When I was seven years old my aunt said to me, “De berry don’ drop too far from de tree.” She saw my puzzled face over her makeshift Caribbean accent. She used that moment, us eating in her backyard, to give me a piece of family history. “You have African roots that go through the Caribbean,” she continued.
My Great-Grandma Irene Trumpet left the twenty-one-mile-long island of Barbados for a new life in the United States. That new life brought the birth of my Grandma Carmen Trumpet, who out of six siblings was one of two born a United States citizen. But 31 years later, Grandma Carmen died two weeks after giving birth to my mother, Christine Hunnicutt. And with that death, my Caribbean roots was reduced to those numbers.
One day I learned my Great-Grandma Irene’s secret—her birth date. I saved up for a year to go to Barbados. I thought I could go there and order a birth certificate or get a baptism record. But instead of finding information about my family, I found a handful of people trying to reconnect with Barbados. This flipped what I thought was a personal struggle of identity into a collective one. A collective struggle from the “African Diaspora,” communities throughout the world that resulted from Africans who were enslaved and shipped in historic times from Africa predominately to the Americas and the Caribbean. This has sparked questions: How have our lives been shaped by the Barbadian Diaspora? And what stories have been lost?
Born and raised in Breukelen projects in Brooklyn, New York, my imagination brewed from stories I read like, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Stories told to me orally like, “Barbadian women lied about their age to avoid school in America,”; and stories that I have written like, “Fourteen” published by the South Hampton Review. All have shaped me into who I am today—a writer whose personal mission is to “give voice and perspective to black people whose stories have been overlooked and underwritten.”
I found in my own family tree there are countless stories to discover and write about. A month or so ago SUNY Stony Brook asked me to take part in a Graduate School Profile to share one and give insight on being a Fulbright Scholar. I was hesitant. The process was exciting yet taxing. But I believe it’s a rare opportunity that shows what pursuing a passion is all about. Enjoy!
Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review and is forth coming in The Tishman Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com.
“Rashaunjallen.com is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.”