Interviews

Interview with Dr. Kerri-Ann Smith and Trinia McDonald, Organizers, Anancy Festival New York

Written by Denise Lee

This week we have a conversation with  Dr. Kerri-Ann Smith and Trinia McDonald, Organizers, Anancy Festival New York. The Anancy festival in New York is on June 15th, 2013. Here is our conversation with  Dr. Kerri-Ann Smith and Trinia McDonald.

Where are you from?
Dr. Smith: I was born and raised in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, where I attended Manning’s School for two years before coming to live in New York.

Ms. McDonald: I am originally from Kingston, Jamaica but migrated to Brooklyn, New York at the age of 8; I’ve resided in Brooklyn since that time.

Tell us about Anancy Festival 2013, New York? How did it get started? How did you get involved?
Anancy Festival, NY came out of the vision of founder of www.jamaicans.com, Xavier Murphy who mentioned that there needed to be a festival in the Big Apple, considering the population of West Indians here. As you know, New York is the main point of entry for most West Indians and the second and third largest immigrant groups in New York hail from the Caribbean region.

Ms. McDonald: The New York installation of the Anancy Festival was initiated by Xavier Murphy who contacted Dr. Smith about planning the inaugural event. Dr. Smith later invited me to join the planning committee. Since then, it’s been a wonderful team effort in bringing the vision of the Festival to fruition.

What is the main goal of the festival?
The goal of the inaugural Anancy festival in New York is to promote literacy and to highlight Caribbean Heritage Month. We are hoping to encourage families to read together, so we are collaborating with Queens Public Library, Langston Hughes branch to help facilitate that effort.We want to not only inform residents in the New York area about the festival, but we also want to introduce or re-introduce residents to Anancy, the folklore hero. It is important to note that these stories span many cultures, and that is one of the main objectives of this festival. By hosting the event at a local library, we also hope to emphasize the joys of reading – books can easily and quickly take the reader into a new world!

What can we expect this year?
Expect the New York version of the festival to be small yet impactful. We are hosting it in a non-traditional setting, where the majority of the residents are from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. We do hope, however, that we will still draw a good number of first, 1.5, and second-generation English-speaking Caribbean immigrants to the event. This is the first event here so we are keeping it small for now. We hope to expand our impact as the years progress.
Tell us about this year’s event line-up?
We will be screening “One People,” the documentary that highlights the accomplishments of exemplary Jamaicans and which also focuses on the impact that Jamaican/Caribbean culture has on the world. We are also hoping to feature some work from a Jamaican artist from Boston and a Caribbean dance group. We have also solicited the help of a local Caribbean television personality to read stories to our attendees.

What does Anancy mean to you?
Dr. Smith: Anancy means memories of story-telling late at night on my uncle’s verandah in Montego-bay. Anancy means clever thoughts and wit. Anancy is a ginnal, so he reminds me of the wisdom and wit of the older folks in my family, who always seemed to find some way to get their way in any situation. Anancy is also my way of connecting to West African culture. When I visited Ghana and saw that they tell the same stories of this tricky spider, I was pleasantly amused and thrilled to have this connection to our native land.

What does Caribbean American Heritage month mean to you?
Dr. Smith: I could write a dissertation on this and since my dissertation does focus on Caribbean families and their experiences in the United States, I am highly impacted by the fact that the US government—by virtue of the work done by Dr. Nelson and her colleagues—has finally given a voice to the group of immigrants who have done such wonderful things in this country. This is why the documentary “One People” is so significant to show during this period. When one turns the television on, he/she can easily recognize the impact of Caribbean culture in America by noticing the commercials that imitate Caribbean accents. Caribbean people have left their mark on this culture, especially here in New York where we are manifold.  We are a resilient, tenacious, and intrepid people who will set goals and accomplish them in the land of opportunity. Our impact is endless! We do, however, need to focus on taking full advantage of Caribbean Heritage Month by educating others about the nuances of Caribbean culture. We are not just people with exotic accents and nice beaches; we are scholars, musicians, mothers, fathers, priests, etc., with voices that ought to be heard.

Ms. McDonald: It is important that we continue to recognize the contributions of Caribbean-Americans in America. We have made significant impacts in various areas and across major disciplines and it is necessary that we expose others to our culture and also highlight the influence that the Caribbean community has in the global marketplace.

Do you think there is enough being done to pass in Caribbean and African history to the next generation?
Dr. Smith: Oral history is somewhat waning but I can’t say whether enough is done. What exactly will ever be enough anyway? We can only raise our villages one voice at a time. Anancy Festival is one medium but families are responsible for passing their own history along.

Ms. McDonald: There is a lot more that should be done to pass on the history of the various cultures of the Caribbean and Africa to the next generation. While a proposed solution is filled with much complexity, it starts in the home. Family members should make an effort to discuss not only their family history, but the history of the country from which they came.

The festival this year is in eight cities and growing. Where do you see the festival 5 years from now (main organizer question)?
We hope that in five years the festival will be a grand occasion that people will look forward to attending with their families. We imagine that it will be one big reading festival, where families can also enjoy activities but will put aside time to read and learn together.

What other projects and events are you working on?
Dr. Smith: I’ll be doing something at the New York Jerk Festival along with a friend and I’m also looking forward to expanding my research on Caribbean families in New York.

When you are not busy with work and projects what do you do to relax?
Dr. Smith: I’ll tell you when I’m not busy and can figure that out!
Ms. McDonald: Swimming is very relaxing for me.

My favorite Caribbean author is..
Dr. Smith: Edwidge Danticat! She’s a genius and it helps that she went to my high school in Brooklyn.

My comfort food is..
Dr. Smith: Banana Chips (but I won’t say which one because I saw the recent debate on Jamaicans.com). Let’s just say I don’t like the tough one.
Ms. McDonald: Ackee & Saltfish

If I wanted to impress someone visiting my city I would take them to..
Dr. Smith:The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Ms. McDonald: The Top of the Rock. Though it’s seemingly impersonal, it has a sweeping 360 view; on a clear day, guests are able to see as far north as the Bronx or as far south as Brooklyn.

Thanks for the time. Where can we learn more about the Anancy festival New York?

Anancy Festival  New York
Date: June 15, 2013
Time: 10am-3pm
Location: Langston Hughes Branch, Queens Public Library.
Address: 10001 Northern Blvd, Flushing, NY
Admission: Free
Go to AnancyFestival.com, http://facebook.com/anancyfestival and Jamaicans.com for information .

About the author

Denise Lee