On the eve of the 52nd anniversary of our independence, one of the more prominent private schools in the capital city marked the occasion by celebrating culture day.
The parents and guardians of children attending the school received a letter from the administration of the school informing them that for the celebration the children would be allowed to don cultural wear depicting an ethnic group of their choice.
One nine-year-old, whose father is Amerindian, chose to wear the traditional garb of his paternal heritage. The boy received the enthusiastic support of his mother who duly dressed him in a tibisiri skirt (with underpants), a beaded chain around his neck and a decorated headband. She then applied the ‘appropriate paint’ to complete the outfit.
The happy child, proudly displaying his Indigenous wear, arrived at the school full of excitement. His joyful mood was very quickly deflated when he was halted by the guard at the gate who told him that he would not be allowed to enter the premises. Why? Because he was not appropriately dressed since he was not wearing a shirt.
When his mother explained that his attire was not inappropriate since he was in authentic cultural wear, the guard sought guidance from two teachers who were in the nearby vicinity. The mother alleges that the two teachers who refused to answer, resorted to laughter instead.
The parent then proudly accompanied her child to the classroom where they were again informed by his teacher that the child was inappropriately dressed and that he would need to put on a shirt. The teacher’s logic being that the child was in school and he could not be dressed like that.
The child, now visibly upset told his mother that he hated how he looked and he felt stupid. The very disappointed mother put a shirt on her son, and left the school. When she returned later that day to pick him up, she discovered that he had removed “every single piece of Amerindian wear he had on.” Upon enquiry, he informed her that he had been teased throughout the day, and in the end had opted to change to regular clothing.
The mother proceeded to take the matter to the head teacher where she was greeted with the same response – her son was inappropriately dressed. “This is just wrong. You might as well tell them to wear culture wear except for those from the Amerindians. It didn’t say what he should not wear and the letter didn’t say anything of what he shouldn’t wear,” the disheartened mother lamented.
This episode has sparked a gathering firestorm on social media and yesterday morning there was a silent protest in front of the school by a group of concerned citizens including members of the Amerindian People’s Association, the National Toshaos Council and the boy’s mother. One senses that this might just be the beginning of the repercussions from this event.
This must have been a traumatic experience for the nine-year-old child. No child, Guyanese or from wherever, attending any school in this country should be treated in this manner. First, the rejection suffered at the gate of the school, followed by the alleged laughter of the teachers. If the latter is true, then it is a sad reflection of the sensitivity of the teachers at the school in question, whom one would have thought would have been the first to come to the child’s defence. The teasing by the other children at school only served to accentuate an already bad situation and drove the child to want to abandon his cultural heritage.
The acts of laughter and teasing can only be considered as very sad. Or worse, pathetic. What example are we setting here? What are we telling our children? After 52 years of Independence have we still not developed any pride as a Nation? Aren’t we not proud of our fore-parents’ sacrifices? Aren’t we proud of our Amerindian heritage? After all, they were the first of the six peoples that make up this nation to settle here. For that matter, we should not at any time be ostracising anyone, more so on a day when we are paying tribute to our cultural heritage in celebration of our Independence.
This event should not be treated as a minor incident which is quickly forgotten. In fact, it is a wakeup call to all of us. The proud mother should be commended for the stand she has taken here. To her nine- year-old we say be proud of your heritage and don’t let one sad day at school cloud your memory.
Every time we look at the cacique crown that adorns the shield on our coat-of-arms we should all be experiencing a sense of pride as we aspire to achieve our Nation’s motto, One People, One Nation, One Destiny.