Interview with Trinidadian Author Baroness Floella Benjamin

Ananseem: The Caribbean Children’s Literature Magazine presents the second half of an interview (by Summer Edward) with Lady Floella Benjamin (Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham in Kent), Trinidadian-born author of the children’s novel, Sea of Tears (2011) and her autobiography Coming to England (1995). [Also see previous posts Trinidad-Born Lady Floella Benjamin Takes Seat in House of Lords and Trinidad-born Baroness Floella Benjamin introduces new book to Barbados.] Here are excerpts with links to the full interview below:

Within the canon of Caribbean juvenile literature, you find a lot of narratives about a Caribbean child who migrates to a foreign land, but there aren’t that many stories about children living elsewhere who migrate to the Caribbean, about children of Caribbean descent who return. Your book falls into the latter category. What do you think is the value of this narrative? 

Well I think it just goes to show that, you know, in the Caribbean, there is a lot to be celebrated. Because when you come back to the Caribbean, because I spent ten years of my life living in the Caribbean and when I came to Britain we were so far ahead compared to what ten-year-olds were doing in schools in England, in London and so I know in the Caribbean there is a very high standard of education, high standard of discipline, high standard of actually, of you proving yourself and pushing yourself. So I wrote a book called Coming to England talking about what it’s like to leave the Caribbean and come to England. In that book it shows you the differences in education and the important thing is that when you understand that going back to the Caribbean you are a person but when you come to England or to America or to Canada you are perceived as a colour, you’re always described as the “black person” whereas in the Caribbean you are a person. [. . .]

Jasmine’s British friends think that when she moves to Barbados she will live on the beach under a palm tree and listen to Reggae music all the time. Do you think many British children buy into these stereotypes about the Caribbean? Or has the Caribbean presence in places like Lewisham and Birmingham made Caribbean culture more accessible to British children?

Well I think why they have the stereotypical idea of the Caribbean is because of the media. What the media shows you is what you believe because if you know nothing else, then you believe what you’re seeing. I’m not sure what it’s like in America or Canada, but in England, definitely, the majority of portrayals that you see of the Caribbean is only when they do limbo dancing, steel band music, a bit of Carnival and it’s always the beach scene. Beach scene, blue sky, sandy beaches. And I remember once being on an airplane going to Barbados and sitting beside me was a young white girl and as we were about to land, she goes “Oh my God, they’ve got roads and houses!” Because the brochures she saw were beaches and little huts and palms trees and so you know, she was really shocked and she couldn’t help but say it out loud. And I think it’s because they don’t realize that five or six hundred years ago we were colonized by the British, by the Spanish, by the Portuguese, by the French and a lot of their architecture are seen throughout those islands. [. . .] And that’s why I think my books are terribly important to a lot of Caribbean children, to feel proud of their heritage. But also, my book, Coming to England which I wrote in fact seventeen years ago and is now used in school to teach about history, about coming from another land, I get letters and a lot of the white children who read this book want to be Caribbean, they want to go there!

For full interview, see http://www.anansesem.com/2012/07/floella-benjamin-changing-perception-of.html

For Part I of the interview, see http://www.anansesem.com/2012/06/heart-for-caribbean-floella-benjamin.html

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