Routes
in Sport in the Black Atlantic

Chapter two shows the ways the concept of transnational mobility is central to creating a deterritorialized Black Atlantic community. The Mavericks cricket and Social Club (MCSC) demonstrates that visits to the homeland are no more important than visits to other Caribbean diasporic locations to facilitate forming a cross-border community and racial identity. The chapter provides examples of Afro-Caribbean-Canadians’ travel, and their family and friend reunions, to demonstrate how transnational social networks form. The chapter describes MCSC sport tourism in their nations of origin and other Caribbean diaspora locations, and hosting visiting teams in Toronto as integral to increasing their knowledge about different black people and places and ameliorating their ability to make meaningful financial/material investments that regenerate community in multiple Black Atlantic locations. MCSC members use ‘routes’ to create plurilocal homespaces inside and outside of the Caribbean and Canada. Travelling to and hosting international cricket clubs, an often overlooked aspect of the diaspora experience, allows Afro-Caribbean-Canadians to broaden their identities.

Old Dog Tom

“Old Dog Tom!” a portly, dark-skinned man shouted from across the parking lot. Erol’s head peeked up from over the gear bag he was desperately searching through at the side of the cricket pitch. He would be unable to bat if he did not put ointment and a tensor bandage on the knees he’d abused for fifty years. He had heard the call but could not make out the figure crossing the parking lot, although it was clear that the man was beckoning to him. “Tom” had been Erol’s nickname in primary school. When he was 7 years old, he’d had a fascination with the illustrations of Old Dog Tom books. He would carry them around with him, trace the images, and beg, borrow, or steal art supplies so he could try to reproduce them. Back then in his village, most dogs were feral, but Erol was the strange boy who wanted a dog for a pet. His friends started calling him Tom and many of his school mates hardly remembered his real name.

When he heard someone in England calling for “Old Dog Tom,” he knew it must be someone who knew him from his younger days. At the collegiate they had started calling him Elquemedo after the famous spin bowler, and after that he was known as Shakey, which was related to a particularly boisterous night at the dancehall. As the portly man drew close, Erol began to distinguish his features, a round dimpled nose, skin black as tar and teeth big like a lion. It could be none other than his childhood friend, Chris, whom he had known as Boca, due to his big teeth and the fact that it was the only word he got right on their first form oral Spanish test. They stood in an extended, warm embrace. “My brother, how you been keepin’?” Thirty years apart and it was like they were back again at the Maple Cricket Club grounds in Holetown, Barbados.

The cross-border flows of people and cultures, including a desire to return to origins, are considered defining features of diasporas. Many scholars have shown that return visits to the birthplace are critically important in facilitating the survival, mobility, socialisation and possible repatriation of many migrants. The Mavericks demonstrate that visits to diasporic locations other than the homeland are equally important in facilitating the formation of community and identity. “Old Dog Tom” is just one representation of the dozens of reunions that occurred between MCSC members and their friends and family members when they travelled to play and watch cricket. Erol, a 55-year-old Barbadian-Canadian, who co-wrote the above narrative with me on the Mavericks’ trip to England explained, “You know who is your close friend because he call your nickname.” Hearing that name, especially when it is a surprise because you were not expecting to see an old friend in a new place “instantly bring back all the memories. It’s like my whole childhood rushin’ back when I look ’pon he face an’ he call ‘Old Dog Tom’.” In addition to using nicknames for those who were known, club members respectfully referred to each other as “brother,” “sister,” and “mama,” which are names that connote racial connections and family relationships even where none exist. A trip to England is just what this Barbadian-Canadian needed to suture homespaces. This chapter outlines the ways in which community is created beyond the local Toronto spaces club members occupy. Through their physical travel, reunions with loved ones, learning about new places, and multinational emotional and financial investments, club members use “routes” to create plurilocal homespaces and broaden their identities.

Keep on moving: creating borderless communities

In his description of black unity and identity across the Atlantic, Paul Gilroy (1993) refers to “Keep on Moving,” the name of a Soul II Soul song that resulted from British, Jamaican and African-American collaborations, as a “fundamental injunction … [that] expressed the restlessness of spirit … a new topography of loyalty and identity in which the structures and presuppositions of the nation-state have been left behind because they are seen to be outmoded” (p. 16). The history of the Black Atlantic, Gilroy opines, its continual criss-crossing of black people and the attempt to express cultures that are global or outer-national directly “contrast[s]‌ the national, nationalistic, and ethnically absolute paradigms of cultural criticism to be found in England and [North] America … [and] provides a means to reexamine the problems of nationality, location, identity and historical memory” (Gilroy, 1993, p. 16). Another “Keep on Moving” song, with lyrics sung by Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley, is also relevant to black and Caribbean transnational politics. Marley calls out “Lord forgive me for not going back/But I’ll be there anyhow” and suggests that even while the protagonist is away, he has ways to make his presence felt at home, but he’s “got to keep on movin’.” The peripatetic Mavericks could use either song as their anthem. They are constantly on the move, connecting to people and cultures here and there. It is impossible to understand their experiences without following them throughout their Black Atlantic “routes.”

As a result of their success in working- and middle-class careers over several decades, many of the club members have several weeks annual holidays and many others have retired. They are thus able to use their leisure time and disposable income to travel with their friends and family members on annual cricket-related trips. When they travel, a group of approximately fifteen players are joined by about fifteen to thirty friends and family members. Their agendas include trips to England quadrennially, to at least one Caribbean location annually and to the United States at least twice each summer. Not every club member takes every trip, but the opportunity is there for them and the available spots fill up rapidly. They also invite teams from these locations to play in their “home” games in Toronto. These various spaces operate as plurilocal Caribbean homespaces; primarily homosocial, they are substitutes for migrants’ homelands.

Club members’ routes, or travel itineraries, reveal their passion for global imaginings of community, rather than solely local, black, Caribbean, or Canadian ones, and the importance of homosocial relationships. The cricket grounds then, like the seafaring communities of the twentieth century captured by Nassy Brown, Paul Gilroy and Claude McKay, are transnational communities whose “history is a verbal story, whose record lies in an oral and aural culture submerged beneath the national print cultures” (Stephens, 2005, p. 183). The MCSC members, as Cohen (2007, pp. 374–375) notes of black Brazilians, rely “much less on a recovered memory of Africa … [they] have discovered new circuits of cultural capital that they tap into to augment their sense of modernity and involvement in a global consciousness.” He describes these cultural routes as foundational to a black creolisation. More than simply a mixture between the dominant European and subordinate African cultures, black creolisation involves mixtures and borrowings from across the Black Atlantic. The alternative realities of the cricket ground are where cultures are exchanged, memories are re-enacted and masculine diasporic identities formed. The cricketers and spectators are from the same place, and yet not. They are all migrants, but some call Canada home and others are English or American. They are all Caribbean, yet some identify as Jamaican and others Barbadian. They majority identify as black, but some have skin the colour of tar and others café au lait; their ancestry may be African, Asian and/or European. Mavericks and their supporters keep on moving among various nations and cricket spaces, which informs their gendered and racialised, national and diasporic identities.

This chapter suggests that the “routes” of the Mavericks Cricket and Social Club (MCSC) are used to assuage Afro-Caribbean men’s emotional longings and needs for belonging. It outlines two significant practices of community making that their routes allow them to access. First, they reunited with the familiar sights, sounds, smells, languages, activities and people of their nation or region of origin when they returned to a homespace. Memories came flooding back and social networks proliferated with every old relationship that was renewed. Second, players and spectators made financial and material investments in various local communities to which they were affiliated when they travelled for cricket trips. They spent their money in Caribbean-owned businesses (e.g., taxi companies, restaurants and barber’s shops); made contributions to island-specific and regional cultural organisations and political associations; and left financial and goods remittances (e.g., cash or cricket equipment) to under-resourced sports teams. Through reunions and investments, MCSC members exploit their “routes” to create a global black community. The remainder of the chapter highlights that even without travel, the MCSC members are able to proliferate their international social connections by hosting cricket events in Toronto, and their money crosses borders through the donations they make to help communities and people in need throughout the Caribbean. Last, I dispel the myth that “routes” to the homeland facilitate repatriation. Many of the Mavericks explain that their cricket-related travel helped them decide against returning permanently to their nation of origin.

Reunions

With families and friends dispersed across the Black Atlantic, sport tourism and its related emotional reunions and economic contributions are critical elements in the maintenance of a broad sense of community. Michele Stephens (2005), drawing from Paul Robeson’s autobiography Here I Stand, notes that “From the very beginning of Negro history in our land, Negroes have asserted their right to freedom of movement … the concept of travel has been inseparably linked in the minds of our people with the concept of freedom” (p. 240). From fugitive slaves to seafarers to domestic workers to cricket players, Afro-Caribbeans have created identity in multi-national spaces through their cross-border movements. Regular return visits reinforce not only migrants’ sense of connection to the homeland, or what Voigt-Graf (2004, p. 38) refers to as the “cultural hearth,” but also affirms their sense of citizenship, permanence and connection to people in other nations, referred to as the “diasporic nodes.”

In the past two decades, there has been an increasing trend: a growing roots tourism industry where black people have made efforts to return to slave ports in Ghana and Nigeria (Clarke, 2006; Pierre, 2009). Researchers have found that participants use a “common sense” link between blackness and Africanness, based on US black nationalist imaginaries of the mid-1960s: black people, who feel “lost” as a result of the oppressive conditions and dominant culture of whites (in the United States, Canada, Germany, etc.), can supposedly “find” their “true African selves” by embracing African traditions and visiting African nations. Roots tourism is also beginning to be popular in the Caribbean, where tourist boards recognise the untapped potential of the African-American (and Canadian) market. Black visitors to the Caribbean may be less likely to be solely sun-seekers. Instead, some visitors yearning for a connection to the homeland seek out plantations, visit chattel houses as well as other national heritage sites, shop for souvenirs and attend folkloric music and dance shows (Brooke, n.d.; Garraway, 2006; Joseph, 2011b). These tours instil a sense of the legacy of slavery and the indicators of national pride (literary heroes, civil rights activists and cricket celebrities). The Mavericks incorporate tourism into every trip they take. They visit stadia, learn about the distinctive local cultures and connect to their cultural legacies (Joseph, 2011b).

For their 2008 trip to England, in addition to playing eight games over a two-week period, the MCSC shopped at the cricket department of Lillywhites, a sport clothing and equipment store on Piccadilly Circus; joined an award ceremony and reception at the Barbados High Commission, where they dined on traditional Barbadian foods; and attended the annual Barbados Cultural Organisation Charity Ball in London. At each of these locations/events one or more of the Mavericks reunited with old associates and family members – unexpectedly in many cases. Because the main organisers of the tour were from Barbados, many of the events they organised were specific to that nation; however, even men and women from other islands/territories reunited with Barbadians and other people from their nations of origin.

A typical greeting was an exaltation of the player’s name followed by “A you dat?!” (Is that you?!). Players often introduced themselves to the opposing team members by first and last name; identified their island, parish or village of origin; recalled the organisations to which they (used to) belong, or described the location of their current extended families. My inability to share this detailed information about my Antiguan heritage when asked marked me as a second-generation outsider. First-generation Afro-Caribbeans, in contrast, shared their backgrounds and sometimes reminded men they met from their village of their nicknames. In the Caribbean, as elsewhere in the Afro-diaspora, few men go by their real names. Nicknames based on something they said or did as youth (e.g., “Shakey” for a boisterous night at a dancehall, or “Boca” for a successful oral spelling test answer), stuck to some men for decades and were a way of expressing an intimate familiarity or long-standing relationship. The Caribbean players on both sides of the Atlantic are of similar ages, from large families (eight children or more in many cases) and small villages (typically less than 5,000 people). Thomas, a 44-year-old Barbadian-Canadian, explained to me the chances of two cricketers from the same area knowing (of) each other were relatively high:

We had a lot of rivalries between different clubs but I can distinctly remember going to Checker Hall, St. Lucy [Barbados] and playing those guys up in there and … I actually met one of the guys that I used to play cricket against in there [a clubhouse in England] … It was great meeting him again, you know after the competitive sports and after all these years and we still playin’ cricket. (Thomas)

One cricketer explained to me that the potential for reunions is an important aspect of why he travels with the Mavericks:

Janelle: I noticed that you ran into a guy last night. Did you know him from back home?

George: Yeah, from my neighbourhood and from school … he used to play cricket also … [On these tours] You meet people that you knew before and you’re rekindled, you know? I also met a guy at the Embassy, the Barbados Consulate when we went there, that went to school with me and I didn’t know he was up here [in England] either, so that’s what happens.

George, a 47-year-old Barbadian-Canadian, points out that it is not only cricket, but also the local tourism in which the MCSC members engage when they are travelling, that allows them to encounter their former compatriots.

At one game in England, a fierce game of dominoes in the cricket clubhouse drew more attention than the cricket game on the field. While we stood watching a group of local black Barbadian-English men play dominoes, Warlie clarified for me that the potential for reunions is a strong motivator for travel. When a team visits from out of town, “That’s when everybody comes out to see who it is and rekindle old relationships or friendships that they haven’t seen for a while. Cricket builds that because you go all over the world and you get to meet people. People that you haven’t seen for X amount of years, but you remember.”

When I mentioned that I was studying Caribbean culture and cricket, the locals said: “If you want to see a carnival you shoulda been here two weeks ago for the Australian High Commission versus Barbados High Commission game.” “There was one hundred cars in the parking lot, [bus] coaches come from all over the country, people set up stalls to sell food.” “There was music, big speakers an’ thousands of people. The entire back fiel’ was full up of people selling their wares.” “People drinkin’ at their cars an’ blastin’ their car radios.” The scenes they described equate cricket with a Caribbean carnival atmosphere and were an exact replica of the annual Memorial Match held in Toronto.

Rather than travelling to Barbados, Afro-Caribbean-English men go to their local grounds to experience a homespace, “see who it is” and potentially reunite with their former compatriots, friends and family members. Once the English players realised that some of the players on the Canadian team were from their village back home, they were excited to reminisce and the actual cricket match became secondary to the relationships they were able to renew. Constance Sutton (2008) argues that return visits formalised as family reunions allow for the recreation of kin ties, and the development of significant family rituals and public performances of region, nation, lineage and friendship. Reunion rituals are “signifying practices,” that is, “expressive performances that call public attention to customs and values and create a consciousness of valued behavior and beliefs, even when these are disputed” (Sutton, 2008, p. 44). The memories that players and supporters exchanged connected them socially and embedded them in a homespace, a space of belonging and shared beliefs. They reminisced about people with whom they grew up: “You know Charles got pancreatic cancer?” “Oh, McKenzie working for the government now. Can you believe he push paper?!” They ruminated over local events “I didn’t have TV until 1968. Boy, dat was a real transformation in de village.” And they reflected on the successes of the West Indies Cricket team: “We were golden in dem days!” “Unilaterally, everyone can agree [Gary] Sobers was the best all-round!” Rather than focusing on their real homelands, coeval nations over there, these first-generation migrants remake their homes over here, through sharing memories of the past, home, friends and family with each other.

For MCSC members, travelling and talking with people from their homelands in plurilocal spaces allows them to understand the similarities and differences for Afro-Caribbeans across the Black Atlantic. For example, at one game in England, a discussion about public transit came up around the boundary among the Mavericks and Afro-Caribbean-English players from the opposing team. The pleasures and perils of relying on municipal governments in Toronto, Canada and London, England were compared. The discussions of fare increases, worker strikes and the complexity (and therefore ease of travel) of the respective systems revealed many differences and similarities, which allowed MCSC members to broaden their understanding of different homespaces. Similarly, discussions of police “stop and search” tactics and the risks of DWB (driving while black) were outlined by Afro-Caribbeans in both London and in Toronto. Learning about each other’s communities, as they do when they go on city tours or visit consulates in their travel destinations, cements their identities as plurilocal black men and women.

One of the highlights of the cricket tour in England was the invitation to the annual Barbados Cultural Organisation Charity Ball. Most MCSC members considered this event expensive. At £50 per ticket, they were adamant that the food served “better be delicious” and that the organisers should offer “more than just a dance.” The club president reminded them that the organisation does a lot of charitable work in Barbados; nevertheless, most members remained focused on what they would receive for £50. They were not disappointed, especially when they were entertained by an Afro-Caribbean comedian, offered a chance to win door prizes as grand as a trip for two to an all-inclusive resort in Barbados, and had an opportunity to meet the special guest of the evening, Sir Gary Sobers, one of their cricketing heroes and arguably one of the greatest international cricketers of all time. The Mavericks scrambled to introduce themselves, take his picture and thank him for what he gave to cricket and the West Indies. They were “honoured to shake his hand.” The elaborate buffet dinner was followed by a dance and a professional photographer set up a small studio in the lobby. While some patrons began to dance others lined up to have their photographs taken. Ten of the Mavericks managed to get a group picture taken with Sir Gary. I ran into Otis and Layton immediately after the photo was taken and they both had stars in their eyes. “Well, this is one trip to the motherland I will never forget!” (Layton). “Dat picture going right in my front hallway, you understand? Front an’ centre!” (Otis). The “motherland,” England, offered these two Barbadian men an opportunity to meet one of the icons from their homeland. Even men from other islands, such as Winston a black 59-year-old from Antigua, were impressed by the opportunity to be in the presence of cricketing greatness. Winston gushed: “He shook my hand, Janelle. You have no idea what this means to me.”

Travelling to England also allowed the MCSC to organise trips to more proximal diasporic locations. Through Barbadians they knew in England, who have friends and family in Boston, Massachusetts, the MCSC members were able to meet other people they knew and arrange annual games. Now they have added Boston to the list of teams they either host or visit every long weekend from May to September. Layton, a 48-year-old Barbadian-Canadian, is responsible for planning the Victoria Day trip, which sometimes coincides with the US Memorial Day holiday.

We travel every year, wholly and solely the long weekend in May. That’s one of the things. The club travels … our trips consists of between Boston; Philadelphia; Toledo, Ohio; Hartford. Once there’s an invitation out there we go … We always travel that long weekend. For example, our [club’s] 25-year anniversary, most of the group was going to England in 2004 but some of the group was here [in Toronto] and within two weeks we put a trip together to Toledo, Ohio and we had a full bus [45 people]. So nothing stops us from going away that May long weekend. Nothing. (Layton)

The Mavericks are devoted to long weekend travel for conviviality. In addition to the May long weekend, Layton and other long-standing club members have planned annual bus trips for Canada Day long weekend in early July and Labour Day long weekend in early September. Layton explains that the annual bus trips are such big events in the MCSC social calendar that even female club members are enthusiastic:

Shopping! The women love the shopping in the US … Because we travel on the Friday night, on the Saturday morning you probably don’t get to the hotel until two or three o’clock. So the ladies from here will meet up with ladies from there and will probably go shopping somewhere [on Saturday] and the Sunday they are all there [at the game].

Some women, who have been travelling with the Mavericks for decades, have developed relationships with the wives of some of the players from the other teams. In some cases they too have family and friends in the cities the Mavericks visit, so the cricket trip for the long weekend provides an opportunity for them to regenerate family and friendship ties as well as take advantage of the Canadian–US dollar exchange rate, greater bargains, wider selections and lower US taxes on food and clothing. Layton’s comments draw attention to the facts that “women and men differentially experience and participate in cross-border networks” (Trotz, 2011, p. 34), and that the Mavericks are a fascinating case study for how men’s and women’s motivations to make the drive from Toronto to Connecticut, Maryland or Pennsylvania were rarely mutually exclusive and could be combined on the same trip. There is a complex imbrication of economic and social/cultural investments that underlie transnational networks within diasporas–and cricket trips throughout the Black Atlantic are only partially about cricket.

In addition to their long-weekend trips to the United States, the Mavericks travel to the Caribbean for two weeks at least once per year. Return visits to the Caribbean give club members an opportunity to reconnect with people they left behind, who live in other islands and territories and who now reside around the world. At one game in Canaries, St. Lucia, both Griffith (from Barbados) and Michael (from Guyana) encountered old friends unexpectedly. They both ran into men who now live in St. Lucia that they had known when they attended the Royal Police Training College in Barbados. None of the four men had been born in St. Lucia and all were surprised and thrilled to meet each other at the game. They had intense conversations trying to get caught up on the goings on of the past three decades. The similarity between reunions in St. Lucia and England demonstrate the deterritorialisation of the Caribbean and the potential for diasporas to create homespaces in a variety of locations, including places other than the nation of origin or residence.

Remittances

While the routes to dispersed Caribbean locations facilitate reunions, the MCSC also travels to homelands to make economic contributions. Sending remittances (money and goods) to support those living in the Caribbean is a major source of the gross national product for many Caribbean nations and they have “become the most often-cited, tangible evidence and measuring stick for the ties connecting migrants with their societies of origin” (Guarnizo, 2003, p. 666). Money sent home can have a significant impact on local economies, market development, poverty reduction and economic growth, especially because money from remittances exceeds flows of foreign investment, official development assistance and sales of exports (Mundaca, 2009, p. 288).

The concept of remittance, however, opens much richer possibilities according to Jenny Burman (2002, p. 50): “if we consider the affective content implied by the extended definition of ‘remit,’ with its many nuances exceeding the act of sending: to surrender, to put back, to withdraw, to set free, to relieve from tension.” Money and goods are sent to sites and people left behind out of a sense of responsibility, altruism, attachment, selfishness, guilt and/or reparation; remittances are emotive investments (Crawford, 2003). Their full impact is difficult to measure, especially when goods remittances, including equipment, clothing, food and their associated social remittances, including ideas, identities, cultural practices or status are taken into account. Money and material items delivered by hand are difficult for government statistical agencies to capture, but have a significant impact on many nations’ economies, assist in maintaining community organisations and allow diasporas to extend further ideas about themselves and their new places of residence.

The Mavericks diasporic economic transactions are not formalised through non-governmental organisations, banks, or governments. On a more local, individual scale, they give money and donate their equipment in good or as-new condition to cricket clubs in the parishes and villages they visit for friendly games while on tour. In doing so, they mark themselves as benevolent, generous and having “made it” in Canada. Their donations confer them with the status of benefactors and enhance their standing and respect in their home communities, which may even translate into respect for the friends and family members they left behind. Maintaining respect through myths of affluence in Canada are critical components of Afro-Caribbean diasporic identities.

Diasporas can contest and redefine regimes of social hierarchies in their home and host nations, and improve their social position in both locations through the economic contributions they make. Individuals with little status in Canada demonstrated their Caribbean status through affiliation with high powered individuals, such as government officials and local celebrities upon returning to their homelands. For example, a 63-year-old black Barbadian-Canadian, Arnold, introduced his brother-in-law, a Barbadian government minister, to the team as “a big man dis” (this is an important man) when the Mavericks played a local team at the 3Ws Oval in Barbados in November 2009. Arnold assured that his teammates acknowledged his brother-in-law’s status and by association Arnold’s family importance in the context of the island. A donation of cricket equipment from Arnold or his teammates to the local team then reflected well on him, his wife’s family, and in this case, the Barbadian government as well.

A particularly poignant scene occurred at the Dennery cricket ground in St. Lucia in March 2008. Kundell, a 52-year-old St. Lucian-Canadian acted as the liaison between the Mavericks and a local team owing to his social and kinship relations with the latter. During the game, I noticed two young black boys, about 6 and 8 years of age, who began to play a bat-and-ball game just beside the boundary rope of the field. They took turns in bowling to each other and trying to specify in advance where their ball (which was actually an empty plastic pop bottle) would go once they hit it with their bat (which was fashioned out of a broken piece of plywood). Immediately after the game at this ground, the players had a post-game ceremony in which the captains and organisers gave speeches. The captain of the local team offered words of thanks to his Canadian “brothers”:

Participation in this tournament contributes to the redevelopment of sport in St. Lucia. We are thankful that you could also find time to come here and play a friendly game with us. Refurbishing the Dennery cricket field would not be possible without the support of players like you from Canada and the UK. We really really appreciate what you do for us.

In response, the Mavericks’ captain, Sam, a 61-year-old black Barbadian-Canadian thanked them for the opportunity and a great game:

We are just happy we can come here and contribute. Give back to our local communities. You know we brought our fees to play but we also brought some small tokens to help your club. Please accept these small gifts on behalf of the Ontario players.

At that moment, the Mavericks started digging into their equipment bags and brought out shoes, pads, helmets and bats to donate to the cricket club so that underprivileged youth, such as the two playing with the plywood and pop bottle, could have an opportunity to use real equipment and ostensibly to succeed in the sport. One of the boys was called forward to thank the MCSC. Sam described Dennery, as one of “our local communities,” although he is from Barbados, not St. Lucia, thus indicating his sense of a home away from home. At the same time, he specified Ontario as his home, distinguishing himself as an outsider who is “happy to contribute.”

As a consequence of the high-quality competition and hospitality that the team offered the Mavericks, Kundell, who had arranged the game, was venerated by his fellow club members. The donations the Mavericks made to that local club resulted in Kundell receiving accolades from his St. Lucian family and friends as well. Diasporic communities such as this “offer a unique context for interpreting individual and collective status claims … where certain practices, rituals, goods and artifacts have mutually intelligible meanings to community members” (Goldring 1998, p. 173). In this context, where cricket skill and therefore youth development is highly valued, the donation of money and equipment to a local club are prized remittances with long-lasting consequences. Diasporas are interpreted as having done well in relation to those they left behind based on the way they behave or dress, artefacts and friends they bring with them upon return, and their generosity with money and materials. Even if they experience marginalisation in the host country, valorisation among those who share community membership “at home” evinces the importance of place in shifting levels of status within diaporas’ transnational social networks. When the Mavericks return to the Caribbean they operate in a liminal space between local and tourist. The desire and ability to afford to give away relatively new items, marks them as wealthy and from the islands, but no longer of them. They also are able to distinguish among each other who is the morally superior, philanthropic, transnational citizen, who really cares about “his people” and who takes his (relative) wealth for granted.

I commended Ciskel, a 47-year-old Guyanese-Canadian, who told me that he purchases a new bat every year and takes his old one when he travels to the Caribbean because “You know for sure you’ll see someone who needs it.” He wished he could have been on the receiving end of such generosity when he was a boy. “Doesn’t that get expensive?” I asked, since bats can cost between $200 and $400 each. Ciskel explained why he feels an obligation to be generous:

No, well, in Canada, it’s like every man for himself. If I get few dollars I keep it in my bank account. But in the Caribbean it’s like, help your neighbour, or at least it should be. It’s just … that bat was my contribution, you know? I mean, a boy like that would never play with a solid bat [if] we don’t bring ’em down.

Winston, a black 59-year-old Antiguan-Canadian agreed:

When I was growing up there was hardly any donations. You know, there was hardly any outside source, the school had to raise money to buy gears for the girls and the boys … we wear gears that was probably two, three generations ahead of us. Probably my dad used those when he was a boy because in those times we never had help. So if I can help out a school or something, I bring my old stuff down. Why not?

Goods remittances, in the form of cricket equipment, are important elements in the two-week Caribbean cricket tours on which the Mavericks embark. Beyond donating money (which they also do), leaving cricket equipment behind helps to maintain particular (sub)cultures at home, and also maintain diasporic peoples’ membership in local Caribbean and racial communities. The Mavericks provide youth with resources to which they never had access and prove that they have not become too middle-class (i.e., individualistic, selfish, obsessed with accumulating wealth), but have become middle-class enough (i.e., with sufficient disposable income to permit regular travel and to give away relatively new items); they have maintained their solidarity and sense of obligation to those left behind and to a broader community. Their apparent benevolence and resistance to an individualist philosophy reveals some of the ambivalences and contradictions of postcolonialism, as they certainly benefit individually from purchases of new equipment that they make for themselves in preparation for leaving their old equipment behind. They mark a middle-class status through their consumption, sartorial styles and new equipment. Importantly, though, they marked themselves as communitarian and despite Winston’s comments about helping out a school, their donations were mainly to private cricket clubs instead of schools and therefore primarily benefited boys in their homelands and not girls.

Analysis of their financial and material contributions must also be set within their discussions of the decline of the West Indies (Windies) team and the lack of youth interest in the sport.1 To get “their boys” on the Windies team back on top, development of youth cricket is often heralded as the second most important factor, after rectifying the West Indies Cricket Board (Griggs, 2006). Ironically, all of the Mavericks describe having to grow up without the use of pads and helmets as especially good for their cricket development: they had to be brave, learn how to control the ball and how to protect their shins and wickets with a bat made from a coconut branch (see Chapter 4). Now, in addition to remitting professional grade cricket bats, they also remit what Levitt (1998, p. 933) refers to as “normative structures,” that is values, ideas and beliefs about the importance of proper equipment. Not only for bodily protection, but to become accustomed to using the best tools so that when they join league cricket or elite ranks, they will be able to compete with the rich boys. In their minds, donating proper equipment allows poor youth to improve their games and makes a small contribution towards the improvement of Windies cricket. When MCSC members donate cricket materials they “rally ’round the West Indies,” and consummate the lyrics of the calypso song by David Rudder they so often listen to around the boundary at their games. Rudder sings about the difficulties of the West Indies team to produce runs; however, he predicts that with enough support, “the runs are going to flow again like water.” In order for the West Indies team to regain supremacy, young boys in the region need the tools necessary for success.

Cricket remittances establish the Mavericks as successful emigrants, improve their status and the status of their friends and family members and, in the hands of particular talented boys who have dreams of one day playing at the professional ranks, the Mavericks’ donations make connections to home and to the future of Caribbean cricket concrete.

Hosting return visitors

Not every diasporic Afro-Caribbean can afford to or desires to travel regularly to reconnect with the plurilocal homeland and compatriots now dispersed all over the world. Travelling may assuage the desire to return permanently, but it is not an option for the Afro-Caribbean-Canadian who faces domestic obligations, economic hardship, or restrictive work schedules in Canada. Furthermore, many do not see it as necessary, especially when their own city is the destination for others. For those club members who do not travel, attending home games in Toronto against teams visiting from abroad is one means of maintaining their transnational networks. When the Mavericks are the hosts, they show their guests a good time by recreating a carnival atmosphere. Most invitations to matches in Toronto are for July and August to take advantage of the blazing heat, the “best weather for cricket” according to the Mavericks.

They welcome teams from the north-eastern United States, Quebec, southern Ontario, England and the Caribbean. One team from Barbados makes an annual trip to Ontario, playing games in cities around Toronto including in Pickering, Scarborough, Woodstock and Cambridge before making its way across the border to Boston, Massachusetts. Terrel boasts that the MCSC “was the first team to bring U.S. cricket teams here to play” in the 1980s, but this history is missing from Canadian sport history. These cricket grounds “undoubtedly mark the where and how of black geographies … [and] are just one example of how a specific, seemingly contained, place is made meaningful by invoking disparate connections in order to undermine and map an absented presence” in Canada (McKittrick, 2002, p. 32). The welcoming of visiting teams can be understood as a political act that abjures geopolitical boundaries on communities, yet places them firmly within the Canadian nation-state.

The reciprocal visits they make to play against north-eastern US teams carry symbolic racial significance. This is made clear through the names of the awards for which they compete: the “Throughway Trophy” and the “Railroad Cup.” Canada is symbolised as a place of liberation in dominant narratives of the Underground Railroad, the route and series of safe houses enslaved Africans who had escaped with the help of allies used to cross the border from the United States to Canada in the nineteenth century. The route from the United States to Canada remains as a symbol of freedom, commemorated in the names of the cricket trophies and the speeches made when delivering them to the winners of the games with visiting teams:

We want to thank our American brothers for coming up to Canada to share this weekend with us. We’re delighted to have you here, but sorry to have to beat you like that but … I think we proved once again that Canada is the best place for a black man to be (laughs) … No seriously, we love having you here to carry on the traditions of everything this [holds Throughway Trophy in the air] stands for. (Sam)

These games are politicised cultural interventions used to acknowledge difference from the dominant groups in Canada, keep racial identities salient, celebrate black freedom and to acknowledge the shared racialised history of black people in the United States and Canada. Yet, these Afro-Caribbean-Canadian men also use cricket spaces to differentiate themselves from African-Americans and have adopted dominant Canadian discourses of Canada as safe for black people and less racist than the United States.

The Mavericks do not openly discuss the ways that Canada was not free of racism during the period of the Underground Railroad. Blacks in Canada were limited in their freedoms and excluded from belonging both by the Canadian government and by African-Americans working to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in 1905 in Fort Erie, Ontario (Walcott, 2003). Nevertheless, in the taunting style of Muhammad Ali, Sam and his peers assume the characteristics of what Grant Farred (2003) refers to as “vernacular intellectuals” who “combine their ‘intellectual elaboration’ with their ‘muscular-nervous effort’” (p. 8). Farred continues, “Because it is a form of recreation, its preoccupation with pleasure rather than recognisable political concerns obscures and undermines its capacity to articulate resistance … cultural politics constitute a politics that is not conscious of itself as a political practice” (Farred, 2003, p. 132). While cultural celebrations by ethnic groups have been demonised as dangerous distractions to the anti-racist struggle (Hesse, 2000; hooks, 1990), the two are not mutually exclusive. The Mavericks do not dwell on the horrors of slavery, turn of the century racial exclusions, or ongoing anti-black racisms, but they acknowledge their shared black histories and struggles even as they turn to a celebratory ethos. Their diasporic physical cultures are political acts.

Layton points out that along with taking bus trips, hosting visiting teams is a highlight of the summer, but he laments that the Canadian summers are too short. “Sometimes we have too many offers to hold one weekend so we really have to set aside time for certain clubs. We have a club that comes every Caribana weekend from the U.S.”2 New Yorkers fill a bus with fifteen players and close to thirty supporters to drive overnight to Toronto to socialise with their friends and family from Toronto and elsewhere and to enjoy festivities associated with Caribana. The MCSC also welcomes visitors from Montreal and England as many members of the diaspora use the festival and the cricket match as an excuse to descend on Toronto. They usually arrive on Saturday morning and attend the Caribana parade or a cricket game on Saturday afternoon, the Mavericks’ dance on Saturday night and/or a cricket match on Sunday before they depart on the Monday. One black Antiguan-American player from the New York team referred to his first trip to Canada as “such a good party. Could hardly believe we were in Canada. So many other West Indians came [to watch the game]. The music, food, the weather even! I told my boys we gotta come back. We been coming back each year since 1981.” These long-standing travel traditions are central to the making of communal memories and deep transnational friendship networks.

The atmosphere at Caribana and the Mavericks games and dances are similar. These homespaces offer:

a kind of social therapy that overcomes the separation and isolation imposed by the diaspora and restores to West Indian immigrants a sense of community with each other and a sense of connection to the culture that they claim as a birthright. Politically, however there is more to these carnivals than cultural nostalgia. They are also a means through which West Indians seek and symbolize integration into the metropolitan society, by coming to terms with the opportunities, as well as the constraints, that surround them. (Manning, 1990, p. 35)

The Mavericks experience increasing constraints, especially as they age and face the social isolation and economic restrictions of retirement, reality of physical degeneration and illness and the passing away of their friends. The celebratory atmosphere of the games and transnational connections they make, however, allow them to escape those hardships, if only temporarily. Nurse explains that the “merriment, colourful pageantry, revelry, and street theatre” of diaspora carnivals “are born out of the struggle of marginalized peoples to shape a cultural identity through resistance, liberation and catharsis” (1999, p. 662). The Afro-Caribbean spaces created in Toronto through carnivals and cricket act as a bond within the diasporic community, that is, among migrants dispersed throughout the Black Atlantic and with nationals who remain at home in the nation of origin. They shrink the distance between non-contiguous nations and provide spaces that focus on the capacities, not limitations, of the body.

Terrel, a 56-year-old St. Lucian-Canadian reminded me that “if you are a member of [Mavericks] you have a friend in every country.” Sitting in the open trunk of Terrel’s van for an hour gave me a chance to hear him recount the history of the club and their activities of the past 30 years. The connections MCSC members who choose to stay in Toronto make to Afro-Caribbean people elsewhere are both social and financial. Terrel clarified for me that MCSC board members decide to invest a certain percentage of funds each year in local charities, organisations and people in need in the Caribbean and the African diaspora. For example, because they share a history with other people of African descent who are at greater risk of developing sickle-cell disease, the MCSC raises funds to contribute to increasing public awareness:

It’s not only involved in cricket. We do whatever we are called on to do, charitable activities, Scarborough Women’s Shelter, Sickle Cell Association. We donate to them every year. It would be a different amount each time depending on our budget … We give equipment to different groups in Barbados. We now have an application in to support a health association in Jamaica that’s not being supported by the government. We also give support to sick individuals within our community who need financial help.

The MCSC is a unique type of hometown association in that its members are not linked to a single nation-state. The charitable funds it donates to a wide range of local and foreign organisations and individuals come from fundraising initiatives such as dances and walkathons, philanthropic contributions from certain individuals, support from government institutions such as the Consul General of Barbados, sponsorship from companies for which some of the Mavericks work, and MCSC membership fees ($100 per year). “There are over 100 families included in our membership,” Terrel explained. “Some members are even in the U.S. and a few are at home in the Caribbean as well.” Foreign MCSC members are typically once-local members who have moved away or people who are related to local members and travel to Canada regularly in the summer and participate in MCSC events. For example, Terrel addressed a man who came over to his van to get some ice: “This guy here is from Montreal, but he comes to all our big events.” The Mavericks rely on members from near and far to contribute their membership fees, to buy $15 tickets to the dances they organise, which raise between four and five thousand dollars each year, and to raise money and attend the annual 10-km walkathon at Milliken Park in Toronto.

The activities that the Mavericks engage in to raise funds are always “fun.” I received an email advertising a “Fun Raising Dance in Aid of Their 2010 Australia Tour” that made me question whether the Mavericks team manager had made a typographical error. Sam, a 61-year-old black Barbadian-Canadian, assured me that he wanted to emphasise the “fun” time that would be had by all as a result of the door prizes and the excellent DJ they had hired. Another player hosted a domino tournament at his home and asked for a $20 donation from each participant to help to pay for the bus for an upcoming trip to Philadelphia. I thanked him for the invitation and when I told him that I do not play dominoes, he convinced me to come anyway. He claimed that someone would teach me and that even if I did not play, many of the female MCSC members enjoy sitting and talking or dancing in his living room. MCSC members also organise fundraising trips to casinos and fifty–fifty draws.

Fundraising initiatives are imperative for diasporic community building because they facilitate the making of connections with other dispersed Afro-Caribbeans, the purchase of “authentic” Caribbean food for the after-parties, paying a DJ who can spin Caribbean music, and the creation of a carnival-like homespace environment for the games. More importantly, fundraising allows club members, many of whom grew up in working-class homes, to give back to those in need. Terrel, a black 56-year-old St. Lucian-Canadian, takes pride in his ability to give back to the less fortunate “within our community” in Toronto and “at home in the Caribbean.” In 2005, the club was able to generate $10,000 in support of rebuilding two schools in Grenada. In 2008, they donated $4,000 to a woman in Jamaica who needed reconstructive surgery. Every year, they fund a scholarship for a Caribbean-Canadian student pursuing a criminology degree at a Canadian post-secondary institution. These types of financial donations demonstrate a commitment to the Caribbean community at home in their nations of origin and at home in Toronto. The MCSC members also donate goods to people in need, in many cases, without leaving their place of residence.

Assimilation hypotheses suggest that the longer immigrants remain in a country, the better able they are to navigate their environments and the less they should be actively involved in the home country. The findings of this study echo those of Portes et al. (2007, p. 260) and Guarnizo et al. (2003, p. 1229), who discovered that because they have resources of time and money to dedicate, it is older, better-educated and more established immigrants who are, in fact, more prone to participate in transnational ventures. For example, a Canadian passport enables transnational travel without restrictions, and migrants with secure jobs or retirement pensions can afford to make charitable donations.

An analysis of Afro-Caribbean migrants’ “routes” provides evidence that a bi-nodal diaspora framework (the study of movement, donations and social contacts between the place of origin and Canada) is insufficient to describe the cross-border social and financial connections important to the formation of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora. To fully comprehend the complexities of their embodied transgressions of geopolitical boundaries, a multi-nodal analysis of diaspora that takes account of ethnicity as well as race is warranted. Their deterritorialised identities and practices are formed through travel from Canada to their home nation and other Caribbean countries, as well as to Afro-Caribbean spaces in England and the United States. Accepting visitors from abroad and throwing a fête in Canada is an additional means of strengthening their community networks and self-definitions as black, Afro-Caribbean and as Canadian. Unlike some diasporic groups, such as Indo-Fijians, that retain only a symbolic connection to the “cultural hearth,” (Voigt-Graf, 2004), first-generation Afro-Caribbean-Canadians maintain strong links to their nations of origin.

Repatriation

One other critical dimension of their routes is the role of travel to the nation of origin in the repatriation after a few years or decision-making process. Nearly all MCSC members described leaving their nations of origins with plans to repatriate after a few years or upon retirement. However, as a result of their regular return visits to their homelands, where trips were riddled with disappointment owing to a mismatch between their expectations and the reality of the security, familiarity and delight that home is supposed to provide, few maintained this plan. Kundell was particularly eager to show his friends a good time on his native island of St. Lucia. Before we departed he spoke to me at length about the places the team would visit, including his favourite restaurant, The Lime, in Rodney Bay. He desperately anticipated tasting that home-cooked cuisine again. After the first game in the tournament, Kundell was awarded “man of the match” honours for scoring 84 runs in a winning effort. With this honour also comes the “reward” of buying the first round of drinks. He accepted both prizes and directed all of the MCSC members to The Lime for a big celebration. When we got there, we found it was under new management and renovations and were directed to a lower-quality pub across the street. Kundell’s disappointment was palpable. He had looked forward to the “oxtail with rice and food (plantain and yams)” for weeks and was already salivating. He was shocked and disappointed at how much things had changed. This “third rupture,” James (1993) explains (the first being the rupture from Africa and the second being the rupture from the Caribbean), is the result of a nostalgia that paints an idealised, static picture of home. When the migrant learns that home no longer exists as he or she remembers, it can be disorienting.

Kundell’s disappointment extended to his actual performance after his illustrious start to the tournament. He initially thought a tournament at home in St. Lucia would be the ideal location. In fact, he had been integral to the organising efforts. He eschewed the team hotel in favour of returning to his childhood home and paying a visit to his elderly parents. Nevertheless, he ensured that the Mavericks brought business to a hotel his friend managed. He had looked forward to playing matches with friends and family in the audience and against some of his old mates on grounds he had accessed as a child. However, after the first week, he started to feel as though playing cricket at home featured too many distractions and obligations. He did not have enough time to visit all the members of his extended family whom he felt compelled to see and bestow with gifts. Arranging matches against local teams became stressful, owing to the laissez-faire attitude, of some of the locals. He explained that sleeping in his childhood bed was uncomfortable and led to his inability to concentrate on the sport. His cricket performance suffered as a result. He went out without scoring a run in half of the remaining games and vowed not to return to St. Lucia any time soon.

I described this experience to Riddick, a black 54-year old, who related similar stories of disappointment upon return to his homeland, Barbados.

I’ve been here [in Canada] 30 something years versus the 16 I spent in Barbados so I guess I feel more Canadian than Barbadian. When I go home I’m ready to come back after two or three weeks. Here you have the theatre. There you get tired of the beach … I go to Barbados every year and visit my family and play cricket. It’s real relaxed there. No pressures. But it’s not like when we were kids. There’s nothing to do. (Riddick)

Unlike Kundell, who experienced too many obligations and not enough time, when Riddick takes return trips he cannot fill the time. In Toronto, he enjoys watching plays, eating Malaysian food and having reliable internet access. In Barbados, he feels relaxed, but socially restricted.

Marshall is disillusioned with his homeland as a result of the rude behaviour he so often sees on the streets – behaviour he insists was unconscionable when he lived there 34 years ago.

Marshall: I don’t understand why people have to be so ignorant. Last time I went home this one pregnant woman was taking her time crossing the street. I wait for her in my car, but she was really taking her time. Finally she gets in front of my car and I say “you’re welcome” kind of sarcastically, but she really taking forever! Then, can you believe she has the nerve to cuss me out? And not just a little cussing. She went up one side of me and down the other with swears. I see it all the time when I go home now. People just too ignorant!

Janelle: Maybe you’re too Canadian now? You’re too polite?

Marshall: Maybe that’s something like it. Either I changed or they did, but I’ll tell you something, it makes me want to change my mind about retiring there.

Marshall’s interaction with this woman rudely interrupted his nostalgia for a homeland where “proper manners” are a priority – especially for women. He acknowledged that a change had taken place but could not pinpoint its locus. This analysis requires a reading across the Atlantic as well as across class and gender dimensions.

Locals might also share MCSC members’ admonishments of (especially) young females who curse, roll their eyes and kiss their teeth (expressions of frustration). Indeed, Belinda Edmonson’s (2003) description of public femininity in the Caribbean explains how women who do not conform to respectable public performances are positioned as “anti-women,” who undermine social, economic and political nationalist projects. To mark the boundary around his own middle-class black masculinity, he had been taught to create notable distinctions in habit, speech and style from working classes and from women. To see a woman “cussing” outdoors in the way he and his peers do was unacceptable because she was drawing from, in Wilson’s (1973) terms, a masculine reputation system. Moreover, for over a century the respectable classes have not tolerated the “wantoness” of young black women associated with the streets, yards and dancehalls because they have been perceived to threaten to reverse the gains of the black middle-class, who seek to be recognised as civilised (Edmonson, 2003). The fact that the working-class woman Marshall encountered was pregnant was not lost on him. She represented the future of his homeland, Barbados. As civilised, middle-class local men and also as Canadian returnees, some migrants reject some aspects of the indigenous cultures in which they grew up.

Jared, a black 57-year-old Antiguan-Canadian intended to build a home in Antigua to live in for half of the year after he retired, but after visiting for one cricket trip and seeing how homes that are not secured can be looted or destroyed, he quickly changed his mind: “If I come back, it’s got to be permanent. I’m not interested in leaving my house empty for six months for these vagabonds. I’ll probably just rest my bones in Canada. It’s a lot of headache. It’s just a real headache now.” Duval (2004) has pointed out that return visits can facilitate the process of repatriation. The reports of these cricket tourists suggest that their “routes” can facilitate the decision not to repatriate.

Visiting the homeland forces members of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora to see home not as the idyllic utopia they remember, but as a dynamic site, and the change may be for the worse, in their opinion. Nostalgia, despite its private, sometimes intensely felt personal character and psychological manifestations, is a deeply social emotion that connects us to others, a connection that can be sharply broken when forced to face a reality that does not match with one’s memory. Nostalgia is “a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed … a sentiment of loss and displacement … a romance with one’s own fantasy” (Boym, 2001, p. xiii). If they stay “at home” in Canada, they can create the homeland environment they desire and associate with people who they perceive as sharing their values.

Some Afro-Caribbeans’ desires to connect with people and cultures of the Black Atlantic are fulfilled through their affiliations with a cricket and social club. The MCSC travels various routes to Caribbean and diasporic locations to facilitate emotional reunions and economic investments. Their charitable donations of money and goods help to improve the lives of the poor and infirm locally and across the Black Atlantic, the potential of the West Indies cricket team, and their status both here and in the Caribbean region as morally upright, benevolent, and generous members of the diaspora. Moreover, when they use funds to augment their own cricket experiences (e.g., to pay for authentic Afro-Caribbean food, well-kept grounds, professional umpires, or trips to diasporic Afro-Caribbean cricket spaces or to their Caribbean homelands where they can play with their friends and family members), they are able to replicate the cricket they played at home and reconstruct the homeland. However, their routes also reveal that they are unable to remake the idyllic past, forcing them to draw on nostalgic memories of home for pleasure. In the following chapter, this idea of travelling to the homeland is discussed further, but rather than focusing on actual geographic travel, it is shown how cricket-related nostalgic storytelling is an essential means of creating gendered and racial identities for older Afro-Caribbean men.

Notes

1 The Windies is ranked eighth of 10 teams, above only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (December 2015).
2 Caribana is the colloquial name for a festival now officially called The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival.

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Sport in the Black Atlantic

Cricket, Canada and the Caribbean diaspora

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