The same question is heard again and again from a room full of Caribbean students and young professionals in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. Whether the islands are waiting for their return.
The meeting, organized by the WeConnect foundation and Pakhuis de Zwijger, is intended to talk to Caribbean students and young professionals about their lives in the Netherlands and their feelings for the Caribbean islands.
The audience will discuss with a panel of young Caribbean artists, a behavioral scientist, a law student and moderator Gilberto Morishaw, human rights activist.
‘You have become makamba!’
What bothers the young people present most is that they are no longer seen as the same person once they have left for the Netherlands to study.
“They think I’ve changed,” Morishaw says. “They say: b’a kambia or that I have become makamba. On my island I am the other, but in the Netherlands I don’t belong either.”
According to panel member and D66 MP Jorien Wuite, the islands are not waiting for critical voices. “Just stay away,” is often the gist. According to Morishaw, he was even actively thwarted.
“The islands are conservative,” says Wuite. She has a St. Martin background and was Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport on the island in 2018. “We score very low when it comes to innovation.”
“That’s because we export our youth. We should focus more on brain gain instead of brain drain.”
A comment comes from the audience. “When you send your youth away for training, you also have to let them come back to train you. The islands must prepare for your arrival and you must prepare for your return.”
There is clearly frustration among the various young people. “Do the islands actually want us back?”, Morishaw asks the Caribbean audience.
This has been the issue among young and old for decades. “We have to go back,” fashion and music artist Darwin Winklare notes from the audience. “To inspire and decolonize.”
Artist Tatiana Nicolas just returned from Bonaire. She has conducted research into how to use art education to help traumatized children and adults. According to her, you shouldn’t feel left out; it’s your island too.
“If you’re not invited to that party, go anyway! Claim your place,” says Nicolas. She felt that people thought she was ‘weird’ as a newcomer from the Netherlands and that they also felt threatened. “Will she take my job?”
Behavioral scientist Tirzah Richards will soon return to Bonaire. “I’m done with the Netherlands. I recently spoke to someone who went back and who said: I knew I would earn less. That is a choice I consciously made. We must do that too. We must take responsibility.”
Musician and filmmaker Shakur Pelozo makes blaxploitation films. “We need to appreciate differences rather than fear them,” he says.
“We have good intentions, but I don’t know if that is appreciated,” says 28-year-old Kim afterwards. “My wish is that the islands will welcome us. When you leave you make a sacrifice, and again when you return. The people who stay on the island also sacrifice something. The sacrifice to experience something completely different, to get a different experience or perspective. But if we appreciate each other, we can move forward together.”