Voices 
of New York

Home

  2001 Map
  2011 Map
  Albanian
  Arabic
  Brazilian
  Chinese
  Columbian
  Cuban
  Dominican (1)
  Dominican (2)
  Ecuadorian
  Ethiopian
  Filipino
  Greek
  Haitian
  Hasidim
  Indian
  Indo-Guyanese
  Irish
  Italian
  Jamaican
  Japanese
  Korean (1)
  Korean (2)
  Mexican
  Pakistani
  Polish
  Puerto Rican
  Peruvian
  Romanian
  Russian
  Salvadorian
  Senegalese
  Trinidadian
  Turkish
  Ukrainian
  Vietnamese
  West Indian


Indo-Guyanese A LOTE speaking community in Richmond Hills, NY

Brenda Mangru and Madhu Pillai

         The Indo-Guyanese Americans use their dialect of English as a LOTE in everyday activities in Richmond Hills, which is a community in Queens, New York that has a high concentrated Indo-Guyanese American population. Although the Indo-Guyanese Americans speak English fluently the dialect they use is very different in everyday communication among the group. Richmond Hills is composed of many immigrants but the Indo-Guyanese American is the largest and they have created a cultural link to their homeland in the area by starting cultural associations, charity organizations, grocery stores, restaurants, jewelry shops, and places of prayer. Through extensive research and one-on-one interviews, the richness of the Indo-Guyanese American culture became clear.

         The Indo-Guyanese originated in India. After the abolition of slavery Indians were brought into Guyana as indentured servants. This group of Indians was of Hindu religion and spoke Hindi. Among the Hindus, some were Muslims who spoke Urdu and others were Christians. Many of the Hindus that are Indo-Guyanese worship Satya Sai Baba and they have "Centers for Satya Sai Baba" throughout Queens. India and Guyana were both part of the British Empire and thus English was use widely and the main languages of both India and Guyana are partly English. This group of Indo-Guyanese became large and now Guyana has 51.0% Indo-Guyanese (Guyana Chronicle). Many of these Indo-Guyanese started immigrate to the United States and Canada. One of the largest communities of the Indo-Guyanese is in Richmond Hills, New York.

         Within the community, Guyanese English is the primary LOTE in use within the community. Other LOTE's used in the area are, Hindi, Cantonese, and Spanish. This variation of languages can be accounted for by the demographics of the community. Richmond Hills is mainly composed of immigrants from China, India, Guyana, and Caribbean. The population is comprised of immigrants and their first generation American born children. The Majority of the population consists of both Indo-Guyanese (those born in Guyana who have Indian ancestry) and Afro-Guyanese (those born in Guyana who have African Ancestry). There is also a concentration of South East Indians and Latin Americans within the community. This is taken into account through observations of grocery stores and restaurants within the area.

         The official language of Guyana is English, spoken with an accent and a set of words and terms that differ from many other English speakers in the US. Other languages spoken are Hindi and a few Amerindian dialects. Those Indo-Guyanese who migrate here from Guyana most often speak English and there are few who speak Hindi because of their Indian descent. Those who do not speak Hindi have in a sense lost touch with their motherland, India after immigrating to Guyana.

         When walking down Liberty Avenue, one will be overwhelmed by the various Guyanese stores in operation. Among there were Trinidadian owned stores as well as South East Indian and Latin American stores. The South East Indian and Latin American stores were less common than were Guyanese and Trinidadian. Most of these stores were restaurants consisting of traditional Guyanese foods, grocery stores, and Jewelry stores promising to use the very yellow and pure Guyanese gold in their jewelry. There were also some Guyanese and Trinidadian owned stores, which sold clothes typically worn in India. It was here that we saw the influence of South East India on the Indo Guyanese population. In addition to these stores were also a few video stores specializing in South Eastern Indian movies with English subtitles for those who did not understand Hindi. Not only did the first generation Indo-Guyanese Americans have a need to learn about their Guyanese and Indian origin, but the Indo-Guyanese who migrated to the United States had a need to keep in touch with their distant Indian origin. They enjoy movies, music, literature and language of both Guyana and India.

         From home to school the Indo-Guyanese American students vary their use of English. In schools, Indo Guyanese students learn how to speak English with an American accent. This accent however, soon fades and becomes more native Guyanese when they leave school and go home to their families. While researching this paper, we came across a High School aged girl, named Maleeni, who told us of her experiences as an Indo-Guyanese American. This girl's family migrated from Guyana to New York in the mid 1970's. She was born and raised in Richmond Hills Before attending school, Maleeni learned, from her parents, to speak English like a Guyanese would. Once, she started school however, she was taught something a bit different. "In school, I learned to speak without my Guyanese accent. At home, if I speak that way, my parents think I'm trying to be American. It's like they think I'm losing my culture." Maleeni confirmed to us that she has other friends of both Trinidadian and Guyanese descent that have similar feelings. However, she did add that she was never taught by her schoolteachers to hide her culture, it was more a matter of them telling her to speak "properly."

         As we continued our conversation, Maleeni began speaking of her experiences in High School. In her experience attending Richmond Hills High School, there was more pride in Guyanese culture. There are after school activities set up for people of Guyanese descent. For example, there is a Caribbean Culture Club set up which has members with descent from all Countries in the Caribbean and certain countries in South America. Although she was used to speaking American English with her school friends, after joining this club, speaking Guyanese English became more of the norm for her when in the presence of her schoolmates. She also added that many of the Chinese and Hispanic students received ESL but the Indo-Guyanese students did not.

         The Indo-Guyanese who are Christian attend a local church but there are a lot more Hindus than Christians. The Hindus have religious ceremonies at their houses monthly and they attend a temple. There is one located in Flushing, Queens. There is an up and coming group that worships Sathya and Sai Baba and hey have various centers for bahjans, a group prayer ceremony with songs. After attending one of these ceremonies, we saw their devotion by the energy and feeling with which they sung the songs.

         Songs and dances are a major part of the shows the various Indo-Guyanese Associations put together. Such organizations in the area are the Hindu Caribbean American Cultural and Arts Association, The Indo-Caribbean Federation of North America, and the Association of Guyanese-Americans. There are other associations for the Chinese and South Indians active in the area in a small way. The Indo-Guyanese organizations listed above teach the youth about their cultural origins and let them show it off on stage by performing dances, songs, and plays. The development of the cultural groups in the area had made a necessity for announcements of community news.

         The Caribbean Journal has taken the task to inform Indo-Guyanese and other Guyanese of their accomplishments and news worthy information. Editor in Chief, Mr. Prem Misir Ph.D. showed that the literary news the journal provides allows a viable mean of communication. This journal is published weekly and distributed through the mainland and selected stores in the area. Indo-Guyanese grocery stores sell magazines and newspapers with information about the goings on in Guyana as well as. These newspapers are all published in the standard written for m of English. Publications in other languages can be found as well. Chinese (which happens to be another LOTE used in the neighborhood) newspapers can be found in stores throughout the neighborhood as well.

         Newspapers allow people to provide services to help people. In the newspaper, we saw services fro Indo-Guyanese such as tax returns, airline tickets and visas, filling out forms, applications and escort service for the elderly. There were also advertisements for charity organizations for children in Guyana and India. These services show the solid foundation that the Indo-Guyanese and other Caribbeans have established in Richmond Hills.

         Alden Gumpti is an Indo-Guyanese American, now 20 years old, was born in Guyana and raised in Richmond Hills, NY from the age of four. His great grandparents were born in India and immigrated to Guyana. In Guyana, they settled down and raised their family who lived there fro three generations. Then, with the generation of his parents, the family moved to the United States. Alden has siblings who were born in the United States after the arrival of his family. He however, is Guyanese by birth.

         When Alden came to this country, he was already speaking with a thick Guyanese accent. It was going to school in Richmond Hills that gave him the ability to vary his accent. In school he learned the way to speak "standard" American English. He says that this ability helps him in a number of situations. His father, for example kept his thick Guyanese accent, and found it difficult to communicate with people outside of the community. He told us that his father, who speaks rather quickly, must sometimes repeat himself and slow down his words in order to be understood.

         When one speaks to Alden, there is a slight Guyanese accent that can be heard through his New York accent. This accent however is even more noticeable when he is speaking to a family member, a friend, or even a West Indian storeowner in his neighborhood. Although it is English that is being spoken, there is something about the accent and phrasing that makes is difficult for a non-speaker, or someone who is not familiar with the accent to comprehend. When we addressed this fact, he told us that with his non-West Indian friends he has to try to eliminate his accent because they wouldn't understand him.

         The Indo-Guyanese community in Richmond Hills is growing in social strength and political influence daily. This group has established community organizations for cultural and religious growth for generations to come. Local publications have established communication and stored have established distribution of goods from their home country. This group has been able to live along side other LOTE speaking communities and have the main influence in the Richmond Hills community. Through personal knowledge, interviews of Indo-Guyanese immigrants and Indo-Guyanese American students, and references to newspapers and the local establishments of Indo-Guyanese one can see the strength of the community and the richness in culture that they hold high and promote.

Works Cited (References)

The Association of Guyanese Americans. 126-17 liberty ave., Richmond Hill, NY 11419
Atlantic West Indian Grocery, 130-02 101 ave South Richmond Hills, 718-805-6964.
Caribbean Journal, PO Box 180306, Richmond Hill, NY 11418, Phone/fax (718) 845-8760
Guyana Chronicle. www.landofsixpeople.com, People; facts about Guyana Population Distribution, 2001
Guyana Gold, 124-08 Liberty Ave South Richmond Hills, 718-843 1365
Guyana Solidarity Movement of New York, 101 37 123rd street, Richmond Hill, NY 11419, 718 849-2513
Hindu Caribbean American Cultural Arts Association, 131-21 Liberty Ave., Richmond Hill, NY 11419
The Indo Caribbean Federation of North America, Inc. 129-18 Liberty Ave., Richmond Hill NY 11419
Little Guyana Bake Shop, 116-44 Liberty Ave South Richmond Hills, 718-843-6530

indo1.jpg indo2.jpg

Click on the thumbnail to view the full image.

All content copyright New York University, 2001. Contact the webmaster here. Please direct questions about individual papers to their respective authors, found via NYU's search function.