Thursday, April 13, 2006

Come Find Yourself

What Goes Around Comes Around

Hindsight is wonderful. Looking back over the past forty years at my background and family, it may have been an inevitability that I am contributing to my community. It just didn’t look that way when I turned twenty-five. I consider Goans to be cynical, lacking integrity, gossipy, and unable to take young people and its future seriously.

I remember the moment I realised something was up. I was four-years-old and we were playing a game at nursery. The game involved putting our hands in the middle of the table on top of each other, in turn. I remember having this realisation: “My hand is a different colour. That’s bad”. This feeling was compounded by the inability to find other people like me. I felt more English than Indian and as a young boy in the 1980s I didn’t have a clue what being Goan meant. Compensating for the feeling “I’m different” has informed my life: from wanting to please my parents, to getting piercings and tattoos.

But that’s why my experience of the Goan Overseas Association (GOA) was so important.

My memories of growing up include a feeling of not quite comprehending my background. Before I was ten, I made no distinction between village feasts and the GOA. Going to village feasts (usually the Moira Reunion) was an event. Even my parents dressed smartly. I met other boys the same colour as me, and made friends with them sliding on a black-and-white tiled floor (Wandsworth Town Hall!) whilst laughing at the grown-ups dancing.

Going to “The Clubhouse” was a similar experience. I was too busy running about playing football, or climbing trees to fully appreciate the subtle kind of home-coming my parents seemed to experience. I saw the same faces I’d seen at the village feasts. I noticed the way my parents’ accents changed. Their stories recalled a happy time – words and phrases like “Mombasa” and “Hakuna Matata” created a whole new world for a nine-year-old boy who wondered why his life wasn’t like an Enid Blyton book.

It was something called SCOGO that brought together these experiences. I’d never seen so many people who were like me – and yet all unique – in one place. My Grandfather seemed to be an important person: people were interested in his opinion, and a video camera was following him around. My Dad was more taciturn, but I remember feeling proud.

That spirit of community, happiness, and pride I first experienced at the inaugural SCOGO festival was the reason it was created. In fact, it’s probably the very reason the GOA was created.

After that, going to “The Clubhouse” was a fairly regular occurrence. But despite my Grandfather’s example, and my parents encouraging me, I still didn’t feel confident enough to really get involved in GOA activities.

As I got older, I felt a change in the tone of the conversations my parents would have about “The Clubhouse”. I was still close to my family, and had a sense of myself because all my Grandparents were a presence into my twenties. Their stories will never disappear.

But through university, and beginning my working life, my cynicism with my culture became “the truth”. Goan people really are “that way”. I was judgemental, and angry. I mocked the GOA with its “burned down clubhouse”.

The four years since I was twenty-five have been different. I put aside my opinions, and asked myself – am I willing to do something? I am involved with the Young London Goans’ Society (YLGS) because I wanted to re-create what I experienced at a GOA event when I was nine-years-old.

And YLGS has done this successfully for Goans over eighteen who share the same feelings as me. We’ve got our own website, web-forum, bank account, and over 400 registered members. Our Christmas Party sold out in a matter of days. We’re creating the future, and we’ve earned respect. I’m even a GOA member now!

Life can be circular in other ways too. My Grandfather is one of the four founder members of the GOA, and also the founder of the Standing Conference of Goan Organisations (SCOGO). He told me when they met in 1960’s London to discuss creating the GOA, its purpose was to bring the community together. YLGS’ mission is to build a strong and integrated community of Goans.

Has all this changed my opinion of Goans? Not in the slightest. But I know my opinion is not “the truth”. This is still my community, I love it, and I’m willing to do something for it.

For the GOA in its Ruby Year, looking to the future is more important than ever.

What Goes Around Comes Around.