What can bring 10,000 -15,000 Caribbean people (mainly from St.Vincent & the Grenadines) together in Canada?
"The ""Unity Picnic!"" If you are from St. Vincent and the Grenadines or from the Caribbean for that matter and you have never experienced it, then watch out for it next year. When my friend Gee invited me and said ""Girl, if you experience this event one time, you will always want to go back!"" I really had no idea of exactly what she meant and yes - I am going to be back next year. So what is this Unity Picnic? It is an event which started about 20 years ago to bring Vincentians together. Back then, the first one drew about 200 people but it has grown tremendously over the years, now drawing ten to fifteen thousand people each year from across Canada, especially Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto but also bus loads of people from New York, Boston, Washington, Florida, Philadelphia and even from as far as London, England. How is this Unity Picnic marketed? By Word-of-mouth! When something is good, the word gets around.... nothing beats that! The Unity Picnic is held along the St.Lawerence River, near 1000 islands. Some folks, especially those travelling from far, come in from the night before to set up tents and camp on the grounds. People came in and tried to find the best spot. They laid down their tents, organized their picnic spots, set up their music systems, bar-b-que grills, opened blankets on the ground, enjoyed the water and best of all re-connected with people they have not seen for years. From my observation there are no planned activities as such except some musical entertainment on a center stage, some booths to sell souvenirs from the Caribbean, raffles and light entertainment. For the most part, it is simply families and groups setting up their picnic areas and wandering into the crowds. The venue could not be more perfect to host the event as it is right along the water and many people leisurely enjoyed the warm water. Unless you wander out, it is almost impossible to believe there are so many people because they cluster in small groups, which are spread over a wide area. As I melted into the warmth of this gathering, I could not help but think of doing a blog on this event and so I interviewed a few people about what this all means to them. Common responses were: ""It is a fun-day!"" ""It is a 'free-stress' day!"" ""It is a family day - we plan for this all year when we can forget about everything else"" ""I come back every year, because it gives me the chance to meet people I have not seen in years, since my childhood."" ""It is an opportunity to mix and mingle, not only with Vincies but with people from all over the Caribbean!"" ""Since we have been here today, we have met people from our parents generation!"" Everiste was walking around with his young son. He was here because his wife is from St.Vincent and he expressed to me that they try as best possible to introduce their son to as many cultural activities as possible so that he can grow up with a cultural perspective. He said ""you get to a certain point in your life, where you want to get back to your roots."" This beautiful woman below caught my attention because she designed her dress to match with the colours of the St.Vincent and the Grenadines flag. What a great sense of national pride. She and her husband drove from the United States to be there and they come back each year to reconnect with people they have not seen for years. Each year they meet someone new! Adrian and his sister Pamela (above) and their families drew many people to their little picnic area. As I watched them greet others, it was heartening to experience the smiles on their faces and the joy that they felt reconnecting with people they had not seen for over 20 years. Adrian, who lives in Ajax, Ontario, invited his sister Pamela and her family who lives in London, England,for this event. While we were chatting, an 80-year-old ex-school principal of a private school came up to greet them. They had not seen for many years but Adrian nostalgically reminisced about his days in St.Vincent, before migrating to Canada, and how he and his brother volunteered at her school many years back in St.Vincent. Their good turn of volunteering at this school, earned their younger brother reduced tuition fees when he attended that private school. She never forgot their good turn at her school and what a blessing it was for him to reconnect with her. They shared stories with me about meeting people they had not seen since childhood and Pamela is now inspired to create a similar event in London, England, when she gets back. So, what did this ""Unity Picnic"" mean for me? It was inspiring to gain a glimpse of how a small vision of 20 years ago, has grown to be such a phenomenal event to bring the St.Vincent and the Grenadines diaspora together. Coming from the Caribbean myself, there is nothing sweeter to my ears (except the voices of my children when they say good things) than to hear those beautiful accents from the Caribbean. There is a warmth and openness about Caribbean people; a national pride; laughter that comes from a deep place and bringing them altogether provides a beautiful feeling of ""being at home"" away from home. Sometimes, I don't realize how much I miss the intimacy of the connection of¬†our people until I am immersed¬†into again and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this Unity Picnic. This week, TuneIn¬†to the small things which takes you back to those cultural roots. How do you connect to your culture? What elements of it inspire you? I met some young people who felt bored being there but I encouraged them to participate¬†in those types of activities because living in Canada, it is as close as you get to understand some of your cultural heritage. In Canada, we are so blessed to have the exposure to such a multi-cultural community... but we can only enjoy this experience when we engage with others and keep an open mind to embrace all countries and all people. StepUp to take part in your own culture but to also learn about other cultures and experience the deep feeling of gratitude for diversity of cultures and people. Love, Magdalene"