Rhonda Binda, executive director of the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District, specifically pointed to the importance of education to Guyanese people as a major reason for their successes both in Queens and abroad. Here is some of what Binda, a Guyanese-American herself, had to say about her culture, her ancestral homeland, and the impact of Guyanese-Americans here at home.
A Vibrant Culture
Guyana is known for its delicious food, vibrant music and cultural Mashramani celebrations, which are unique byproducts of a rich multi-ethnic historical culture. I am proud of its unique mix of Asian, African, European, Latin American and Native American histories.
I have been to Guyana from 63 Beach where my mother’s family is from, all the way to Wakenaam, at the opposite side, where my father is from. I remember the soca music, fresh fruits like guava and star apple, gilbaka and hassa fish and various wildlife like parrots indigenous to South America. When I return, I must visit Kaieteur Falls in Essequibo. It is the world’s widest single drop waterfall. I sketched many pictures of it as a kid but still have never been!
The culture places a high respect on not just education but educators who are at the highest rank of Guyanese society, something that I would like to see also in the U.S. The strong emphasis on education has served me well as I consider myself a lifetime learner always seeking to go beyond what I have mastered to grow even more.
The greatness of Guyanese Americans is abundant in its diverse talents and unique contributions to academia, art, business and government. In New York City, the Guyanese community has grown and its pride multiplied. We are the second largest immigrant group in Queens and the fifth largest in New York City although we have not forgotten our roots.
In Guyanese parlance we say “one-one dutty does build dam.” As such we have developed active charitable foundations, non-profits and humanitarian efforts like USA Guyana Humanitarian Inc., SHEA and Save Abee.
In sports, Guyanese are widely known, from the five time Women’s World Boxing Champion Gwendolyn “Stealth Bomber” O’Neil, to cricketers Shivnarine Chandrapaul and Chris Barnwell. In the artistic arena we have colored the world with the hues of Eddie Grant and Dave Martins.
We cannot deny the growing presence of Guyanese in the political area, with dynamic leaders like New York State Senator Roxanne Persaud, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, Dr. Taj Rajkumar, and the former Queens Borough President Madam Helen Marshall.
The recently formed Guyanese American Law Enforcement (GALEA) is also in the process of applying for formal recognition by the NYPD.
The community’s business ingenuity has lead to a robust economic presence in the places like Richmond Hill. A leisurely walk along Liberty Avenue evokes nostalgia and indulgence with a plethora of roti shops and bakeries with delicacies and specialties: mouth-watering pine tarts, cassava pone, Casreep chicken, golden apple, even buck crab and Tanya bush.
And the future is bright with more and more young Guyanese men and women becoming active in civic organizations and continuing to excel. Two young progressive organizations come to mind, the Indo-Caribbean Alliance and Unchained, who are preparing today’s youths for leadership through their themes of unity and social justice. One special young lady, Kelly Hyles, was just honored by Borough President Melinda Katz at her oversubscribed 50th Anniversary Celebration. Kelly was accepted to every single ivy league college and plans to attend Harvard University.
As Vice-Chair of the 50th Anniversary Celebration in New York and on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Celebration Planning Committee, together with the various celebrations and reflections occurring at this time, it make me happy to see that so many of our unsung heroes are finally being recognized at this juncture and celebrated as well. I look forward to the continued celebrations throughout New York with the community joining in fellowship to celebrate how far we have come together.