Martin van Buren High School in Queens Village, named for a U.S. President, whose native language was not English and who was a co-founder of the Democratic Party, was an apt setting last Sunday for the Indian Diaspora Council to honor past and current leaders of the Indian diaspora community – mostly from Guyana, which was once part of the British West Indies.
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian indentureship in the Caribbean, Africa and Asian by the British government. Two-thirds of Indians who were shipped to places like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Singapore and St. Lucia to work in plantations decided to remain as they were promised money, shelter and land, though the future was uncertain and bleak. Still, many did so to escape the widespread poverty and famine in India in the 19th century.
Keynote speaker, Dr. Mahin Gosine of Suffolk County Community College, pointed out a number of the attendees at the event were members and co-sponsors of the nonprofit organization, as well as political figures from New York, Florida and Guyana.
“I was honored to take part in this weekend’s Indian Diaspora Council International event,” said City Councilmember Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica). “Together the community celebrated with an inspirational afternoon designed to help us remember with pride the history of the Indian diaspora and the exceptional contributions from persons of Indian descent.”
Other elected officials in attendance included Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Queens), who noted that his district has a “high number” of Guyanese-Americans.
“The 100th anniversary of the abolition of Indian Indentureship is not only important for the Indian diaspora here in New York and across the world, but for all individuals seeking tolerance and peace” said Weprin. “As the Assemblyman who represents one of the most diverse districts in New York, I am glad to recognize the [anniversary] both in Queens and in Albany, where I sponsored a Legislative Resolution honoring the 100th Anniversary of the Abolition of Indian Indentureship.”
The remarks made throughout the event were powerful enough to hear from the back of the room. Impassioned and patriotic, some spoke about the future and taking the next step in thriving by integrating into larger society in the U.S.
The predecessors of today’s millions of persons of Indian origin (PIO) were also honored for contributing to their new homelands economically, politically and socially. The PIOs represent the largest ethnic group in Guyana.
Dr. Cheddi Jagan, the first premier of Guyana, played a key role in the country’s fight for independence from Great Britain. Later, he became president at 1992 and died in 1997. The “father of the nation” would’ve turned 100 years old this month.
Three descendants of Dr. Jagan who currently reside and work in Queens were awarded with proclamations that were presented by representatives of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and State Sen. Leroy Comrie, whose district includes Richmond Hill.
Also recognized as a high achiever for the community was the late president of Zara Realty, George Subraj, who started out with a humble beginning as an immigrant in the United States from Guyana. Zara Realty has offices in Queens and Long Island.