When I returned from the US Army to NY in 1980, I decided to make a career in real estate. But before my entry into this profession I met Ramesh Kalicharran, a Guyanese who was already a broker on Hillside Avenue. He demonstrated his convictions with his dedication to his faith and during his career he made significant contributions to Guyana’s diaspora.
I am a Trinidadian and he was a Guyanese but we both had the same desires, it was finding homes for the Guyanese and Trinidadians including others. The people from Guyana were fleeting in search of a better life due to some political hostilities within their government.
And in 1981 I met the 1st Guyanese lawyer, his name was Romeo Ramson whose office was at 143rd Street and Hillside Ave. We were good friends, he never spoke softly but carried a big stick.
At the same time, the massive exodus was increasing and so was the US interest rates for home mortgages in NY, this didn’t deter or impede the buying frenzy of both Trinidadians and Guyanese. In fact, the majority of buyers were Guyanese who flocked to Richmond Hill but Trinis held on to their convictions to return home to what was sometimes called little NY.
In 1980 the stretch from Lefferts Blvd. to the Van Wyck was desolated, deplorable and undesirable. Most of the buildings were boarded up, others were used for rental. It appeared abandoned and blighted, because no one had shown interest in investing on that particular stretch including myself until about 1990.
I bought my first building at 115 and Rockaway Blvd where I opened C21 Goldfield Realty. And in 1982 I became the zone chairperson in Queens for the Long Island Board of Realtors where I acted as an arbiter to resolve disputes among brokers.
In 1995 or thereafter, the Mayor of Schenectady in conjunction with the Guyanese diaspora invited Governor George Pataki to a forum at 111 street and Atlantic Ave. We had already met at a board meeting.
The Governor, having known me serving on the board, asked me to speak and I complied. But because of my failure to isolate myself and mentioned that I am a native of Trinidad, a Trinidadian Businessman chided me for not doing so and this was all done in the presence of Mr. Totaram a local attorney who can affirm this.
When Ex PM Basdeo Panday, Kamla Persad- Bessesar and Winston Dookeran visited NY, I introduced them to meet Mr. Totaram. The attorney had gained my respect because of his past participation and collaboration in my efforts for unity.
At a fundraising event at Totaram’s office, I collected over $40.000 for Basdeo Panday in four hours. The bulk of the money was from Guyanese business owners while Trinidadians and others did also contribute.
Subsequently we continued the forum at Rum Jungle, a club owned by Mohan Jaikaran. That night I delivered to Basdeo Panday over $140.000 dollars for his re-election campaign. Panday said my cup runneth over and expressed his gratitude to the people for their donations.
When I was appointed by the Governor to the NY State Real Estate Board by George Pataki, the front page of the West Indian News read “First Guyanese appointed to NY State Real Estate Board”
I was not offended at all, in fact, I think there is strength in unity regardless of our country of origin. I was deemed a surrogate Guyanese because of my close affiliation and involvement with the people.
Now I hear a growing controversy that some Trinidadians are inquiring why Liberty Avenue was named Little Guyana. In my view, it was not given to them on a platter, my friends. They earned it because they invested their blood, sweat and tears including their money to rehabilitate Richmond Hill and make it habitable once more.
My testimony is a clear indication that I have been among them and have seen their ascension to success, they are my friends and I firmly believe there is no reason for my separation, but if Trinidadians wish to erect a sign for their contributions and to gain recognition, we ought to commence now by sowing the seeds for fruition.
I am willing to join any movement, but to attain the heights and recognition, Trinidadians have to unite and invest more in the welfare of the community like the Guyanese did.
In addition, they were politically motivated at the onset, I made my first donation to a brilliant young man who was running for political office. Telokie, a Guyanese did ran for a State Assembly seat in the 31st district in 1992.
His brother Randy, a lawyer and a dear friend of Basdeo Panday resided in Trinidad. He was an ardent worker for the UNC in Trinidad and a formidable champion for fair elections in Guyana but he passed away June 10th last year.
There it is, my friend, the relationship between Guyanese, myself and Panday including others started a long time ago, and although we don’t see eye to eye sometimes, we had a common goal which is to achieve the American dream and remain respectful friends.
So, let us cultivate and nurture the essential elements that are absolutely necessary for us to have a place named Little Trinidad. I strongly support the initiative and I certainly believe it can be accomplished with unity.
Jay G. Rakhar/UNC NY
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.