|PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar|
Today as a Nation we recognize and honour the strength and unconquerable spirit bequeathed to us by the ancestors of our Afro-Trinidadian brothers and sisters, who survived institutionalised inhumanity, humiliation and violence, to emerge with hope, courage and the ability to persevere in the midst of unthinkable suffering, to contribute, as a united people, to the building of a Nation.
Today we, once again, commemorate that momentous chapter in our history, which precipitated the most profound social transformation in our country - and indeed the other English-speaking territories - since the conquest and colonization of the Region changed the demographic landscape.
On this day almost two centuries ago we rose to the heights of our humanity, declaring that no longer would human beings be defined as property.
As a turning point for the development of the Nation, the impact of Emancipation cannot be overemphasized. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.
That historic act on August 1, 1838, destroyed the moral, legal and institutional basis of a system which allowed human beings to be classified as chattel and to be denied their most basic human rights.
More significantly, by uprooting the most insidious aspects of the old order, Emancipation set new terms for other groups coming into the society. Oppression did not end with Emancipation, but there were qualitative differences in the laws which governed newcomers to post-emancipation society. Post-emancipation law dictated that no-one could legally be defined as property.
Emancipation bore witness to the triumph of the human spirit and the determination to purge from our society the negative legacy of oppression, domination and racism!
Today in Trinidad and Tobago we can take pride in our multicultural society where each group may experience and share each another’s diverse cultural traditions. We are blessed with a vibrant democratic system. We enjoy freedom of expression and we can revel in the many achievements of all our people in the fields of sport, culture and academia.
On this Emancipation Day we remember Toussaint, Nanny, Bussa, Garvey, Rienzi, Cipriani, Butler, Kwame Ture and Makandaal Daaga – men and women who fought not for themselves, but to advance the rights and promote the achievements of all peoples of African descent, in the Region.
All who truly understand the concept of liberty understand that free people not only serve themselves but also their communities and their country. When we internalize the concept of freedom we understand that we must work diligently together, to do right, to protect common interests and ensure peace and prosperity for all.
Some among us may argue that Emancipation holds no meaning for them. I challenge those citizens to look with new eyes at Emancipation Day. The commemoration of Emancipation is a celebration of struggle and triumph over oppression. It is an opportunity to delve deeper into history. It is a re-affirmation of identity. It is the awakening of consciousness and the courage to look into the past without fear and trepidation. It presents a mechanism for the release from pain and a return to wholeness. It is an opportunity for all of us to pause and reflect.
Here is a real opportunity for us to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” and to design for ourselves a new paradigm, new standards, and a visionary future of prosperity and goodwill for all our peoples.
There is no reason to create artificial borders around the celebration of our diverse cultural heritage. Our diversity must remain our strength – a special modern gift.
There are not many countries in today’s turbulent world which can boast of this level of cultural tolerance and acceptance. To our credit, we have created in Trinidad and Tobago an enviable model of cultural and religious harmony, a modern hybrid of futuristic prosperity.
Today as we commemorate Emancipation, as we awaken the spirit of liberty, let us with one voice, one heart and one mind determine to create in Trinidad and Tobago a Nation where everyone finds acceptance and security, where no-one faces the stigma of alienation and where every creed and race truly finds an equal place, in an environment of mutual respect and goodwill.
On behalf of my government I extend to each and every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago best wishes for a “Happy Emancipation Day”. May God continue to bless each of you and your families and may God bless our great Nation.