Thursday, April 24, 2014

Preconceived Notions

My son's school asked me to present at their Career Day this year.

I was immediately concerned because for one, my robust trini accent perplexes even adult Americans, how would their children cope, and secondly, my job isn't even remotely interesting, not even to me, and probably much less so for a classroom of 8 year olds.

But as the non-custodial parent, I already struggle with limited visibility at his school so I'm always keen on stepping up when an opportunity like this presents itself.

First graders seem to react best to visual stimulation thus my challenge was to formulate a presentation that would keep them engaged with as minimal verbal input as possible from me (pesky accent remember). I thus showed up armed to the teeth with the tools of my trade (land acquisition agent by the way), measuring tape, hard hat, caution vest, measuring wheel for ground distance, etc.

And you know what, I think my presentation went exceedingly well, the kids certainly seemed to like it. They all got a kick out of trying on my hard hat and vest, and running the measuring wheel around the classroom. I'd even go so far as to say daddy was a hit despite not being a policeman, fireman or pilot.

The way these things work, parents come in, talk for ten minutes then take questions. What happened in the latter portion is what threw me for a loop. It began innocently enough with questions ranging from "what hours do you work, or "do you sit behind a desk all day," to "where's Nick's mother" (awkward).

Okay this is getting weird. 
But then the weird questions started popping up. (and bear in mind most in the class were age 7)

What did you live in back home? A hut?
How did you move around? Are there cars back there? Y'all have roads?
How was it possible to come to America by plane when planes don't fly to Trinidad?
Are there white people there?

If this all seems familiar to you, it's because I've written about it before.
What foreign policy?

The difference is I was talking about college age adults back then, not young children. Where then are these concepts coming from, these preconceived notions that children as young as six and seven already have of life in the Caribbean?

Are we influencing these views and if so what can we ourselves do to help educate these young minds about us and our culture. Yes, we're classed as developing nations, 3rd world even but I do not think "developing" should be taken to mean "stone age."

Should we be responsible?
But then are we really responsible for how we ourselves are perceived by the American public? Think about it, as expat Trinbagonians, most of us already had a fair idea of what to expect about life in the US PRIOR to moving here. We'd already had an understanding of US culture, habits, standard of living, etc from a very early age. Though one might argue that this is because of the pervasive nature of american entertainment, it should also be considered that we educate ourselves.

Face the facts, our education system strives to give us a global perspective. High schools teach English literature and American history. We are versed on Americans by school age, why is the reverse not the same? There is the internet after all; Wikipedia, Youtube, Nikki frickin Minaj. There really shouldn't be a circumstance like this in the information age. But you know what, I didn't let it bother me. How could it? As far as I was concerned, I was present at the formation of an incorrect notion and I stopped it.

Fifteen years from now, these kids will enter college, meet someone from Trinidad or Barbados and hopefully be able to say "hey, I know about you guys, I know where you come from, come let's grab a doubles."

My work here is done.


  1. Beautifully written......

  2. You know what I like about this post, you did not wallow in the blame game. As you so rightly said, you did not let it bother, but used it as a teachable moment. Kudos to you. Nice man nice.

    1. Thanks Gail, I appreciate the feedback, I normally try to put a positive spin to any situation I find myself in.

  3. Nice article D.T. I have been out of trinidad for 15 years and I have discovered two things.
    1. The ignorance of Tropical life is only in the US as in European countries they actually have an idea of what its like.
    2. Its not just in Trinidad as any foreigner gets weird questions.

    I went to school in the US south myself and shockingly i got worse questions from college classmates than when i did career talks to kids in grade and elementary schools. I have been asked what shoes feel like the first time i wore them to comment on my pet monkey to what was more wonderful to experience between phones or television for the first time.

    some friends and i were talking one time and the best we could surmise is that people get fixated on depictions of other countries that seems less than.....
    so anyone from the middle east obviously was a desert dwelling goat herder...
    anyone from the continent of Africa lived remotely in village huts using livestock as currency...... and the perceptions just stay and fester?

    1. I agree actually, the questions from these youngsters didn't begin to approach the level of nonsense I got from fellow college students. The kids' curiosity was endearing but I could only surmise that they got their initial impressions from their parents or as you've said from the not so accurate depictions on tv.

      It's just that I would have thought that by now, with the unprecedented access we have to information nowadays, that that level of thinking would have been long gone. It should have been widely known by now that the middle east is not just desert and nomads, that the world's tallest building and tallest hotel for that matter are both in Dubai, Emirates the world's largest and most successful airline, all in the Middle East.

      You'd think by now most would realize Africa is not just savages and safaris but alas.

      The one thing I'm grateful for though is that I don't hear much of that type of talk anymore, more often than not I run into people who at least know enough to know better.