Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goan Overseas Association: G.O.A.


[Edit, Oct 2016: You might be reading this from a link posted on GoanVoice.

Note that: 1) this is a post from Oct 2008, and 2) it contains my personal opinions. The eulogy I delivered at Marcus' funeral is here.

You may also be interested in reading the speech I delivered at Selma Carvalho's book launch 'A Railway Runs Through' - in my opinion, the most important event in our community for a generation.

Enjoy reading this post - and comment if you have an opinion...]

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Me? Rant? Never!

Any of you that actually (bother to occasionally) read my blog will know that I have opinions on stuff.

One area particularly close to my heart is the nonsense of a mish-mash of influences that makes up my wonderful culture. Yes, yes I'm spouting off again about my place in the multicultural society of the United Kingdom. If you don't like reading what I have to say about my particular minority (of a minority) then stop reading now.

For the uninitiated, my first name is James, I have a Portuguese surname, my parents were born in East Africa, I originate from India and I was brought up Catholic. I have a Surrey accent, my English is excellent, I get mistaken for a terrorist when I have facial hair, I listen to metal, and I feel I have more in common with Italian Catholics (Sopranos and Corleones) than the way Indians are represented in the media (brightly-coloured-clothes-wearing, Bollywood loving, "bud-bud-ding-dings").

Any Goan reading this intimately understands the juxtaposition of influences I'm talking about - and all Goans have their own way of dealing with it. (It's just a shame so few share my love of Metallica...sigh...)

Of course different families have different ways of dealing with the immigrant experience - especially into a culturally vibrant (violent?) city like London. One of my senior family members decided to attempt to bring together Goans in the UK as one of the founders of something called the Goan Overseas Association. (G.O.A.)

The thing is the intervening years have had an interesting effect on the community...I think each immigrant culture in its struggle to establish itself in a new country, also seeks to make the influence of its mother country stronger by holding on to traditions.

Goan people were no different - the generations that came here held on to their romantic notions of colonial civil service jobs in East Africa with their own schools, libraries and social clubs, where English was their first language but they could converse in broken Swahili.

Even further back than that, Goa is a tiny province in the vast subcontinent of India (it never ceases to amaze me how surprised people are when they confront what a huge country India actually is!) that is primarily a village culture.

So what did immigrant Goans also do to hold on to their past? They simply recreated village culture by founding village organisations in the UK - along with all its petty squabbling, vindictiveness and insular thinking...

So there's the big organisation the G.O.A. trying to recapture the spirit of East Africa...and the village organisations also trying to recapture the spirit of 'true' Goan village life. A Match Made In Hell, and some say a Recipe For Disintegration.

And I'm born into that. Yay!

Ironically enough, one of the things Goans are best at is integrating into their chosen country - with English as their language, Goans have conquered...the UK, US, Canada, Australia...

But it's a wonderful double-edged sword...

...so when I was asked by the current MD of the Young London Goans Society for my opinion on how the G.O.A. could plan its future (set out in the form of the three question below)...I responded with the following...

(By the way - if you're not Goan and you manage to read this - it'll give you an insight into Goan culture, but also [I think] the workings of any immigrant community...perhaps even any community...Goans are humans after all - and sometimes I think the issues my community deal with are just a small part of what we're struggling to deal with as human beings.

Then again I could be wrong...

...but I digress...)
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Dear MD of the YLGS,

Here are some of my thoughts.

Are they taking you seriously? This whole exercise is massively overdue-something must have shocked them out of their stupor...what is it?

Perhaps the best approach is the extreme one: (that's guaranteed to get a response) close down the G.O.A. and distribute all the assets to charity. Perhaps the G.O.A. has run its course and needs a complete rebuild from the ground up?

Anyway...here goes...

1. How can the G.O.A attract more young Goans to their events?

As they are currently-they won't. Even us younger people can't get nostalgic about our own romantic childhood of 'dances'. The key thing is that we feel no affiliation with a village, nor some throwback to the East African days of G.I. and Goan School.

I think we would much rather try to feel 'Goan' rather than anything. That's been the reason why YLGS succeeded.

The G.O.A. needs to show a united and integrated front to Goans and the wider community. I think if the G.O.A. positioned itself as a champion of Goan culture not only for Goans but for EVERYONE in the UK; if the G.O.A. represented Goans not ONLY FOR the insular inward looking Goans of my parents' generation but TO the wider population then it would increase its credibility with younger people.

If we saw the G.O.A. being consulted on the news, or read about them in a broadsheet, it would instil the kind of pride in our culture that's missing - and being driven by the younger generation.

There has been too much of a focus on looking inward and it's costing us our future.

Each tiny minority culture has it's voice and specialist areas in London-it's what makes London wonderful. Where are Goans?

Our integration is our greatest asset and our biggest weakness. The G.O.A. does not have even the slightest understanding of this. Young, talented, articulate, high-earning Goans have no pride in their culture because they've seen the example that's been set for them. Why would we want to be part of that? No wonder none of us want to take on being a director of the G.O.A!

So here are my ideas to attract more young Goans to their events. Bear in mind, I'm approaching this as a long-term strategy - there's no quick fix.
- reposition the G.O.A. as a representative organisation for Goans TO the wider UK population - look outward not inward
- actively seek to be profiled in the media to instil pride and raise awareness, then once published, let word-of-mouth do the rest
- approach some younger confident Goans about shadowing a director for an insight into what goes on
- start practical discussions and debates (inviting younger people) about what constitutes Goan culture - AND RECORD IT - starting to get it down on paper would give people focus
- begin practical things to educate younger people about our culture: e.g. Konkani, Cooking etc.

The last few will only work if younger people feel listened to and represented: there was not a single young Goan who did not know about the family on Eastenders at the time. In these media-driven times - unless the G.O.A. starts to embrace it, and actively put out a positive message to younger Goans - they are destined to disappear.

Evolve or die - it's simple.

2. The G.O.A are thinking of having affiliated organisations more directly under their control e.g village associations. What the G.O.A could offer associations to entice them into becoming an affiliated organisation and being more directly under the control of the G.O.A?

Nothing. The village organisations are as inward looking as the G.O.A. There is no way those organisations would give in their autonomy. There would need to be a representative from each village as a director on the G.O.A. for the villages to feel they still have something - which is unworkable. It comes back to what I was saying before - the current membership of the village organisations has dwindled because they have not thought about how young people feel - we have no sense of being part of a village - we're Goan: not from Moira or AVC or Mungul or wherever. Each village organisation faces an identical struggle to the G.O.A. to attract a cyncial, angry and apathetic younger generation - but who can blame us?

The original purpose of the Standing Conference of Goan Organisations (S.C.O.G.O.) was to do just that: give every village a chance to feel part of the wider Goan community and be affiliated to the G.O.A. Over the past 20 years its descended into the Goan community coming together to eat and drink (dependent on the weather) while a subtle undercurrent of despair about our future bubbles away.

I think the only thing the G.O.A. has are the resources to become a truly (inter)national organisation representing Goans abroad. We're spread out all over the world - but London and the UK attracts so many different cultures (including Goans from India and everywhere) that we're in a position to provide a focal point for it. I think the G.O.A. is aware of this, but just doesn't have the skills (because no younger people are involved) to achieve this. I remember when I was about 13-14 or something, and went to the Moira social, they had a 25 year old president or something (whatever - he stood out because he was so young - a maverick). I remember feeling wow - he's young and old at the same time. He was someone I felt I closer to. I remember thinking he was amazing and I'd like to be like him - he made a speech and everyone listened and respected him. He even played piano and sang for the everyone (I also seem to remember he had a white girlfriend - although I can't be sure!)

Realistically, I think the village organisations need to call it a day, write up their obituaries, collect them together and hand them to the G.O.A. for posterity. Then the skills, expertise and people need to put aside their differences and step up to be part of the G.O.A.

Again - this would only happen if the G.O.A. became associated with the national consciousness - a couple of articles or profiles of Goan culture, with the G.O.A. at the helm in the Times/ Mail or even on a cultural programme on tv would allow something to happen.

So here are my suggestions:
- get everyone together, and get their opinions on pooling G.O.A. and village resources - but let a young person chair it (e.g. YLGS MD/ committee)
- get all the representatives from the village organisations and G.O.A. together and sit them in a room to (shut up and) listen to what a few of the articulate, high-earning, talented, YOUNG Goans have to say about the future of their culture

One of the things I've learned as a teacher is that young people do not feel that they're listened to. The G.O.A. and village organisations are guilty of this. Opening the dialogue between village and G.O.A. via the young will make a big difference - but only if the young people are talked to by someone worth taking seriously. That's why a tv programme or newspaper article would make such a difference.

3. What are your views on the G.O.A membership fees?

Verging on pointless. The only benefit I seem to get from them is that I can get a discount for tickets to events that I don't want to go to or have any interest in attending. The only reason I pay them is that I'd still like to get an invite to the A.G.M. and attend if possible - so I can put across the young person's viewpoint at the meeting...even though I'm probably considered old now! I almost feel that people became life members for show - it seemed to be a demonstration of commitment to the Goan community that they could wear as a badge of pride to all the other Goans they knew: i.e. a hollow gesture.

Membership fees would be worth the money if people felt they received a tangible benefit. The problem is - as the older members die off, they're not being replaced by younger members willing to pay...so the G.O.A. is faced with shrinking membership, AND shrinking revenue - which could mean the end of their only trump card - the resources to effect change on a national level and influence the national consciousness OUTSIDE the Goan community.

My dad is a life member - but he's not interested in participating in the decision-making of the G.O.A. (that's the example that I've grown up with!) The only benefit he wants is discounts to future events - he'll turn up, enjoy the event, chat to a few old-boys, dance a bit with my mum, and come home (all with the subtle undercurrent of despair about the future of our culture bubbling away).

The other point is that I think members cannot see their subscriptions being put to good use. There is such a level of apathy and cynicism about the G.O.A. that has been brought about by the charging of membership fees. It seems like it's people like myself who have to pay yearly - my dad's generation all seem to be life members and don't need to contribute a yearly amount! (At least that's how I understand it - I could be wrong!) The attitude seems to be - "the G.O.A. have enough money from the sale of the 'clubhouse' - why do I need to pay membership fees?"

So a couple of suggestions:
- make all the financial dealings of the G.O.A. open to everyone - members and non-members alike. As a paid member, I've heard people express such cynicism about the G.O.A.'s finances but they don't know the truth.
- negotiate some tangible benefits such as money of flights from a particular travel agent, or money off ordering from a website (some revenue sharing can be agreed I'm sure!) This would also encourage younger people to see a tangible benefit to the events

The overall background to all of this - is that the Goan culture is going to disappear because there are so many versions of it - we cannot agree between ourselves what constitutes our culture. I don't speak the language (and neither do my parents!), I don't cook the food properly. I don't feel at home in Goa, nor am I completely at home in the UK: I'm not Indian; I don't fit in with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Italian Catholics, Irish Catholics or Indian Catholics. It's a big mixture and mess.

The G.O.A. is in a position to do something about this because they have the resources - but without listening to us and letting go of the romanticised notions of the past, those resources are destined to be wasted.

That's why I almost feel the best solution to stimulate action would be what I said right at the beginning: close down the G.O.A. and distribute all the assets to charity. Perhaps the G.O.A. has run its course and needs a complete rebuild from the ground up?

Hope this is useful.

J.

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If you've managed to get down to here, thank you for reading.

You may now be in several places:
1) You are Goan and you agree broadly with what I've said, but you don't really care. In which case, never mind eh...there are bigger things to worry about.
2) You are Goan and you agree broadly with what I've said, and you care a bit. In which case, post a comment.
3) You are Goan and you disagree with what I've said, but you don't really care. In which case, never mind eh...there are bigger things to worry about.
4) You are Goan, and you disagree with what I've said, and you care a bit. In which case, post a comment.
5) You're not Goan, and your STILL reading, and you think what I've said is interesting. It's opened your mind to what a mess the world is in, and given you an interesting insight into what James does in his spare time. In which case - thank-you, and congratulations - please post a comment.
6) You're not Goan, you're STILL reading, but you don't really give a shit about what I've said. In which case - congratulations - post a fucking comment anyway.
7) You're one of my friends or acquaintances who will humour me by reading my blog occasionally, and you've heard me talk/share/muse/rant about my upbringing before. And you think I'm funny. In which case,
I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny and post a comment.
8) You're related to me. In which case - please do not post a comment, and don't embarrass me by talking about my blog.
9) You stopped reading when I asked you to stop reading near the top, but you couldn't resist scrolling down to the end.
10) You're dead. From reading this post. Oh and trying to decide which category you fit into because you're desperate to feel part of a crowd - which by the way - was what killed you.

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