We all have stories to tell about the people and circumstances that shaped us, but years from now, will those stories be remembered? Will generations to come hear, reflect on and learn from them after we’re gone? These are questions 29-year old Felicia Chang often pondered, knowing that much of who we are today, and indeed will be, is the product of our past.
“I’ve always been surrounded by people who had stories to relate,” the self-assured and noticeably articulate young Trinidadian noted. “When I was little, for example, my dad would lime with his friends every Friday and they always had tales to tell. This country is full of story tellers,’ she observed. “I’m sure I could meet someone by the side of the road who would willingly tell me their story.”
Felicia’s assessment of Trinidad and Tobago being a nation of story tellers isn’t far from reality. Ours is a diverse multi-cultural society with a rich history based on the lives of people who settled here from around the globe, all of whom, Felicia believes, have been central characters in ‘our’ story. Her concern, however, is that insufficient time, emphasis and resources are being invested in preserving the stories of the ordinary, everyday people who were the foundation of our society.
“It is a lack of foresight not to understand the value of investing in the ‘cultural capital’ we have in our people. Ours is a modern, transient society that thrives on disposability, but we need to understand where we came from and why we are here before we can make decisions for our future.”
Why Felicia feels so strongly about this is, essentially, the product of her own life story. The daughter of a single divorced father for whom she holds tremendous love, gratitude and respect, Felicia’s upbringing was also profoundly influenced by her grandmother, fondly known as ‘Popo’. Her grandmother’s story of migration from China to Trinidad to marry a small Claxton Bay shopkeeper and the ensuing challenges she faced was eventually to become the conduit for realising Felicia’s long-held desire to some day document and preserve the stories of the ordinary men and women who built Trinidad and Tobago.
Having attended university in Canada, then lived and worked abroad as a Global Health Researcher – a job that necessitated she travel extensively overseas to countries as far as Ethiopia – Felicia willingly and enthusiastically became immersed in the societies and cultures of the many places she visited. While she feels that the decade she spent abroad before returning home was for Trinidad and Tobago a period of economic growth and heightened cultural awareness, she also feels our nation is rapidly losing its intrinsic culture to foreign influences, which saddens her.
“I don't want us to be stuck in the past,” she explained. “Culture is by essence dynamic, but we shouldn’t just adopt what we see abroad simply because we think it's ‘the best.’ I want us to be proud of where we come from, to critically think about our culture and play an active role in designing our own version of a developed society.”
Felicia’s belief that our people are our greatest resource was the impetus for starting, with her partner Zaake De Coninck, a multimedia research company that offers individuals and businesses the opportunity to have their ‘stories’ researched, compiled and recorded through a customised mix of modern technology resources and media. Earlier this year, their company, ‘Plantain’ launched its pilot project, “Popo’s Journey” – a video documentary of her grandmother’s story – in collaboration with Ryan Lee, an extremely talented local director. The 15-minute ‘Plantain’ feature (a synopsis of which can be accessed via the website: www.plantain.me/
) was so artfully and professionally compiled it was chosen for the 2012 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
‘Plantain’, Felicia hopes, will help bring our government and people closer to the realisation that ‘transient and temporary’ is not always best. The company is the fulfillment of this resourceful young woman’s dream to bring the art of story telling back to the people who want their stories professionally documented and preserved through modern technology so that generations to come may better understand the ancestors who helped paved the way for their futures.