As my debut collection of short stories Suite as Sugar makes its way in the world, a few people have stated how “brave” I was to write about certain topics, or to write unapologetically in Trinidadian creole (what Caribbean scholar Kamau Brathwaite called “nation language”). I do not know if I am particularly brave; I just don’t think I could write any other way. The voices in my head demand it. The realities I see about me on a daily basis insist upon it.
I’ve been a truth teller for some time. I relished the opportunity to shock and amaze students in my university classrooms with information they had never heard about – the buried (literally) history of Indian residential schools in Canada; the triumph of the Haitian Revolution, in which enslaved Africans fought and won their freedom creating the first Black Republic in the world; the unimaginable horror of the transatlantic slave trade. I grew up among privileged middle-class white Canadian children, and I had seen enough and knew enough about them and their families that by the time I had carved out my own identity in adulthood, I realized I no longer cared what they thought. So many of us – racialized, Indigenous, diasporic Canadians – are tired of censoring ourselves, of trying to make other people feel comfortable, of not taking up too much space.
My book is a series of firecrackers in the world, with the consistent hum of colonialism and its aftermath in the background. Everything comes to the light. Trinidadians have a saying: “One day one day congotay.” It means you can run but you can’t hide. It means that truth will always surface. There are more and more of us truth tellers every season, relentless, determined to bury the canon and say, see, here, this is my story, this is my people’s history. We don’t care if you can’t understand how we speak, or what our language looks like on the page. We don’t care if you “can’t relate” to the characters in our books – why should you? Are you only comfortable with what feels familiar and safe to you? What a shame. What a loss. What a limited, banal existence.
I consider my literary community to be the Caribbean and Caribbean diasporic community. This is where I feel most at home, where I don’t have to explain myself, where our nation languages are eagerly welcomed and applauded. The Caribbean is producing an incredible amount of stellar literary talent of late. I am ecstatic when I see fellow Caribbean writers unashamedly representing our tongue on the page, sans glossary. When fellow Rare Machines author Rowan McCandless expressed pleasure at reading an entire chapter of Suite as Sugar written in Trinidad creole, I asked her (knowing that she has no Caribbean connections to speak of) if it was a challenge for her to read the story. She said it took some time to get into it, but she wanted it, so she made the effort.
I know there are audiences for my book. There are many of us who can relate to marginalization, post-colonialism, racism, oppression, straddling multiple spaces, and justice seeking. And there are also those who are eager and willing to learn from the truth tellers, who are unafraid of discomfort, of being called out, of being the afterthought, of being ignored at a party where everyone is apparently having a great time but no one speaks your language. We know this feeling intimately. Now it's your turn.
Camille Hernández-Ramdwar is a multi-racial, multicultural, multilingual, and transnational writer and scholar. The veil between the corporeal and the incorporeal is very thin in her work, which explores the search for belonging; the collective violences of neo-colonialism, poverty, racism, sexism, and other injustices; and the important interrelationship between matter and spirit. She divides her time between Toronto and Trinidad and Tobago. Learn more here.