The Transnational Community as an Agent for Caribbean Development: Aid from New York City and Toronto to Carriacou, Grenada

Article excerpt

Small island economies of the Caribbean have traditionally relied on remittances from family members working abroad to sustain them in their limited circumstances. The responsibility to provide for those back home has evolved as the communities of Afro-Caribbean people in North America have prospered. For some islands, like Grenada and its dependencies of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, the present transnational network has become a complex and sophisticated vehicle for initiating and completing development projects in the Caribbean. Community social organization abroad, as well as access to the Internet as an organizing tool, allow transnational connections to flourish and provide much needed aid to the home community. Although these islands have a long history of migration and remittances, the transnational network fosters an organized and effective way of providing development aid at a larger, community-wide scale. This article uses examples, including interviews, from New York City and Toronto to give voice to these connections and projects.

KEY WORDS: Caribbean, transnationalism, development

INTRODUCTION

Migration and movement continue to be critical and recurring themes in Caribbean life and culture. Afro-Caribbean people have traveled from and returned to the islands since emancipation. They make remarkable contributions to their national economies with earnings from abroad and enrich the cultures of both their sending and receiving societies with an exchange and blending of musical, culinary, literary, and religious experiences. For example, strong linkages have been forged over time between Caribbean communities at home and enclaves of Caribbean settlements abroad, particularly in the large cities of North America and Europe.

Recent work among the Carriacouan transnational community in Carriacou, Grenada, New York City, and Toronto, Canada, has uncovered a vibrant informal network that fosters development aid. This article demonstrates how the transnational network provides critical support to the home community in Carriacou, Grenada. The support takes the form of medical services, contributions of technology and equipment, educational materials, training, cash for infrastructure improvements, and disaster relief. In the past decade, this transnational development aid directly improved, and continues to improve, daily life in Carriacou. Aid from the transnational community helps at the grassroots level and is more successful in improving daily life for Carriacouans than national or international programs.

TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION NETWORKS AND COMMUNITY

The emergent field of transnationalism in migration studies is fundamental to gaining a fuller understanding of the way individuals and groups function across national borders in today's world. In tandem with the work of other social scientists, geographers recognize the necessity for treating migration as a permanent feature of our interdependent global economy, as opposed to a response to temporary increases in the demand for labor on the part of expanding economies (Pessar 1997). There is growing evidence that many migrants conceive of their communities of origin and their communities abroad as one social field or network (Click Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1992).

As transnational studies evolve, it is important to establish a theoretical framework and to clarify the differences between transnationalism and other forms of migration (Portes, Guarnizo, and Landolt 1999). This distinction becomes especially important in the case of Caribbean migration because it is, and has historically been, such a fundamental part of Caribbean society (Richardson 1974, 1983; Pastor 1985; Momsen 1986; Olwig 1987; Sutton 1987; Palmer 1990; Thomas-Hope 1992). The phenomenon of return migration is particularly significant in regard to Caribbean migrants, not least because it adds such richness to the field of study (Thomas-Hope 1985; Gmelch 1992; Chamberlain 1997). …