The history taught in schools is often inaccurate and irrelevant. It deals with the who, what, where and when, but less often the causes or the outcomes.
According to Superintendent of Prisons, Charmaine Johnson, Debbie Jacob’s new book, Making Waves: How the West Indies Shaped the US, is not one of those books. She described the book as a quest for lives lived, a search for self-knowledge, and a hunger for self truth as it detailed the physical, emotional, educational, commercial, intellectual, and spiritual contributions the Caribbean made to the US.
Speaking at the launch of the book at the Port of Spain Prison yesterday, Johnson said the book was written in a way that would open the reader to look at the world in a new way. “If we endure (some of the difficult parts of the book) we just might learn life lessons even if some lessons are beyond words. Lessons such as how to cope with deep tensions, how to make new beginnings after tragedy, how to negotiate hurdles set by trauma, how to engage culture and language barriers, and most importantly, eventually how to find joy and celebrate life.” Jacob said when she started teaching history she found that approximately ten per cent of the Caribbean history syllabus was devoted to how the US influenced the Caribbean. “I found the history books looked like these islands are passive places waiting for the next colonial power to traipse through and I wanted to tell stories about the power of these islands.”
She recounted the five years of research which included searching through rare documents, trial transcripts, tracking down letters, and getting FBI and CIA files.
“I discovered two major US cities founded by West Indians. My story had pirates, musicians, and nameless West Indians who built the Panama Canal in God-forsaken conditions. Where members of an early multinational exploratory exhibition that preceded those West Indian labourers got hopelessly lost and tricked by Amerindians, hungry enough to eat live toads and foolish enough to try a palm nut that burned the enamel off their teeth.”
She said her favourite discovery was through a friend who told her about Haitian Jean Baptiste Point du Sable who paddled in a canoe up the Mississippi River to settle in a wild onion field of Shikako, which is now Chicago.
She also enjoyed the story of Alexander Hamilton from Saint Kitts and Nevis who became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. She said he established the US banking and taxation system, the Coast Guard and more. “This book serves as a reminder that history is both a collective and a personal experience. History brings us together,... we live history and we make history.”
Finally she added that she would be pitching her latest prison venture, bringing The African Prison Project to TT so that inmates and prison officers could earn law degrees online from the University of London.