Caribbean people try to keep their culture alive in Calgary

Blue water, sand, palm trees, warm weather, music and vibrant colours.

These are just some of the things that come to mind when I think of my home, Trinidad and Tobago.

But, I’m in Calgary now and looking around there’s nothing resembling any of those things.

As a child, I moved to Calgary from Trinidad in 1996. We moved for better opportunities leaving behind everything I knew. Everything was foreign to me – the culture, the cold and the funny accent I thought Canadians had.

I tried everything in my power to stay true to who I was, a Trinidadian.

But it was inevitable; I lost my accent, started to dress and act like my peers, celebrated their holidays and learned their culture.

At this point no one would have known I wasn’t a born and bred Canadian except for me, but something was still missing.

I visited Trinidad frequently, and a sense of home would rush back. The Trinidadian spirit is immeasurable. Though a small island, their pride for their country is overwhelming. Being such a multi-ethnic society there is such a fusion with their food, music and traditions.

Nothing says Trinidad better than a roti, steel drums and seeing colours come alive for their best-known tradition, carnival.

But the minute I land back in Calgary, those feeling are gone. “We as Caribbean people don’t get to put a sign in the ground and showcase our culture,”

– Drew Atlas, founder of Calgary Soca

Keeping my culture alive while embracing a new one is to this day something I really struggle with.

My story is the same as many immigrants in multicultural Canada. But for people from the Caribbean, there’s not much here for our culture, at least according to Drew Atlas, founder of Calgary Soca – an organization dedicated to promoting the region’s music.

“We as Caribbean people don’t get to put a sign in the ground and showcase our culture,” Atlas said. “We get an opportunity to become educated, and we can go into any environment in the world and succeed, but sometimes it comes at the cost of us being isolated from our culture.”

Although the Caribbean community is still growing, we only make up a small portion of the population in Canada compared to other communities. The most recent numbers found in the 2006 census, estimated there were just over 10,000 people from the Caribbean and Bermuda living in Alberta.

Like myself, Atlas was born in Trinidad and moved here 20 years ago.

Ashely Alcantara keeping both of her cultures alive
Photo Courtesy of Marcela Normande
“There are people like me who were born in Trinidad and moved here years ago,” Atlas continued. “Then there are people who I consider second generation Trinidadians whose parents have a strong Caribbean atmosphere at home but are clearly Canadian. Then I have people who just moved here, so for me, it was how can I get all that to come across in my events and shows and bring everyone together?”

Atlas added, “If we can bring the best aspects of our culture forward, you will find people more proud about it. For me, the more we can showcase those aspects the more people are going to hold on to their culture and find out more about it.”

The music and the vibe of Calgary Soca’s events bring together the Caribbean community, as well as people who want to learn more about the culture. They are places where we can all enjoy the colors and sounds of the Caribbean.

Another place that helps bring a taste of home to Calgary is the Trinidad and Tobago Organettes Social and Cultural Association. You’re hit with the smell of exotic, spicy Caribbean food, and the sweet sound of the T&T Organettes Steel Orchestra the minute you walk in the door. The club has developed into a Caribbean “home away from home.”

Ozzie George from the T&T Organettes said, “Our club is a good bridge for Caribbean people that come up to Canada. It’s always good to come and meet your culture – you get to talk to people who have the same background and experienced the same things as you. It’s nice.”

Our community is small, but is growing little by little. We have a voice and want other Calgarians to find out what we’re all about.

aalcantara@cjournal.ca