Ethnic identities and nationalism in the streets: The political manipulation of art and religion in Trinidad, West Indies
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The identity of a community is shaped by socio-economic factors as well as history. The Caribbean island of Trinidad is characterized by a weak economy, high unemployment, and a variety of ethnic, class, and religious groups. Diverse kinship structures, economic opportunities, cultural behaviors, and residential patterns have facilitated the persistence of spatial and social differentiation. Despite this history, my research suggests that trends toward social homogenization are becoming stronger and that a growing ethnically mixed population may facilitate a cultural, and possibly even a political bridging between local collectivities. Studies on ritual practices suggest that public celebrations are used as demarcators, of boundaries and as weapons in the conflict over political and economic supremacy. The recognition of the power struggles invested in religious and artistic expressions can therefore enhance our understanding of the social fabric of a country. This research focuses on the impact that selected Trinidadian cultural forms have on shaping local ethnic identities and citizenry. In particular, it hypothesizes that public celebrations can function as occasions where differences and tensions are negotiated in a relatively peaceful manner. My work limits its scope to the numerically predominant Afro-Trinidadian and East Indo-Trinidadian communities. Through participant observations and interviews, it explores the government's over-arching nation-building effort as well as practices of resistance to it by Trinidadians of African and East Indian descent (Africans and Indians hereafter). Furthermore, it discusses the relevance of globalizing economic forces and their profound effect in providing this society with alternative identities. In a world where countries are often threatened from within by antagonistic groups intent on nationalistic, religious, or ethnic cleansing, it is my hope that this work will produce insights into how ideologies acknowledging pluralism of expressions and beliefs can contribute to a more tolerant society.
Minority & ethnic groups
Trinidad And Tobago
Relationship To Ethnic Identity
Giancristofaro-Calvi, Francesca (2014). Ethnic identities and nationalism in the streets: The political manipulation of art and religion in Trinidad, West Indies. Available electronically from