudly boast of a society that works together in all things for the betterment of its citizens. God bless our leaders, give them grace to guide; bestow on them thy judgment wise to rule our land aright; to keep the flag of freedom high that we may sing most lustily—We take a pride in Our Liberty. May God bless us all and may God bless our nation.