The going may be tough, but Big City Dreams, a recently released documentary, appears to confirm that Barbadian immigrants who go abroad in search of a better life, do actually achieve their dreams.
The lyrics of a Barbadian folk song, Panama Man, clearly show that Barbadians of yesterday who remained at home, especially relatives and friends, expected those who opted to go abroad in pursuit of “greener pastures” to do something with their lives.
The folk song spoke specifically to the thousands of Barbadians who left the island during the early part of the past century to work on the construction of the Panama Canal, one of the biggest development projects at this .
Two lines frowned on those who came back with nothing to show. “Oh the Panama man ‘ent got no money, still the Panama man want love”. “Look the Panama man come back from the sea as skinny as a church rat.”
But what about the expectation of those who live and walk the immigrant journey?
Big City Dreams highlights the life and the achievements of Barbadians currently living in New York. It premiered, following a reception, at the auditorium of St Francis College on Remsen Avenue in Brooklyn last Sunday evening.
The two-hour event was organized by the Consulate General’s New York office as part of this year’s 51st Independence Celebrations. The showing impressed Susan Johnson of St George Secondary School International.
“The presentation was very educational, informative and way past my expectations. I really would like to see all four parts of the documentary. I got to see (what) others think about life here. It was also really nice to hear how much persons living here still love Barbados.”
Esterline Kirton, another patron, agreed. “The evening was beautiful. I enjoyed the video and I learned a lot about Barbados. I’ve been away from home for more than 30 years, but even though I try to get back home often and enjoy Barbados, I still learned something. This evening was extraordinary.”
The documentary was produced by Teshia Hinds of the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In her introduction, she told the audience the production was a two year collaborative effort between the Barbados Consulate in New York and involved over 50 interviews with Barbadians in the diaspora.
The title, Big City Dreams, came naturally from the research. Hinds explained:
“A lot of people call New York City the big city. For many persons, it was a land of opportunity. In the documentary, there is a certain point where a black and white shot kind of turns into gold because that is how everybody saw it, I think.”
She went on: “When Barbadians were going away, it was the height of everything. People looked forward to it, it was revered – especially New York City. So it was about that great dream of moving to a big city. And, for a lot of people, that automatically meant, a better life; being able to provide for your family, and, generally speaking, doing better.”
Hinds went further and benchmarked expectations. “People back home assumed that because someone lived in New York City, that they were going to come home and bring back all kinds of stuff. It was that big city dream of going away to do better.”
“So, in the first part of the series, you will see Barbadians working as attendants on elevators and as domestics, doing whatever it takes to make ends meet. And it was not because they could do other jobs, but because those jobs were available. Even then, because of the culture of owning a piece of the rock, they focused, worked hard and bought Brownstone houses. In the end, their cultural influences shaped how they lived in New York.”
Hinds began the project with a paper written by Consul General, Dr Donna Hunte-Cox. She arrived in New York with a script, but that all changed as she visited homes, restaurants, and events in the Barbadian community.
Clearly, the immigrant’s dreams were achieved.