At present (2019), there are thousands of Venezuelan residents who have come to Trinidad to escape from the economic hardship they face in their native land. This is not a new phenomenon. There has been movement from the Mainland to the Island, Iere, for centuries. In modern times, that is, during the nineteenth century when Venezuela was undergoing political changes from colony to independence, many Venezuelans of all social levels migrated to Trinidad. Among these immigrants were the forefathers of the cocoa panyols (pronounced pah-yol) or Trinidad panyols who are often called “Spanish”.
In this blogpost, I share with you some of the social history of these compatriots. These and other stories could be enjoyed in their entirety in the book, The Cocoa Panyols of Trinidad: an Oral Record, where my own introduction to the Cocoa Panyols is documented.
One day, in 1967, I went to Gran Curacaye with my father. It seemed like a disorderly assortment of houses located off the main road between San Juan and Santa Cruz. I was born nearby but had grown up in Port of Spain. Our own house was located on a hill overlooking the capital of our island. As a girl I could see the black steeple of St Mary’s College, the fortress-like walls of my school, and beyond them the Gulf of Paria glimmering like steel in the sun. To my right, the mountains and hills tumbled down to the sea and directly ahead of me across the Gulf, on a clear day I could distinguish the Venezuelan mountains. I recall that my father informed me that Güiria was on a straight line on the other side of the Gulf. He brought out a map to show me how Port of Spain and Güiria faced one another.
I used to stare at the pale blue Venezuelan mountains and imagine life over there where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. I loved Spanish and wished I could speak it every day as they did. My aunt was Venezuelan and my uncle himself visited us in Trinidad very often. He worked on the oilfields of Anzoategui as a mechanic. He was prosperous; he spoke about bolívares and dólares. He brought us gold jewellery: bracelets, chains, earrings, a watch and cufflinks for my Daddy.
My father spoke Spanish. He was from Grenada but had lived in Cuba and Colombia from age seventeen to thirty-four. In the 1960’s he took me to communities in Trinidad that I had never visited before. When I was growing up I did not know that there were Trinidadians whose first language was Spanish. Imagine my surprise on reading about them in a Spanish newspaper in Madrid, Spain! I had been residing in Spain as a student and was at home on vacation. I thought I should meet these local Spanish speakers and analyse their variety of Spanish. Therefore, my dear father introduced me to his friends in Gran Curacaye, Felicidad and her family. She was the first Trinidad Spanish speaking panyol I met. She told me about parang…The Cocoa Panyols of Trinidad: an Oral Record
In the next post, I’ll share more about Felicidad.