Now, before we dive deep into this subject, let me preface this that this is not a discussion to disparage people who choose to not represent their origins. To each his/her own. I do, however, want to keep you focused on the most important, which is: IT DOESNT MATTER WHERE YOU’RE FROM.
I remember my conversation with my sister like it was yesterday. There she was: hobbling into my house barefoot singing praises of her first carnival experience. She was glowing as she told me about how she initially felt out of place as an African American. She told me that a masquerader just told her to pick and Island that she wanted to be from, and she chose to be from Antigua for a day.
Even though I had never played mas at the time, the concept of owning another island to blend into the experience mentally just did not jam with me at all. When I finally played mas with my sister for the first time, I understood why she might have initially felt that way. Caribbean Mas is a celebration of freedom, life, and an affirmation of survival expressed in one of the most artistic means known to man. On top of that, flags from the Caribbean islands danced gently in the breeze off the trucks and hips of proud masqueraders. I understood why she felt out of place.
As the years passed, I still couldn’t get myself to wave a flag from which I was not, or say I was from anywhere else otherwise. I’m An African American anywhere I go and completely okay with that.
In 2017 I came up with the idea of bringing my own flag. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous as I wondered how it would be received.
Guess what? Nobody cared. In fact, over time, I began to run into other people happily wearing their American flags. I received hugs and greetings from West Indian masqueraders who wanted to tell me it was terrific that I proudly represented my background. I found myself taking photos with other masqueraders happily waving their American flags. Those experiences are precisely why American Wines Matter was born!
When you play mas, you will see flags from all over the world and not just the Caribbean. The beautiful thing about representing who you’re from is that you will come to realize that carnival in its very essence embodies the human spirit, immense joy, and the spiritual unity of many souls from various cultural backgrounds.
Carnival is about an affirmation of survival, a festival of the joy and sadness life brings. Carnival pays homage to our ancestors and the people that came before us laying the foundations (in blood, sweat, and tears) for the liberties that we enjoy now. As an African American, I think back on family members detailing stories of being bitten by dogs and sprayed with water hoses to end segregation. I think about my family members who are victims of the school to prison pipeline, stripped of their rights to vote over simple felonies that are now legal. I think about the victims of police brutality, and a young boy carrying skittles that didn’t get to go home to his mother because he was black while wearing a hoodie. I think about the racial tensions in America and reflect on the social injustices that infect this country. I am who I am 24/7 and I will not abandon that even for a few hours.