BY NATHAN DUKE
This month marks the 52nd anniversary of Guyana becoming an independent nation.
The British had assumed control of Guyana from the Dutch in the late 1700s, but it wasn’t until May 26, 1966 that Guyana’s Golden Arrowhead replaced the Union Jack. The Caribbean nation went on to become a republic on Feb. 23, 1970 and remained a member of the Commonwealth.
Guyana is located on the northern coast of South America between Venezuela and Suriname. It is the only English-speaking country in South America, and is frequently referred to as the “Land of Six Peoples,” due to its ethnic make-up—which includes African, Amerindians, Chinese, English, Indian Indigenous and Portuguese people.
The United States has the largest population of Guyanese people outside of the Caribbean nation— and it is primarily composed of people of Afro- and Indo-Guyanese origins. A vast majority of Guyanese immigrants live in the American northeast. Some of the largest populations can be found in Richmond Hill, Flatbush, various upstate New York communities and parts of New Jersey.
According to New York City data, Guyanese immigrants make up the third largest immigrant population in the five boroughs and the second largest in Queens. Sections of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park are known as “Little Guyana” due to a stretch of stores and eateries operated by Guyanese immigrants.
In New York City, Guyanese are professors, principals of schools, commanding officers in the city’s Police Department and scientists. Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and state Sen. Roxanne Persaud (D-Brooklyn) all have Guyanese roots.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress. She was also the first African-American to run for a major party’s nomination for president of the United States during her 1972 bid. Her father was born in British Guyana.
Other highly recognized people of Guyanese descent include singers Rihanna (her mother was Guyanese) and Leona Lewis (her father hailed from Guyana), 1980s pop star Eddy Grant (of “Electric Avenue” fame), actor Sean Patrick Thomas, historian Ivan Van Sertima, Olympic swimmer Maritz Correia, baseball player Mark Teixeira and NBA player Darren Collison.
Sir James Douglas, who was influential in Canada as a fur trader and later a colonial governor, and William John Locke, a novelist and playwright, were also born in Guyana.
Most recently, Guyanese actress Letitia Wright had a breakout role as Shuri, the sister of the titular character in the comic book phenomenon Black Panther.
To celebrate the 52nd anniversary of Guyana’s independence, the Queens Tribune has included profiles of four prominent persons of Guyanese descent. Cloyette Harris-Stoute is the founder and president of Guyanese Girls Rock, a foundation that provides an empowerment program for high school girls of Guyanese descent, while Raishamraj Persaud is an officer with the city’s Department of Corrections.
Sharon I. Lall-Ramnaraine is a professor, campus coordinator of undergraduate research and campus director of the CUNY Research Scholars Program at Bayside’s Queensborough Community College and Linda McPherson is the president of Local 1707 AFSCME, a childcare workers’ union.
Guyana’s independence celebration kicked off in the city on Sunday with an interfaith service in the Academic Core Building at York College in Jamaica. In Brooklyn, a celebration of the anniversary will run from June 3 to 10 and include a flag-raising ceremony, independence parade, unity concert, festival and cup soccer tournament.
Reach editor-in-chief Nathan Duke via email at queenstribune@ gmail.com or by phone at (718) 357- 7400, ext. 122.