Dhanpaul Narine : Contributor
The message from the President Obama was clear: he sympathized with the Guyanese community on the loss of its 25 nationals at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The message was conveyed by Congressman Gregory Meekes to the 9/11 Memorial event that was held in Queens, New York, last weekend. If the President of the United States can see it fit to recognize the Guyanese victims and their families why couldn’t the Guyana Government?
The absence of recognition by officialdom in Guyana follows a pattern of neglect that may have its genesis long before the World Trade Center tragedy. It is well known that Guyanese politicians treat New York as a money tree and would spare no opportunity to make special trips to New York to collect sums of money for their political and other campaigns.
Once they are installed in office they are never around, not even to say ‘thank you.’ How many times didn’t politicians from Guyana make all sorts of promises to the diaspora? How many times did they not invite you to visit them in Georgetown for constructive engagement? How many times did you not take the trouble to visit their offices only to be told that the ‘minister has just stepped out’ and he or she can’t see you?
During each election cycle in Guyana the diaspora in Brooklyn and Queens, and elsewhere, would give thousands of dollars to various political parties. The standard response when collecting the cash would be the same, ‘ Comrades we value your contribution. Let us know your concerns and we will take them into consideration.’ At question time there is busy and copious note-taking but the diaspora would be hard put to point out three suggestions that it made which have been incorporated into national policy in Guyana.
It was during one of these note-taking sessions in New York in 2003 that the suggestion was made that the Guyanese President should visit Ground Zero. He would pay his respects and meet with the families of the victims as other world leaders were doing. Another suggestion was for the Guyana Government to build a Memorial in Georgetown to honor the memories of the fallen Guyanese. Both suggestions were described as good and doable.
These suggestions were made repeatedly in the ensuing years but nothing happened. At the 9/11 Memorial event in Queens in 2016 US Congressman Gregory Meekes as well as Public Advocate Ms. Leticia James and Assemblyman Mike Miller turned up in person to bring messages while Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo sent their representatives. Where was the Guyanese Ambassador to the United States or the Consul General to New York? You do not need an invitation to attend your own event!
In the fifteen years that have passed the memories of those that perished remain as fresh as ever. These Guyanese heroes were: Nizam Hafiz, Anette Dataram, brother and sister Ronald and Kamini Singh, Shiv Shankar, Patrick Adams, John Charles, Babita Guman, Sita Sewnarine, Joyce Stanton, Patricia Stanton, Kris Romeo Bishundat of the Pentagon, Vavanah Thompson, Hardai Parbu, Ameena Rasool, Ricknauth Jaggernauth, Shivonne Mentis, Astrid Sohan, Sarah Khan, Rudy Bacchus, Amarnauth Latchman, Pamela Boyce, Bhowanie Devi Khemraj, Marcus Neblett and Charles Gregory John.
In the first three years after the tragedy interfaith services were held in Queens and Brooklyn and on two occasions a parade on Liberty Avenue occurred. These involved the precincts and the fire department; two firefighters were killed from the Richmond Hill fire station. It is to the credit of Indra Seet and her Stars International Band that she has kept up the observances every year. She has invited families and the wider community to keep the memories of the victims alive. The 2016 Memorial Service was no exception. Rahmi Khan began by singing the American anthem beautifully and this was followed by the anthems of India, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
There were appropriate songs that were accompanied by the Band and speeches by various dignitaries. Public Advocate Leticia James said that we must not forget those that lost their lives, including the police and firefighters. ‘ We must continue to pray for those that are ill and ask that the government be responsible and provide help to them,’ Ms. James said.
Mr. Milan said that we should stand united because many countries lost good people at the World Trade Center. This was echoed by Carl Dash who asked that we should continue to hold these gatherings in remembrance. Lynne Tiwari, known as Golin, escaped from the building in 1993 and again in 2001. In 2001, she followed directions and was helped by a stranger who took her outside. Ms. Seeta Rai also escaped and she extended best wishes to all the victims and their friends and relatives.
Congressman Gregory Meekes was introduced by community activist Mike Duvalle. Mr. Meekes stated that people from all walks of life perished and that there were many people that made the ultimate sacrifice to go into the building to rescue others. He said, ‘ I am proud to represent this District because its diversity makes our country work. We have to stand together to show the world that we care. I wish to say to this community that the President of the United States Mr. Barack Obama sends his greetings to this event. He wants us to know that we are stronger together.’
There were also greetings from Governor Cuomo that was read by his Queens representative, Hersh K. Parekh. Governor Cuomo also called for peace and unity.