Owner and Founder of Queens on Purpose. Organic products for natural hair and all skin types. Martina is also an educator, writer, creative, and proud mother. Her mission is to empower and uplift women to live with purpose and to love themselves as God’s masterpiece.
Mashramani in Guyana, our version of carnival--popularly referred to as “Mash”, is observed on Guyana’s Republic Day (February 23rd) to commemorate the “Birth of the Republic”. It is a national cultural event that celebrates Guyana’s “unity in diversity”. Steel pan contests, calypso and soca concerts, children’s competitions, street parades, intellectual competitions, art exhibitions, and an annual lecture series are among the host of activities during this annual period. Mashramani culminates with the highly anticipated “Parade of the Bands” where revellers take to the streets in colorful, elaborate costumes that showcase Guyanaese heritage. The name “Mashramani” is rooted in the culture of Guyana’s indigenous Amerindians, though it was recently discovered the true meaning of the word is actually unknown. For over 50 years Guyanese pupils have been taught that the word means a celebration after cooperative work, and the period itself is of high importance in celebrating the nationhood and forming of the Republic.
In NYC, a hub of West Indian culture in the United States, with so many countries being represented in concentrated neighborhoods in close proximity, the annual Labor Day parade, dating back to the early 60’s, is a carnival or sorts showcasing costumes and music that represent the cultural heritage of: Trinidad and Tabogo, Haiti, Barbados, Guyana, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Lucia, Grenada, Suriname and other West Indian countries. The carnival began in the 30’s in Harlem with the presentation of costumes and a pre-lenten celebration in ballrooms like the Audubon and Savoy. In 1947, the carnival took to the streets of Harlem to form the Labor Day Parade and later moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1979. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the parade was cancelled and for the first time in 54 years, the celebration was adapted to an online version featuring musical performances, fitness and health, and West Indian art and cuisine.
While we don’t know when in-person carnival can resume in any country with the current pandemic still looming, I have resolved to celebrate myself and my culture anyway! I was not the only one with this idea; there were some revellers who put on costumes and grabbed their flags and chipped and whined down Easrtern Parkway this past Labor Day. There were also some outdoor and rooftop fêtes in NYC that entire weekend. However, when I say I'm hosting my own celebration, I mean I am honoring my accomplishments, and paying tribute to my culture by learning and engaging in the traditions that make my people unique. This type of celebration is crucial now in this social and political atmosphere in America where we are being made to feel that what makes us unique is a threat to the welfare of others, and where our people have long been marginalized for the color of our skin.
Regardless of where you’re from, or where your roots originate, I want to encourage you to celebrate yourself regularly by acknowledging who you are and all that you’ve accomplished, and by honoring and paying tribute to your culture and traditions. Carnivals around the world are large, brightly colored and loud gatherings of music, food, costumes, and diverse crowds, and our celebrations of self should match that energy. While I don’t suspect anyone will wear a headdress to work or on your next Zoom call, you could add more color and accessories to your wardrobe this fall…
Here are some other simple, yet enjoyable ways to host “celebrations” for yourself and your loved ones daily or weekly:
● Exercise to a playlist with music from your culture. Here’s my current favorite: Soca Fundamentals
● Cook traditional dishes from your culture. Try out some new recipes! Here’s a website I use for Guyanese dishes.
● Host a carnival themed outdoor gathering. Please be safe! Consider asking guests to wear a mask made out of their country’s flag.
● Take an online dance class in the style of dance from your cultural roots. Cumbe has an amazing line up of classes each week!
● Join an online community. My favorite for music and vibes is Good Music Good Times.
● Speak in your native tongue at home and in public! Yes, patios is a language! It has rules and conventions just like any other non-English language. Learn to love it, and speak it freely with your kinfolk.
Those are just a few ways that I not only celebrate my culture as a Guyanese immigrant in America, but those are also ways that I stay connected to my roots and honor the uniqueness I was born into. It’s easy to assimilate to the cultural norms in America, and sometimes many of us are pressured into total assimilation because we face social criticism and roadblocks when it comes to career advancement. But as part of a global community, and in protest of racial superiority, it is our responsibility to not let our individual cultures and traditions become a thing of the past. God created us all with unique traits, skills, likenesses, and talents. We must love ourselves and others by loving how God created each of our groups.
I want to also encourage you to go even deeper with your celebration of self--beyond the food and the music that makes you special. We all know that knowledge is power, and when I speak of celebration of self, I am speaking about a form of empowerment that is absolutely necessary in living a purpose-driven life. In order to be truly empowered and equipped to live and operate this way, there must be deep knowledge of two things: our history, and our accomplishments as a people and as individuals.
When it comes to preserving our culture and celebrating who we are as West Indians and as part of the African diaspora, the best, most important thing we can do is learn about our past. Do you even know why we hold so tightly to some of the traditions that have been passed down for centuries? Do you ever question some of those traditions? Maybe you feel like a certain practice is antiquated, while some in your family will simply say, “that’s the way it’s been since my mother was a child.” I personally think that some traditions need to be revised, namely those that originated as a result of trauma, and that essentially perpetuate the suppressed, purposeless way in which some are living, or rather just surviving. Take the conversation of mental health, for example. Many West Indians will say you shouldn’t share your business outside of the home, and while I agree with that notion to an extent, if your home is a pressure pot of dysfunction, the most loving thing you and your family could do is seek professional help in order to break the cycle of generational pain and trauma. With attacks coming against us from all angles, now more than ever, our mental health can no longer be a topic that’s taboo or a sign of weakness.
I say all that to say, we must take a serious look at our past and understand why our people operate the way that they do. Central and South America, and the islands of the caribbean are diverse clusters of people whose roots trace to Africa, Europe and Asia, and whose stories include slavery, revolution, and triumph. These stories are especially important for generations who were born in North America or other lands outside of their home country to learn. However, once equipped with the knowledge of the past and the foundation of our culture and traditions, we as a people, must take a serious look at how carrying on certain traditions are holding us back from progress and purpose.
My last call to action for you is a completely personal practice for self-celebration and self-love that will have implications for your peace and well-being as well as in your relationships. Celebrate your accomplishments... I recently began this as a daily mental practice. It began when I’d look at my to-do list at the end of the day and often feel overwhelmed and like I was failing, because day after day there were so many tasks that I just didn’t get to. I would even become anxious over the ever-growing list. But what I always neglected were the things I did manage to accomplish that day. So as a part of a practice to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, and to replace worry with gratitude, I began reflecting every evening on what I had gotten done that day instead or what I still needed to keep on the list for tomorrow.
Mashramani in Guyana is known as the celebration of a job well done, so with the cancelling of this Labor Day parade and as I began learning more about my culture, I adopted that phrase as a “To-Do” to begin a regular celebration of self. In addition to reflecting on each day, I've begun to reflect on different periods of my life. Take 2020, for example--we should all celebrate just being here and if you are still employed and providing for yourself and loved ones, you need to list that as an accomplishment under the circumstances. But 2020 aside, reflect on where you were 3 years ago, 5 years ago, etc. and make a list of your accomplishments.
Give thanks, and celebrate a job well done!
“I have great respect for the past. If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going. I have respect for the past, but I'm a person of the moment. I'm here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I'm at, then I go forward to the next place.” --Maya Angelou