Opinion: From Antigua to Amsterdam

POSTED: 10/23/11 11:19 AM

Yesterday, Today’s news editor Donellis Browne became a naturalized Dutch citizen, together with hundreds of others. Below he describes the feelings that accompany the transition of a boy who was born in Antigua and raised in St. Maarten into a man with a Dutch passport.

Friday October, 21, 2011. Just writing it brings up a feeling that can’t quite channel into words. One thing I do feel is the historic nature of that date. The fact that it also served as a day when people in five islands, joined together by a common history and a government reflected both on what unites them and what makes them just slightly different.
It is no easy contemplation that I embarked on this particular Friday, because in a moment and with just a simple phrase, I found myself changed. All of a sudden a new reality rose up to meet me and I had to figure out where I now fit, but the history of the day would remind me that different people separated by miles of ocean, could still be united.
Beyond the poetry of my first two paragraphs, there lies a simple story. I, a 28-year-old, born in Jeffrey’s Village am now a Dutch citizen. I am not unlike many others who lifted their fingers before the governor in a naturalization ceremony, and swore allegiance to the crown, the Kingdom and by extension this country and its constitution.
For me the day takes more meaning because it falls on the anniversary of a now forgotten holiday – Antillean Day. It would have been remiss of me not to explicitly point that out because, while I have now become a European citizen, my feet remain firmly in the Caribbean. My heart and soul still draw their inspiration, from the rhythm of a Caribbean ocean, and my primary examples remain that which I see here and in the islands around me.
But in all honesty, I also hear the call of the metropolis, which I have visited twice before. I have ridden the trams, busses and trains, looked out from Scheveningen harbor and sat in the courtyard at the Binnenhof. I’ve stood on the Dam Square, and sailed the canals of Amsterdam. I’ve sat in a coffee shop and I’ve nearly spit on others as I spoke a language that requires more from my throat than I ever thought possible.
None of this can erase however, the little boy who was born at Holberton and ran through his grandfather’s property without shoes. This transition does not take away from days playing cricket with a coconut tree branch and a tennis ball, it does not take the love of bush tea from me, nor does it remove my utter bliss at seeing and slipping into clear blue Caribbean waters.
Yes from Antigua to Amsterdam, with St. Maarten as the home, the place where I grew up. At nine I came, and at 28 I remain, with yet more to discover, and glad that now there are new ways to contribute, to integrate further and to embrace. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll now have to lay aside my love and deep understanding of the Westminster system and protocol to learn the traditions and system passed down from The Hague.
There is no fear or sadness in this change, especially since it brings me closer to friends and the adopted family I have in this land. And that is after all what Antillean Day was about – a family of five islands with different languages and diverse ideas, a fiery democracy that called us all to fight for our little homes (islands) and those who live there. Today I feel the same as I go through my mind and see the faces of those who stood with the at times rebellious boy, who thought someday he’d go back home. Destiny had other plans and on that historic Friday I felt it all the more that I was not going home, because I am already home. I am settled in this Kingdom and have learnt destiny was always calling me from Antigua to Amsterdam, that St. Maarten is where I make my bed and eat my bread, that I am bound to multiple histories and that my life’s journey has led me to this moment.
There was no crystal ball that showed the path from Antigua to Amsterdam. There is no crystal ball to say where exactly things go from here, but I am sure that there are new rights and responsibilities. I am sure that there are similarities and differences, but most of all I am sure that my bonds in Antigua, my bonds in Philipsburg and my bonds in Amsterdam enrich me and everyone I will ever meet.
From Antigua to Amsterdam, a boy is changed, and a nation is strengthened.
Donellis Browne.

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