Texas support group aims to preserve Guyanese traditions despite tough sell to youth

Children preparing for a game of tug-of-war at a fun day held by the association

The North Texas Guyanese Association (NTXGA) is arguably one of the most close-knit groups in the United States and relishes keeping Guyana’s traditions alive but it seems to have hit a hurdle in its efforts to pass them on to the younger generations.

This is why the group is rolling out a number of activities targeting younger Guyanese, since the association’s members strongly believe that it is important to know of one’s past to get a greater understanding of life.

“I like going to the picnics and that kinda stuff, yes, but I am not interested in the food and traditions because I am American. I was born here and this is all I know,” 15-year-old Tristan Harmon told Sunday Stabroek during an interview in Texas last month.

A part of the gathering at the NTXGA’s last fun day and cook out

“Sometimes I don’t even understand when they speak and it is not that I don’t appreciate Guyana or anything but you see, I grew up here and am exposed to things American,” Harmon, who is a third generation Guyanese, added.

On any given Sunday afternoon, you would find a gathering of Guyanese from the association at the home of any one of the hundreds of Guyanese immigrants in the North Texas area, “taking a lime.”

It was at the home of NTXGA member Lennox Harmon that this newspaper caught up with some of the executives of the group and was given a detailed background on work of the association.

“The association began in 2010 but has grown in the short time from just a few [of] us to hundreds. We are close-knit and think of ourselves as a kind of support system for our brothers and sisters who have migrated to the US and are living in this area. While we may gyaff among ourselves about what is going on at home and that kind of thing, we never entertain politics or religion as part of the association’s discussions. We were founded to provide that support [and] at the same time preserve our traditions and that is what we do,” Founding President Ivor Crandon explained.

“It is because of the closeness and the family-like friendships that we have developed that has seen the organisation grow to what it is. It started then with just a few of us Guyanese but if you come to one of our annual picnics, you will see people from all over the Caribbean and all countries. It is a free affair and everyone comes and eat and drink and we play Guyanese games, sing folk songs…the whole nine yards of things Guyana,” he added.

‘Preserving customs’

Crandon boasts that the mission and mandate of the group “is to further the cultural heritage and social wellbeing of the Guyanese and Caribbean communities in North Texas and surrounding areas.”

Reflecting on growing up in Guyana, Crandon, who is the son of a former policeman, remembers having to move to various parts of the country because of his father’s job. But it is the memories that he made during those moves and his overall love of local traditions and food that have given him the drive to share them with the current generation of children of Guyanese migrants.

“Oh, I had an amazing life growing up in Guyana…we climbed fruit trees, played cricket, went swimming in the trenches, went fishing…we did everything,” he said beaming, sometimes throwing back his head as he seemed to relive the memories in his mind.

When he migrated over 30 years ago, it was to New York, where most Guyanese even today live. But he moved to Dallas in 2010 because he had fallen in love with the city through work visits. He had met co-founder of the group, Roldon James, when they both went to be naturalised Americans and the two formed a brotherhood bond.

Living in Texas, they formed the association with the hope of “getting things Guyana and preserving customs without leaving the United States.”

Other immigrants joined the group and they have been very involved in activities of the association but the older members lamented that while they would try to get the youth involved in their activities, such as showing them how local games are played, singing  national and folk songs, and cooking creole dishes, the interest they seek isn’t there.

“For us getting the younger ones to keep the traditions alive has been a challenge

Founding member and Past President of NTXGA, Ivor Crandon, performing Disc Jockey duties at the association’s celebration of Guyana’s 51st Independence anniversary. Next to him is NTXGA Executive Lennox Harmon.

and that is what our focus is right now. To get them involved so that there will always be a Guyana support system for persons living here. But you know children, they are not that interested. They would come to the events but that is as far as it goes. Some are not even interested in visiting Guyana,” James said.

“Ronald’s children are very active and they participate but I guess that is because they went to school in Guyana and experienced that Guyanese life,” Crandon added.

The Ronald he speaks of is popular playwright Ronald Hollingsworth, who is now president of the association.

Hollingsworth too lamented the seeming Herculean task in getting more youth participation. “We seek a preservation of the Guyanese heritage and hope to pass on traditions and customs without them having to go back to Guyana. That is what we would want,” he stressed.

As president of the association, having been elected in April of this year, Hollingsworth says he knows he has his work cut out in trying to attract more youth to join the association. “Getting to the youths is going to be the hard part because after all they are Americans and won’t appreciate what we older folk do,” he said. “But it is important that our culture be preserved and passed on…,” he added.

‘Social and emotional support’

Sharing his own experience, Hollingsworth told of the feelings of nostalgia that would consume him when he and his wife migrated to Texas. He said that he missed walking in the evenings and would take his wife out to explore their community.

It was on one of these walks that he was spotted by another Guyanese who “just happened to guess” that they were from Guyana and stopped to interact. That was in 1999 and the persons he met were the Belles.

And while there were Guyanese limes and parties hosted by Guyanese that immigrants in the area would attend, it was some ten years later that the Belles, Crandons and Allan Wilson decided to formally start the association.

From then to now, it has grown and continues to be the place of “social and emotional support” for Guyanese in the North Texas area.

Association executive Lennox Harmon underscored the importance of immigrants having a support system, not just in the United States but anywhere they would have moved to.

“You must have a support system and we understand the importance of preservation of our West Indian culture. I was born in New Amsterdam and was raised in Charlestown but migrated here in 1972. I moved to Texas in 1995 but I still hold on to my heritage. I played football and was very athletic so you can see for me Guyana helped foster that and I cannot forget…,” he said.

Harmon is married to a Jamaican who feels just as strongly as her husband about the preservation of traditions and customs. The fusing of the two cultures has seen Mrs. Harmon as active in the NTXGA as her husband, and were it not for her rich Jamaican accent, she might be mistaken for Guyanese, as she knows and can cook all the dishes and knows all the members by name.

While Harmon is the younger brother of Minister of State Joseph Harmon, he was quick to point out the apolitical posture of the group. “We don’t get into politics or race as you would have heard. Here, we are all Guyanese and that is how we live. You would never hear any of our association members involved in any arguments or anything of that sort. That is not us. Just as you see us now, that is how we always are and we are proud of that,” he said.

“We visit Guyana and have that love for the country of our birth. We share that Guyanese hospitality with others and that is what our group wants; for people to experience that piece of Guyana while here…,” he added.

The 10th anniversary annual picnic of the non-profit group will be held on June 22nd at the Joe Pool Lake in Grand Prairie Texas and that it is open to the public. “You don’t have to be Guyanese. We hold the picnic and people from anywhere are invited. We want to share that piece of Guyana with you,” he said.

Attendees will be treated to games such as lime and spoon, sack race, dominos and bingo, among others, while they can expect “full Guyanese cuisine.”

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