Back in 1954, my favorite Guyanese poet, and later my creative writing lecturer, Martin Carter, published “Poems of Resistance,” that included the poem that later became famous: “This Is The Dark Time, My Love.”
“This is the dark time, my love,
It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.
It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery.
Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.”
The words are as pertinent today for the immigrant, and especially the Caribbean immigrant communities in New York City, as it was in 1950s Guyana.
It is a dark time for the many Caribbean and other immigrant families, including of frontline workers in the MTA, in hospitals, nursing homes and more, who have lost so many to coronavirus and whose tearful goodbye is now being done via Zoom, as they try hard to deal with the pain of the loss in isolation.
It is a dark time for the immigrant nannies and domestic workers who have been let go from their live-in jobs and have no unemployment insurance, Payroll Protection Program or stimulus check to help them pay their bills or buy food.
It is a dark time for the many Caribbean immigrant businesses in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx who don’t qualify for PPP or can’t figure out how to access any help to survive.
It is a dark time for the Caribbean dollar van industry that is struggling to keep afloat.
It is a dark time for the many Caribbean restaurants that are now forced to only offer take-out services as they see fewer customers and don’t know if they can keep meeting the overheads to stay open.
It is a dark time for the event producers of music events that are a signature of the Caribbean American community, and the musicians whose performances have now ground to a halt and there is no money flowing in and “no hustle nah keep no more.”
It is a dark time for the pan yards, mas bands and carnival association who would be readying for the summer season.
It is a dark time for the elderly and home bound, whose weekly church outing is now halted, and they must depend on the goodwill of family and friends to get basic commodities like food.
And it is a hard time for many undocumented workers who are facing a double whammy, as there is no government assistance due to COVID-19 as the CARES Act does not include them.
The bottom line is there is no safety net for many immigrants who now have no idea how they will pay their rent or mortgage or buy food and pay their other bills, and the leadership does not seem to care.
Yet, no group has suffered as dramatic a reversal of fortune as immigrant workers and immigrant small business owners and self-employed persons in this community. The foreign-born immigrant community’s unemployment rate was 2.7% a year ago, even lower than the rate for native-born Americans. But the Migration Policy Institute found that 20% of the U.S. workers in vulnerable industries now laid off are immigrants, even though they only make up 17% of the civilian workforce.
Caribbean immigrant Irwine Clare, Sr., OD, summed it up succinctly last week when he said that while “struggles and challenges are nothing new” to the Caribbean and wider immigrant communities, the impact of COVID-19 “pales in comparison” to what has come before.
Yet, in all the darkness there is hope in the many small acts of kindness being extended by individuals and small organizations and groups who are showing up, raising money and donating groceries and small amounts of cash. They are the real silver lining in the dark cloud and the true heart of God in all this darkness.
As Clare wisely noted: “We are praying people accustomed to struggle and we will survive this too.”
In the meantime: “This is the dark time my love … Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.”
The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow