Independence anniversary celebrations in Saint Lucia have become synonymous with artistic displays showcasing our national colors. Beneath the rich tapestry of yellow, black, white and cerulean blue, lies the indomitable strength of a people whose resolve and resilience are etched in a history of battles between two major world powers that laid claim to the Helen of the West.
If we are ever in doubt about our self-worth, we may want to reflect on those vicious battles as a near indication. But our understanding of how far we have come and who we are, requires that we look beyond the smoking cannon of our distant past and develop an appreciation for our more recent history as a young fledgling nation of 36 years. As a young adult nation, there are achievements that have punctuated our history and have afforded us global renown in a field of nations much more mature and resource endowed than the 238 square mile rock that we call our own; that we call home.
In the year that we celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Sir Arthur Lewis—had he been blessed with longevity—we ought to be beaming with pride. Sir Arthur Lewis and Honorable Derek Walcott, our two Nobel laureates, have done for Saint Lucia and indeed the region what no multi-million dollar marketing budget could ever achieve. Their names and their work have earned a place in the subject offerings of every tertiary institution worth its salt. And for their contributions we are immeasurably grateful.
In the more recent past our artists, poets and rising musical stars have shone alongside distinguished co-equals holding their own in a world of fierce competition. Our little rock has undoubtedly produced precious gems. While we honor those who have made untold sacrifice to reach great heights, we must never lose sight of those who work tirelessly in the background, providing the foundation on which our luminaries can stand tall and distinguished.
This generation of leaders—my generation of leaders—in our respective fields of endeavor must commit to improving on what we inherited; to perfect the conditions which facilitated our own personal growth and development—curing the social and economic ills that barred many of our peers and family members from excelling in their chosen areas of interest.
Even while we continue along our own path, we must not waver in our quest to create better circumstances for all Saint Lucians, so that they too can realize their God-given potential, the foundation for which is right here!
We must continue to heal our nation of the prejudices that threaten to select and de-select who among us shall succeed and who will waste away at the fringes of our society. Our success, or even life chances, will not be predetermined by what surnames we carry or the families into which we are born; nor will it be our skin tone or what part of the country we come from; nor the intonation of our respective geographic accents or lingos; nor by religion or belief system, and certainly not by political affiliation.
You and I must ensure that every child born in this country has an equal chance of making it through this life; but better still, of excelling and reaching his and her dreams. Our history is replete with examples of persons whose circumstances initially did suggest upward mobility, or their destination. And that is what we celebrate this Independence.
Academics have been knighted, as have folk singers; farmers and bankers alike have attracted national acclaim and commendation. Athletes and chefs, painters and musicians, have stood tall as national heroes . . . making us all proud. The differently abled and those with special needs, too, have proven that economic, social and physical barriers can be overcome. That is what we celebrate as Saint Lucians.
Regrettably, there are things that we continue to frown upon; things that cause some disease, anxiety and in some cases grave concern. In that regard, I lament the divisiveness that pervades this society on account of political affiliation. I relish the memories of heated but amicable exchanges among family members, friends, and neighbors from opposing political sides with competing views about our politics and the state of our country. These moments were really a function of the 5-year electoral cycle, and when the elections had passed—like waves that seem to have parted and crashed on the sandy shores—we were drawn back into the ocean of seamless waves, just a people, united in vision and purpose.
There is a threatening development on our horizon, that the angry waves never seem to crash on the shores; there is this endless howling roar of politics that never seems to cease.
On this our Independence Day, let us spare a moment to focus on our journey as a people: who we are, where we came from, where we are, and where we are going. Our Independence celebrations must mean much more than the artistic pieces that adorn our bodies, offices, vehicles and roadsides.
Against the backdrop of devastating economic times, there is an opportunity to embrace the spirit of Sir Arthur Lewis and seek to chart an economic path that absorbs large pools of the unemployed as they oil the economic machinery that can turn this economy around. Let us emulate the literary genius of the Honorable Derek Walcott, and demonstrate an independence of thought and being that are not defined by ideological frameworks or beliefs that restrict, if not imprison. Our freedom of expression cannot be limited to endless complaints about our economic state; but that we can tap into our creativity and find new avenues in song, dance and other artistic expressions that, yes, provide intrinsic satisfaction but can also spin the wheels of our economy.
Let us move beyond the rhetoric of “the health of a nation is the wealth of a nation” while the country struggles to provide affordable quality primary health-care to every citizen. The children of our country are all too familiar with the words that say “the youth are our future,” while they struggle to access the prohibitively costly education that would afford them a useful life.
We must stir the imagination of the young, imbuing them with the cultural confidence and pride that will allow them to think, to be and to become fully developed, abled citizens empowered to continue to build on our foundation. Our health, too, cannot be restricted to curative interventions after diseases would have ripped our bodies, minds and souls. Preventative medicine, wellness, holistic care and prudent management of our health institutions must be a priority.
Our young people must be equipped with the art of seeing beyond their present circumstances and stretch to discover undefined areas of knowledge. They must be encouraged to see beyond the perimeter of this 238-square mile rock, however beautiful. But most importantly, we must never allow ourselves to be held hostage within politically denoted and defined frames of our existence. We must always stand ready to challenge the existing boundaries and move beyond the limited, sometimes crippling circumstances of our NOW.
It is only when we are able to do this that all of Saint Lucia might legitimately shout at the top of our voices “Hip hip hooray, we are truly an independent nation.” As we continue along that stony path to economic independence, may we truly find the space for our intellectual imagination and redefine our today, in the best interest of the tomorrow of our aspirations!
Dr. Gale Rigobert is the Leader of the Opposition and parliamentary representative for Micoud North.