So what are you? A Guyanese Woman?

To a Guyanese woman of “not sure what race I belong to”, the question is not always asked in that direct sentence, no it is always asked in the most roundabout way imaginable.

By Samantha McLeod

Being a Guyanese woman without a distinct race or an affiliation to religion I can be quite confusing to people. I look like an “other” but most people cannot quite place their finger on the “but what”.

Here is the first dialogue I experienced in Canada:

Q: Do you speak any other languages?

A: Nope, just English.

Q: Oh. Where are your people from?

A: I am not sure.

Q: What country are you from?

A: Guyana.

Q: Oh, from Africa? You have a pretty good grasp of the English language.

A: Um, I am from Guy-ANA, South America.

Q: You do speak Spanish then?

A: No, Guyana is the only English speaking country in South America.

This part was quite entertaining as I watch them painfully and mentally regroup. This dialogue was repeated in many forms over the years and I found most people will give up and move on to the next exotic looking creature in the room. It can get exhausting. The only way to get heard is if we, “others” start speaking up for ourselves.

To explain “my race” is tough, in order to explain what may run through my veins, one must go way back into history.

Guyana is a tropical country situated on the northern coast of South America.

The rightful people of Guyana are Akawaio (Kapohn), Arekuna, Patamona, Waiwai, Macusi, and Wapishana. They belong to three different linguistic groups : the Arawakan, the Cariban and the Warrauan.

Then along came the many European nations in their pursuit of colonization, Spanish, French, Dutch and British.

The colonizers brought the Portuguese people.

Then they brought black slaves.

When slavery was abolished, they brought in indentured servants from India.

The Chinese population came seeking work.

Now with all of the above, there are some serious issues, mention the word colonization to me and we could quite easily get into a heated debate.

Talk about what slavery did to our people, the fact that they were used up and abandoned, will have us talking long into the night.

About my race? I really don’t know. I see black features when I wear a headscarf; my cheekbones pop and I feel regal. I see Arawak features in every baby born into our family. I see Indian in my profile, and I see “other” too.

What I have realized is:

I am not of a race, I am what people want to see when they meet me.

I am a Guyanese woman.

Within my skin, hair and features you will find an indigenous people connected to the land and sea, African people dragged into slavery, Indian people living in tight communities, and the rampage of white colonizers.



Samantha McLeod

Vancouver based food and travel writer.