The second of a three-part series called, “How Africa Connects Us” focused on “The Caribbean Diaspora: The Effects of the African Slave Trade” on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
The event was sponsored by the Caribbean Student Association (CSA), Latin American Student Organization (LASO), African Students Association (ASA) and the Haitian Society.
Their goal was to analyze the African footprints that have been indented in the Americas and how these footprints have sparked new societies, cultures and revolutions.
“There were over ten million slaves sold through hundreds of years, forced to start a new life, they were forced to start fresh, they were forced to represent themselves in a new world,” Amenkha Sembenu, president of CSA, said in her opening address to students and staff members of the St. John’s community.
“Through these times Africans lost not only their knowledge, their culture [and] their religion but also their family and also themselves,” she said.
Sembenu’s heartfelt words kicked off the lecture on exploring the migration of slaves from Africa to the Caribbean region, and how this sacred group of people maintained their identity and culture.
SJU’s very own Raj Chetty, Ph.D., and Philip Misevich, Ph.D., read passages from personal projects as part of the event.
Misevich, an SJU history professor who specializes in the study of the slave trade and the development of the Atlantic world, introduced the audience to a database-based project called “Origins.”
The website is a scholar-public collaborative endeavor to trace the geographic origins of Africans transported in the transatlantic slave trade.
“What this website tries to do is collect primary source material that documents every transatlantic slave ship that operated in the entire era of the slave trade,” Misevich, who operates as Co-Principal Investigator of the “Origins” database project, said.
“Some vessels are really well documented, some are not, but as a whole the website now includes in it information on more than 35,000 separate slave ships,” he added.
Misevich stressed that this was the largest forced migration in human history and called the slave trade was “one big graveyard.”
However, he talked about how people persisted to form new cultures and their own vibrant societies.
“Enslaved people brought all sorts of background dimensions of their cultures, that sometimes survived in total in the diaspora and in other cases were adapted in really creative ways,” Misevich said.
Chetty teaches world literatures in English and postcolonial literature and theory, with a particular focus on Caribbean literature across English, Spanish and French-language regions.
Chetty selected members from the audience to read excerpts from Stuart Hall’s groundbreaking essay, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.”
Sembenu, who said she has connections to the Caribbean in Antigua and Trinidad, read this aloud: “Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think, perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think instead of identity as a production.”
“Which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside representation,” she finished.
This specific essay examines representation in the emerging market of Caribbean cinema.
“His point is there is no identity, except through the way we represent ourselves,” Chetty said.
“How I’m choosing to represent myself, even if when I say ‘I am black, I am Indian, I am brown.’ Even that assertion of ‘I am’ already enters into this representation.”
After the readings, there was a question and answer session where students and faculty asked questions regarding identity and culture.