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The Well Known "Hush Hush Culture"

“Hush nah chile, we nah speak ah dem tings. Is bettah lef behin dan folluh we whey we does go.”

When we talk about the diaspora, we often speak of leaving behind and recreating language, food, culture and traditions but we tend to forget how experiences of trauma and pain are internalized and passed down. The Indo-Caribbean diaspora is one that knows this too well. Our women have and continue to carry the weight of the horrors of abuse and mistreatment. But this trauma does not end with them. It is one that is intergenerational, passed down and lived on, however, it is one that stays hidden.

Many Indo-Caribbean households are subjected to the “hush hush culture;” a long line of family secrets – hidden past marriages, infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, violence. Second-generation immigrant children across the diaspora are often unaware of these hidden histories or how they may impact their understanding of identity and their interaction with their own culture. But it is important to understand that addressing trauma is never easy.

For so many women in our community, the societal norm is to stay silent, to bury the experiences of pain and sorrow, while continuing to fulfill their duties and uphold the nuclear family. Trinidadian born Canadian poet and novelist Dionne Brand speaks about the “door of no return” or what we call the motherland. Brand sees “returning to the door as a means to heal” but also notes that “forgetting is a crucial part of living with peace.” When those of the older generation chooses not to speak of their pasts, its often their way of forgetting and moving forward. However, when these stories are never passed down, when our understanding of our identities are compromised, for those that experience these traumas second-hand, seeking the truth is essential to healing.

Now, this is not an easy process, but it is one that as a community we need to stand by. We cannot let history repeat itself when the answers and lessons lie within the hidden stories. Last week’s blog highlighted a moving novel The Secrets We Kept- Three Women of Trinidad by Krystal Sital. This book displays how storytelling can be an avenue to tread the waters of the “hush hush culture,” while also providing a platform to heal from intergenerational trauma. The novel follows the relationship between three women across three generations, coming together collectively to begin to heal and understand the root of their pain.

Books like this are a catalyst for inter-generational dialogue and breaking the silence, as they inspire conversations between mammy and nani and ajee and tanty and beti. Through storytelling we can foster a space with our circle of women were rather than calling them out on the hidden truths, we call them into a critical conversation that instigates healing. Without having to initiate the conversations around personal experiences of trauma, this book provides the readers with a space for reflection, tears, laughter and confrontation. Sharing the stories in this novel with the women in your life can not only create a place for trauma to be addressed but it also provides a place for resistance, solidarity and protection to be built.

In breaking the silence of the “hush hush culture,” we enter into a learning and unlearning experience, that can only thrive when a community can band together to dismantle the societal norms that keep their traumas hidden. Although this process may open the door for new wounds, especially for those experiencing the trauma second-hand, by having a collective support of women, we learn to heal through one another and realize that we do not need to shoulder this burden alone. The Indo-Caribbean community is strong and resilient. It is one that has endured an abundance of oppression and trauma, but it is one that can mobilize. It one that can break the silence. Breaking through the “hush hush culture” starts with us. It starts with being vulnerable, with validating our experiences of trauma and most importantly it starts with showing up for one another- for ourselves. I encourage you to reach out to the women in your life. They may not be ready to speak or to share but let them know that you are ready to listen, to believe and to heal.

A quick passage from The Secrets We Kept- Three Women of Trinidad” by Krystal Sital:

"We start at the beginning. We go back to the haunting, to the cycle, to the deafening roar of silence from women echoing off the coasts of the islands. I learn that my mother and my grandmother do want to tell us. All we must do is ask. Then listen. They reach deep into the gullet of Trinidad's history to extract stories women carry, stories men like my grandfather have striven to squelch…They will spend a lifetime trying to escape the islands and these memories, to unclasp the shackles around each wrist…These two women pour themselves into me, and for four years it is difficult to pull apart our separate lives. What I learn of our islands, our people and their buried collective history torment me before it shifts to something else entirely. My family's history attacks me in waves as notorious as those that clobber the Caribbean shores. My grandmother, my mother, and I: we enter this world together, collaborators." Krystal Sital, pg. 19

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