Influencer Rose Mary Allen: sharing and resilient

Interview November 2019

Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I have lived in Steenenkoraal near the Shell neighbourhood of Suffisant and my parents had played a very important role in my life. My mother is from Saint Kitts and came to work as a domestic servant for the director of the oil company Shell. I consider her a strong woman, who stressed the fact that her children should study in order to be better off than her, in the society. She was very strict with us and as we grew up, we began to understand why she was like that. She wanted us to focus on our studies and was less willing to let us be more playful. My father at the other hand was more soft in his approach towards us. The focus on letting us study was also noticable, when I changed school from the country side to one in town, which at that time was considered better. First I went to the so-called MULO and afterwards to HBS B. In the beginning when I was in the MULO, I was behind in Spanish and my father would then do my household chores, so that I would have more time to dedicate on my homework. Him doing my household chores was very humbling as in a “macho” oriented society, doing household tasks was “not done”, but still he would do it anyway. That was just one of the ways he supported us and they were proud of what we achieved at school. My father was the more lenient one, you could talk and negotiate with him. I carry the name of my mother, Allen, because they married one year after I was born. We are six brothers and sisters. I also have 5 other brothers and sisters from my father’s side who had them before he married my mother. I have 2 children of my own and I am proud of them of what they have become. I have raised them by myself, after I divorced.

Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences as we know that you are an entrepreneur?
Well I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur, but more an anthropologist. I have a degree in Cultural Antropology of the University of Nijmegen. First I started to study in Amsterdam, but as my then husband from Nigeria was doing a PhD in Nijmegen, I moved to live and finish my study in that city.
I am an antropologist. I have always loved my work and it has become my way of life. As I left AAINA (Archeological and Anthropological Institute of the Netherlands Antilles) and the government, I continued working as an antropologist. It is just whom I am. I continued to record “lived experiences” of elderly people through oral history and looked at how their experiences are shaped by subjective factors such as identity, age, race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, political associations, and ethnicity. Through studying the “lived experiences”, I learned about society and about how individual experiences are communicated from generation to generation.

My dissertation “Di ki manera? A Social History of Afro-Curaçaoans, 1863-1917” in which I look at the key factors determining the social and cultural life of Afro-Curaçaoans during the first fifty years after the abolition of slavery in 1863, is based for a considerable part on the oral histories of the former enslaved people in Curaçao.

An interesting study I did was the one about the Curaçaoan workers, who had gone to Cuba to work, in which I interviewed both those who went to work in Cuba and returned and also those who stayed behind in Cuba and never came back. Recording that last phenomenom was interesting, as it entailed that I had to do my research in Cuba, which was a rather an adventurous experience. At first, it was a little bit challenging to find these people. The results were presented in the book “Ta Cuba mi ke bai” and in the publications “Emigración Laboral de Curazao a Cuba a principicios del siglo XX” and “We are of the same blood: The Curaçaoan-Cuban intra-Caribbean migration in the conceptualization of identity and the politics of belonging.” Migration has also been the theme in the articles “Hacia una cultura Caribeña: Explorando las migraciones de los Curazoleños en el Caribe en el siglo XIX y XX por medio del lente sociohistórico”, published in Batey: “Revista Cubana de Antropología Sociocultural as well as “Music in Diasporic Context: The Case of Curaçao and Intra-Caribbean Migration” in Black Music Research Journal.As the daughter of an English speaking migrant mother, the theme of migration has always fascinated me btw.

You are a cultural antropologist and researcher?
Yes, I am. I use qualitative research methods, offering people to talk as much as they can and express themselves, based on guiding questions that I ask. The aim is to get a much deeper understanding of certain phenomena, expressions and philoshophy of life and oral history forms an important part of the research. Certain events in history, lack certain detailed information and oral history offers the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.

You are an award winner of the Cola Debrot award and Boelie van Leeuwen prijs, is that correct?
After I finished my career at AAINA, I decided to leave the government and started working on my PhD thesis and finished that. I worked on different subject matters and based on that, I was honored first with the Boelie van Leeuwen award. This was especially because of my research on oral history, not only in Curaçao, but also outside of Curaçao and the consistency in my work.

Later on, I was awarded the Cola Debrot award for my work in Science and Humanities, because of my work on issues such as collective identities and identifications, culture and gender issues in Curaçao as compared to the rest of the Caribbean. See e.g. some of my articles such as: “The Complexity of National Identity Construction in Curaçao, Dutch Caribbean”, in: European Review of Latin American and Caribbean: ”Toward Reconstituting Caribbean Identity Discourse from within the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao”, in: “Freedom, Power and Sovereignty: The Thought of Gordon K. Lewis” as well as “An Intersectional Approach to Understanding the Social Life of Female British Caribbean Immigrant Domestic Workers”, in: Dissolving Disciplines. “Tidal Shifts in the study of the languages, literatures and cultures of the Dutch Caribbean and beyond”. Most of my articles are available on the academic platform academia edu.

Overall, I am particularly interested to find out how we think of ourselves as “Yu di Korsou”, and to look at the role of migrants in our society. We are basically a society, shaped by different migrants coming together and we tend to underestimate this given fact. For example, 2019 is the year of the musical instrument “Kaha di orgel”, which is now considered part of our cultural heritage. But it originally came from Venezuela through a Curaçaoan migrant and was appropriated culturally by the society. So in my work, I tend to emphasize on the role of migrants in our society just a little bit more.

You have been successfull up to now, but where do you want to be let us say 5 years and 10 years from now?
I would say, check my age and health, that is the first thing that comes to mind. I am still healthy so in that sense, I am still in the middle of the playing field.
So I would still be doing the things, that I love to do and have the talent to do. I have alsways said: “When you retire, your talents will not retire with you”. Go and continue to contribute to the country and the good of all. It bothers me, when I see that people try to label other people that are older than 60 and tend to put you aside. Still doing what you love at this age, it gives you so much satisfaction especially if you are contributing to the good of all. I would say that in 5 to 10 years from now, I would like to be healthy and I would still be doing what I am doing now and that is contributing to the society in a positive way, based on my talents and knowledge.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
Serving, by sharing my knowledge with, and give a hand to, the younger generations, so that they can progress, both professionally and personally.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
The most important thing is the efforts, I make to stay healthy. I go to the gym regurlarly and this gives my the energy to deal with life and do the things I am still doing and involved in.

How would you describe Rosemary in one word or one sentence?
Resilient, whatever happens I will always have enough resilience, to bounce back. Also hard work and discipline. These are my life’s motto’s.

Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
Apart from my mother and father, they are Elis Juliana and Pater Brenneker. They complemented each other so much in their journey to study the essence of the “Yu di Korsou”. Without their work we wouldn’t have the information we have now.

Intellectually in my work as an antropologist, there were also different people, but if I would select one, it would Tom Lemaire. He taught us to look at cultures from the viewpoints of the people who experience them.. The mainstream antropology had the tendency to consider certain cultures as primitive and to look down on those people. He respected these cultures, in particular their ways of dealing with the environment and this caught my attention as a young student.

What are your strengths?
Resilience as I mentioned before, but also whatever happens, doesn’t matter how bad it is, I always learn for this experience. Check this quote of Nelson Mandela, it represents another of my life motto’s:

“I never fail, I either win or learn.”

I am very humble, as I truely believe, that you can learn from anyone, from the youngest child to the eldest person.

I honor and value everybody for whom they are, as this attitude helps me to be open for other people and learn from them.

I believe that you can even learn something new on your own death bed.

What is a trait that you consider work in progress that you are working on to become a better you?
Being more open and more sponteanous, being more able to connect better with other people.

What was a defining moment in your life?
I have had different defining moments, but I would say the moment I had to defend my PhD thesis was an important one. This is something that I have longed for so long. In my younger years, I couldn’t imagine that I would come this far. But it defined me, it is who I am. To succeed in something I have worked for so long. It is a result of my determination of never giving up in life.

Other defining moments are when I got the Boelie Van Leeuwen price and the Cola Debrot award. Because it meant receiving recognition of my work during my life time, not after I had passed away.

And finally, my two children. They have become respected citizens in the society.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 10 years from now?
I would want them to say, how much they love me and how I influenced their lives in a positive way.

Do you believe that the fact that we were colonized still has an impact in the mindsets and the culture of our people?
The late Pader Amador Romer used to say, that even though we didn’t personally experience enslavement like in the colonial times way back generations ago, it still affects our mindsets. We have the tendency to surpress these emotions. We can notice some of these traits originating from those times within our families themselves and sometimes when I talk with some youngsters they would refer to their grandparents and what they have learned from them about experienced oppression during that given past history, and in that way these ideas are transmitted from generation to generation. Even intellectuals might think they are not affected by this, but you see it in their way of thinking and behaving, in particular when they are dealing with people whom they have been taught to accept as being superior. And this feeling of inferiority opposed to that of superiority just doesn’t just go away easily as this is an internalized thing, that is passed on to the next generations.

One example of this, is the importance we give to being “respected”. We put so much emphasis on “respect”, which I think means to be seen and to be recognized as a human being. You can even hear it in the lyrics of songs being “rapped” (“Nan ta dis bo” = meaning they disrespect you). E.G. I remember how in a film on the revitalized Pietermaai area, with all the new investments in restaurants and hotels, the original inhabitants when interviewed said that they liked the developments, but felt that the newcomers did not respect them as they did not even greet them when they would encounter each other on the street.

The emotional wounds from the past will not be healed by themselves. I strongly believe that as long as those who have enslaved our ancestors and colonized us, don’t apologize to us, and we who were colonized don’t render forgiveness, we will not pass through this collective healing process. It will stay under the surface of our collective consciousness and erupt violently at times. As e.g. during 30th of May 1969, where the protesters expressed their historically anchored hatred. But also look more recently at the discussions that took place around 10-10-2010, as Curaçao gained its autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This anger and hatred is historically explainable and it will not disappear by itself. As a country we indeed have to move forward, but moving forward entails that we also have to deal with the pain of the past.

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
“Yu di Korsou” are strong people. Slowly but surely I am taking notice, that although things are not going well, people are resilient and that e.g. they are starting to plant their own food, they are starting their own businesses. This power, as they are becoming more and more aware that they have it, this I believe will put us in a position that we can and will survive whatever the challenges are that we are confronted with.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I really enjoyed this interview a lot. It triggered me to think and reflect deeper on myself, the society and the world at large.

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Rose Mary Allen is one of the leading cultural historians of Curaçao. Her work based on oral history and the influence migrants had in our society has earned her two awards the Boelie van Leeuwen award and the Cola Debrot award. Her humble demeanor, her attitude to never stop learning and her focus to share her vast knowledge with the next generations definitely makes her an Influencer representing the Arts and Cultural sector and we deeply respect and love her and consider her to be one of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao.

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