One On One With Manchan Sonachansingh
By Honore Gbedze
1. As Trinidad and Tobago will celebrate their 50th Anniversary of Independence, how would you describe the history of this beautiful Island Country?
This year 2012 Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island republic, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain, on August 31, and 36 years as a Republic on September 24.
A brief history of Trinidad and Tobago may be ascribed to three different periods. Firstly, there is that period from being claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1492, through the various tussles between Spain, Britain, and France for possession, and again finally by Britain in 1797. That era saw the decline of the indigenous Amerindians, and the introduction of Africans to the islands, in an economy that was then plantation driven.
The next period describes the colonial era of British rule from 1797 to 1962 when Independence was granted. During that time East Indians and Chinese indentured workers were brought in to replace emancipated Africans on the plantations. The economy, then still plantation driven started shifting toward industrialization with the discovery of oil in the 1900’s.
The third period from 1962 to present has seen the evolution of a nation that has had the influences of Spain, France and Britain on the predominant cultures of Africa and India. The diversity and multicultural nature is so pronounced that Bishop Desmond Tutu described the nation as “rainbow country” when he visited. This period has also seen the transformation of the economy from being predominantly sugar based plantation, to becoming an industrialized oil and gas producer.
2. What is the social economic development of Trinidad and Tobago?
During the period from Independence to now, there has been progressive transferring of economic power from colonial and neo colonial to nationals. The 1970s saw the rise in nationalization of various businesses and industries. The last decades has seen the reintroduction of foreign investment. The business managers that were predominantly expatriates of the foreign investors have now been replaced with the skilled and trained nationals. The rise in economic status of nationals has had the accompanying rise in social stature. Over the years various nationals have held the reins of power. More recently the country elected its first female Prime Minister, the Honorable Kamla Persad-Bissessar .
3. The most important part for any country to move forward is the collaboration between its citizens and unity is required, how does the community of Trinidad and Tobago engage in this in order to move forward and remain in balance for the next 50 years?
While there are and will always be areas that can be improved, few countries have made the progress in ethnic, cultural, and religious acceptance like Trinidad and Tobago. Public holidays are recognized for Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and Spiritual Baptists, as well as days commemorating the arrival of the two predominant populations – Emancipation Day for Africans and Indian Arrival Day for East Indians. The culture has been continuously evolving with the dominant African and East Indian combining Spanish, French, and British influences. Acceptance of each other’s uniqueness is fundamental to nation building.
4. Since you are now living in Canada how is the Trinidadian Diaspora impacting the 50th Anniversary?
The Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Independence as a significant achievement in the life of the nation. Although now physically separated by thousands of kilometres the psychological and spiritual bond is still very strong. The occasion is being marked with a gala banquet dinner on September 15, 2012, with special guests including the High Commissioner representing the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Mayor of Burnaby, the Provincial Minister of Multiculturalism, among other dignitaries.
5. Do you have a message for the community Diaspora in Canada?
As immigrants to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago we have embraced life here. While many of us have become fully immersed in the Canadian way, we are a product of our genetics, history and environment. We are who we are because of the various influences on us. Some of us have brought our culture and experiences to bear on our new environment adding to the richness of the continuing evolution of this society. We would encourage our community to retain the “sunshine” they brought here with them, acknowledge our own evolving culture, and contribute positively to life here while retaining that bond with our land of birth.
Manchan Sonachansingh, MSc. CGA
Manchan Sonachansingh was born in Trinidad and Tobago, where he built his career as a financial professional. He migrated to Canada in 1996 and continued in his field in Business and Finance. His two passions – multiculturalism and immigrant issues- have seen him volunteering in various capacities for these causes. He is currently in his second “tour of duty” as the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Society of British Columbia, and is in his first term as president of the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia.