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At Academic Event, Students Gain Insights on Caribbean History and Culture

Monday, April 24, 2017

Barbadian filmmaker Lisa Harewood has dedicated many of her professional efforts to accurately depicting the Caribbean experience. She presented her latest effort, a 16-minute film entitled Auntie, at St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus this spring.  

Ms. Harewood screened the film, which she wrote and directed, on April 10, for the University’s annual Caribbean Writers Series. The presentation, “You’re Better off Here,” drew more than 100 students, faculty, staff, and administrators to the St. Louise de Marillac Hall auditorium. A reception followed.

Auntie, which examines the issues of migration, matriarchal kinship structures, and Bajan life, originally premiered at the Encounters Film Festival in the UK. It also has been screened in China, New Zealand, and across North America, Europe, and the Caribbean.

The film depicts the life of a Barbadian “barrel child” and her auntie, a respected woman in the community who cares for the child. Barrel children are temporarily abandoned by parents who seek a better life abroad. Until they can send for them, parents ship barrels full of material goods to their children from other parts of the world. “Migration is the single most defining attribute of Caribbean life,” said Ms. Harewood. “The existence of barrel children is commonplace.”

After the film, Ms. Harewood answered students’ questions and spoke about her production company’s broader Barrel Stories Project. The effort is an oral history archive that captures the complicated experiences of children who are left behind. “This film isn’t just about migrants,” she said. “It’s about how children cope with being parented by temporary caregivers.”  She stressed that the film does not address the experience children have when they get to their new homes. “In some cases, these children are left behind as babies, so their parents are strangers to them when they are finally reunited.” 

American-born freshman Alicia Villafana ’20C attended the screening for her global literature class. “I’m Dominican,” she said. “The film really made me think about my father’s own journey to the United States.”  

“It’s important to tie culture to migration,” said English major Shania Searrano ’20C. “My English professor has put a great emphasis on the important literature that’s created when people move around the world—powerful narratives can develop.”

 “Auntie is important for all students to see, regardless of their origin, to gain a deeper understanding of lives that are entangled with our own,” said Raj Chetty, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of English who helped organize the event along with Shanté Smalls, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English. “Historically, geographically, culturally, economically, and politically—we are all interconnected.”