Home Letters US-based Guyanese celebrate America’s independence
Guyanese Americans celebrated, last Tuesday, the 241st anniversary since the Declaration of America’s Independence with a variety of joyful festivities. It was a family fun day, with many choosing it for outing in the park or a lime on the beach, or some other kind of entertainment; or for just plain rest and relaxation.
It was a day-off from work, as it was a public holiday with virtually all businesses, except for essential services, closed. It was a most enjoyable day for the Guyanese American population, as indeed it was for other ethnic groups in the USA.
July 4 was a day-off to have a good time. Some were seen engaged in drinking on the streets or in front of their homes. Others visited family or hosted reunions. And there was a lot of patriotism exhibited by the Guyanese communities – they played or listened to songs about America, and flew flags. Some flew or waved both the US and Guyana flags. And some sported lapel pins of flags of both nations.
In several communities, the American flags flew in front of Guyanese homes on the verandahs or on the lawns. It is interesting to see the US flag fluttered next to the Jhandis. Guyanese are changing entire neighbourhoods, transforming former “slum areas” in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens into premium real estate, thought unimaginable just two decades ago.
Like their fellow Americans of other national backgrounds, many Guyanese held barbecues in their backyards or in the park. Some did picnics. Others went sailing and/or fishing. Some went to the beaches. Some were seen playing cricket, baseball and volleyball in the park. And in the evening or the night before, some set off fireworks or crackers, and others lit items or engaged in other activities associated with the day. Many were glued to the TV for the famous Macy’s fireworks. Sadly, two Guyanese families in the Bronx lost their homes to fire caused by fireworks last weekend.
Some Guyanese were sworn in as citizens in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Some 15,000 immigrants were sworn in as citizens on July 4. Guyanese, like other ethnic minorities, were allowed to become residents and later citizens only during the 1970s, after the 1965 Immigration Act that officially permitted non-Whites to settle in the US.
The Luce-Celler Immigration Act of 1946, signed into law on 3rd July, 1946 by President Harry Truman, granted naturalisation rights to Filipinos and Indian Americans; Indo-Guyanese fall under the Indian American category. These Indians and Filipinos were stranded in the US after contributing in the war effort on the US side and were denied citizenship. Luce-Celler reversed the Naturalisation Act of 1870 which had denied Asians (including Indians) the right to gain US citizenship. Upon becoming US citizens, the new Americans could own homes and farmlands, and petition for family reunification.
However, while Luce Celler Act allowed Asians to become citizens, de facto it barred further immigration. Indians were not allowed to come to the US except as students, until 1965, when the law was changed. And Guyanese and other Caribbean people started coming to the US right after that Immigration Act signed into law by President Johnson.
Guyanese started becoming naturalized citizens in the late 1970s. This was followed by a massive wave of Guyanese from the late 1970s, through family reunification sponsorship, with some years reaching 20,000 of Guyanese migrants. There is an estimated 600,000 Guyanese immigrants or their American-born children living in America. Guyanese are listed as the seventh largest immigrant group in New York, where over 400,000 are settled.
The Indian Diaspora Council International (IDC), led by Berbician Ashook Ramsaran, issued a release congratulating the people of United States of America (USA) on the milestone of attaining 241 years of freedom and democracy. The IDC is comprised of members from, among other countries, Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname. The release glorifies and salutes America for “continuing progress in championing the cause of freedom, justice and liberty throughout the world”.
Ramsaran stated: “We are grateful for the enormous sacrifices made for the hard fought independence of USA and the continuing diligence and determination to maintain and advance freedom and liberty, which universally endear the USA as a beacon of hope, freedom and refuge for the persecuted and downtrodden”.
Ramsaran called on other nations to emulate the freedom and democracy that exist in America. His release on behalf of the IDC noted that “USA’s struggle for independence and promoting freedom exemplify the indomitable human spirit to choose and make decisions for the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, and has inspired nations, racially diverse and ethnic groups and individuals to advance their own struggles for freedom. The USA strives to be introspective and adapt to changing times and recognition of past injustices to better serve the needs of its citizens with established institutions and processes for social justice”.