Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This captures my feelings as a barrel child growing up in Trinidad

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
But Violent prone, poor people zone
But it’s my home, all I have known
Where I got grown, streets we would roam
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Except no defeat, surrender retreat
So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say, love is the way
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers
But we struggling, fighting to eat
And we wondering, when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that faithful day
It’s not far away, but for now we say
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And everybody will be singing it
(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And you and I will be singing it
(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And we all will be singing it
(Ohhh Ohh Ohh Ohh)
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back
When I get older, when I get older
I will be stronger, just like a Waving Flag
Just like a Waving Flag, just like a Waving flag
Flag, flag, Just like a Waving Flag.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why was it so important for my parents to come to the U.S. in 1969?

On October 3rd, 1965 President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Act changed the way the U.S. allotted visas to individuals seeking to live in the U.S. Prior to 1965, the U.S. allotted visas by quotas favoring immigrants from countries that sustained the ethnic makeup of the U.S. that was noted in the census. This overtly racist policy was overturned by this act.

The act placed a ceiling of 120,000 visas for the Western Hemisphere but without a 20,000 per country limit. Priority went to individuals with the preference rating - close relatives of U.S. citizens. The law also required visa applicants wishing to work in the U.S. to obtain a certificate from the Secretary of Labor affirming that whatever job the immigrant intends to take does not displace a U.S. citizen. In sum, the new laws made it easier for individuals from the Caribbean to immigrate to the U.S. My parents were benefactors of this change in the law.

The law had a significant impact on the number of Caribbean nationals from regional Anglophone countries who received visas to work in the U.S. For instance, the following data highlights this enormous shift in the migration pattern between 1960-1965 (prior to the new immigration law) and 1966-1970 (after the new immigration law):

Immigration by Country from the Caribbean 1960 – 1970

Country                    1960-1965           1966 – 1970
Barbados                       2,377                     7,312
Guyana                         1,434                      5,760
Jamaica                        9,675                     62,676
Trinidad and Tobago       2,598                     22,367

Reference: Pastor, R. A. (1985). Migration and development in the Caribbean. Westview Press, Inc., Boulder, CO.

In Jamaica, the wave of immigrants was significantly large. Even though these numbers appear surprising, it pales in comparison to the number of individuals who stayed in the U.S. illegally after their visiting visa ran out.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 on work visas. They were part of the wave of skilled workers that took advantage of new U.S. immigration policies.Some argue, that the drain of skilled workers from fledgling countries like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago stunted economic growth in the region.

However, tough choices were made by parents and certainly some children were left behind with relatives. The promise was always the same for these children. “We will return for you soon.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Anthony in all his innocence

I often look at this picture and ask, was I happy, sad, or just shocked that somebody was taking my picture? My scrunched forehead, a facial expression that I would exhibit well into adulthood, seems to forecast a storm on the horizon. 

This picture captures a sunny day in the Savannah in Trinidad with my parents, months before they would create a geographical chasm within our family. But at that moment, on that day, in the midst of riding my beloved tricycle, I was looking through the lens at the eye of someone I trusted to be there and would eventually break that trust.

It is the same look of confidence at the consistency of a parent’s presence that I see in the eyes of my children. And I could fathom no reason that could stretch my imagination to trample in that confidence. But that is now. Only God and my parents know what pressures existed that led to the decision to create a barrel child.

I often think how life may have been different for that young boy in the picture if my parents had decided to tough it out in Trinidad or bring us with them to the U.S. Would the pressure they were under in Trinidad resulted in a vastly different outcome? Would the challenges of raising two small children in the U.S. during the 70’s prove overwhelming? I do not deny that my current social address is a blessed one. And that crying over spilled milk often denies you the pleasure of enjoying a new freshly poured glass. Still, the tug of enhancing the relationship with oneself becomes increasingly strong as one gets older. On occasions that tug is undeniable and can be as palpable as a lingering migraine.

Although that niggling tug can be anxiety filled, its immediacy can be dampened by focusing on the here and now. For everyday blessings have their own way of acting like aspirin or Xanax. However, the years between when this picture was taken and now, is a landscape that warrants investigation. The experiences, context, and decisions beg the question – Why and for what reasons? Like a child being told “you can’t go out to play with your friends right now?” - I want to know why and for what reasons.

So this journey for understanding and clarity continues. It is my quest to know how past decisions beyond my control have shaped me into who I am today. It is looking at this picture and asking "where will your journey take you young boy?" It is looking into the eyes of that young boy and seeing his scrunched face say “I certainly will tell you later!”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Remembering is sometimes the hardest thing to do

I often try to remember my childhood. I am not talking about being 6 or 8 but 3 or 4 years of age. The memories are few. Sometimes popping in and out like the face of a child playing peek-a-boo. It is amazing the things you remember when you try hard enough. I can recall playing with a tall yellow stuffed giraffe. Probably the only memory I have of living with my parents at a young age. It’s funny that the memory was not of them but a frigging stuffed animal.

I have been told that my entrance into this world was a rather easy one. I was born in this small clinic three blocks from Port of Spain General Hospital. I have passed my manger several times since then and its looks so nondescript. I could not imagine anything sanitary existing in there. That is where I was born – the building on the corner of lost memory lane and I forgot boulevard.

We lived on Gloster Lodge Road in Belmont. The house is still there. The houses on the block are small. The roads are extremely narrow. And everyone seems to be fighting to get in their driveway. People from Belmont will know what I mean. My father worked at the mental hospital and my mother for some company that probably went out of business a long time ago. So there we lived - my sister, mother, father, me, and the tall yellow stuffed giraffe.

I have no memory of my parents until I was much older. In fact, I can’t recall ever seeing a picture of me as a young boy with my parents. I guess it was the late 60’s and a lot of people in Trinidad did not own cameras. The thought of being in a picture with my children comes so easy to me. Damn those British for not leaving us a boat load of cameras when we won independence.

Anyway, I continue to flex my mental muscle and try to remember my childhood when my parents still lived in Trinidad. But I think that cupboard may be empty except for that tall yellow stuffed Giraffe!

Monday, April 19, 2010

What is a barrel child

Generally, a barrel child is a term most often used to label children who are a product of stepwise migration. They are children who are left behind in their country of birth while their parents work and live in another country. The term barrel highlights the fact that many of these children receive barrels of clothes, books and other wares from their parents residing overseas. The tan paper or blue plastic barrels, once emptied, can be seen in the back of houses where these children reside. It is important to note that some parents also send remittance in the form of money to the child’s guardian to use for upkeep.

Another term often used among academics to describe this migration process is stepwise migration. In other words, migration takes place in a piecemeal fashion where one or both parents may migrate to North America or the UK and send for the children at a later date. The separation of families in this manner commonly occurs in the Anglophone Caribbean. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana lead in the number of “barrel” children that exist.

The experience of being a “barrel” child is not well understood. When parents initially leave their child for life in another country, there are feelings of hurt, confusion, loss, and much more experienced by the child. This initial separation period could be damaging to the child and thus do permanent harm to a child’s psychosocial development. Some have suggested that the age of the child at separation, quality of the parent/child relationship, and the number of sibling being left behind are moderating factors. Yet there is little research to validate these hypotheses.

Sometimes, children are reunited with their parents and other times not. In instances where the parents send for the children, the children are put on a plane and travel to the country where their parents reside. Sometimes, parents return to the country and collect their children and take them back with them.

There are also situations where the parents fail to return to reunite with the children. These children for the lack of a better term are abandoned. They reside with relatives until they get of age to be emancipated.

Parents sometimes draw out the reunification process by taking one child at a time to join them abroad. This stepwise migration can occur for various reasons including lack of financial resources to reunite the entire family. Older children may have to finish school or may not want to join their parents abroad. Yet, some parents may not want to have the burden of taking all the children at once.

The reunification period at first is often exciting especially if the child is in a new and fun environment. I often call this time the “honeymoon” period. The novelty of the child’s surroundings often is a delight. Parents also tend to more lenient when faced with poor behavior. Parents tend to want to be in the good graces of the children rather than start any sort of punitive disciplinary practices that could fracture an already fragile relationship.

Although the parents and children are going through a reunification period, the children are also going through a period of separation as well. Children have been pulled away from their surrogate parents, relatives, and friends. As time goes by, children may begin to miss the people that cared for him/her while the parents were living abroad. This sense of loss is heightened by an uncertainty of when he/she may see their loved ones again.

There are many barrel children living in North America and Europe. Most have survived periods of separation from their parents, reunification with their parents, and separation from love ones. Yet, they survive!

This blog is my story of being a barrel child. Now that I am an adult I could understand how the barrel child experience shaped and continues to shape who I am today.

So I am writing this blog to document my experiences and call upon all “barrel children” to add their voices to this written tapestry. I will start the blog from my earliest memories. Many of the descriptions are culled from many hours of talking to relatives. My hope is that parents and children will read these pages and get some understanding of the barrel child experience that shapes the psyche of many Caribbean families.