Guyanese in New York have not participated in the civic and political process as other groups have

Dear Editor,

With reference to the report in the NY Times captioned, ‘Take the A train to Richmond Hill’ we wish to comment on a few issues.

There are more Guyanese living in the New York area, but they have not participated in the civic and political process as other groups have. They have one of the lowest participation rates in the Census and Community Surveys counts, and also in exercising their fundamental right and duty to vote, perhaps a residual fear they brought to America. Consequently, they have not assimilated as they should, and many still consider political and civic participation as either meaningless or morally wrong.

It is little wonder that there is no Guyanese who has ever been elected to the City Council or State legislature. They may forever have to lament the fact that one of their own, Attorney Albert Baldeo came within an unprecedented 500 votes, or 0.5% to win a State Senate seat in Queens and almost defeated a 20-year incumbent and then Chairman of the Queens Republican Party, Serf Maltese, in 2006. A State senate district consists of over 325,000 constituents, and that would have given them the political and economic recognition they need and deserve so badly in the USA, which caters only to those groups who position themselves on the political map.

Unfortunately, while many ethnicities like Italians, Jews, Hispanic, Irish and African American communities shared and appreciated Baldeo’s visionary leadership and inspirational motivation to rise to such an unprecedented challenge by voting for a Guyanese immigrant, his countrymen should have embraced such an effort by coming out in proportionately greater numbers to take their community over the top. They may never get that chance again.

Some never left the rum shops to come out and vote, believing that such a goal was not achievable, while others remained selfish and narrow-minded in sticking to an agenda of accumulating material wealth in the USA. Like what Mr Totaram alluded to, some unfortunately just leaned back in their chairs and refused to, or discouraged others from getting involved in a movement that did not offer them any personal benefits, instead of motivating other Guyanese of the significance of voting in a country where your only chance of empowerment comes through political recognition and acceptance of the kind that Albert Baldeo has led their fight for. There in nothing like proxy representation. You have to elect one of your own to get a meaningful voice.

Totaram’s unfortunate stigmatization and categorization of Guyanese in Richmond Hill, is a self-defeating condemnation of a community that has given many people a lucrative living, but it is also symptomatic of a greater problem which resides within the myopic blindness of many of our Richmond Hill community, professional and business leaders. While these so-called leaders give great financial and other support for other political candidates from other communities who offer them a financial or personal stake, they will reflexively oppose their own. This trait is ingrained historically in the plantation mentality, and will instinctively cause people to act as spoilers, and cause them to shamelessly parlay their dearth of vision, motivation or political will to empower those who have given them a comfortable living, but are less fortunate than themselves. In Guyanese parlance, it is uniquely classified as the ‘crab-barrel’ mentality.

Albert Baldeo won the District Leader’s seat to become the only elected Guyanese in the area’s history in 2010, but was targeted by the political establishment soon after with charges which stemmed not only from a witch hunt and selective prosecution, but were never brought before in City Council elections, nor against establishment candidates. It is clear that social acceptance and political power will not come easy for any Guyanese. Whether anyone will ever fight the noble fights Baldeo fought remains to be seen, or Richmond Hill will continue to be invisible on the map of New York, or the United States for that matter. He must take counsel from the lives of great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and our own Dr Cheddi Jagan who were targeted and terrorized for their visionary leadership, who were betrayed even by their own, but who ultimately triumphed over evil in their fights for social and economic justice for the greater good.

Although embattled, Baldeo recently pushed the MTA to deliver on its promise to build what will be the only elevator serving Richmond Hill and its many elderly, physically challenged and pregnant patrons ‒ the very same train the NY Times writer Kirk Semple encourages readers to take to Richmond Hill. The difference is that, like with everything else, Baldeo will tell you that he would have had to fight 10 times harder to get benefits to the Richmond Hill neighbourhood compared to other communities.

Yours faithfully,
Roger Singh
Civil Rights and Justice Center
(Queens Chapter)

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