Good Morning Fellow St. Martiners here and abroad and to all the listening and viewing public.
“Sweet St. Martin – Soualiga – Oualichi – St. Martin is my home – Where over the world say where??
Choisy, Wathey, Fleming, Richardson, Flanders, Woods, Van Heyningen, York, Illidge, Lake, Jacobs, Peters, Cannegieters, De Weevers, Hazel, Hodge… names easily recognizable as St. Martiners – people of St. Martin, a people whose ancestors are the indigenous people of this region, Taino, Arawak, Carib or from further afield in Europe, Spain, France, Netherlands, the countries of West Africa… later movement of our people throughout our region, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Barths, St. Kitts, Nevis, Saba, Statia and further up the archipelago to Cuba, the USA and Canada or down to our sister countries of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. Today’s St. Martiner has ties across borders, detailed by an obelisk and different flags, rock walls, and lines on a map.
Today’s St. Martiner is a melange of people who have never left, and those who moved away from St. Maarten decades ago for economic reasons, whether to a larger more prosperous land to earn, save and send back home, some of whom have come back, or their offspring may have and claimed land, built, grown and lead this country, or even more recently the opposite. Those who have come here to earn, to grow and send back, and those who have come to set up shop and prosper, put down roots and call it home… born here, ties here, born to be here… We are all St. Martin!!!!
Customs left over from a time long ago are the 3-step polka, ponum, waltz, calypso, caiso, gospel, drums, steel pan, floral dresses, white cotton, straw hats. But the eclectic movements of the world and technology have truly globalized and evolved our culture, what we do, how we do it and why… and therefore we also have local artists who create not only calypso, soca, and zouk, but dancehall, hip hop, rap, reggae, pop, and R&B.
Fish and fungi, saltfish and provision, conchs and dumplin, crab, stew chicken, goat, oxtails too, peas soup, Johnny cakes or bakes, sugar cakes, natural fruit juices, mauby and sorrel… are true St. Martin dishes and drinks, which we can hopefully all enjoy today, even as we do not congregate in big groups, I encourage us all to support our local vendors as they share a bit of St. Martin with us all.
The above, a reminder of 37 square miles of rolling hills, sleepy villages, friendly people, looking out for each other – a gentle and subtle reminder of who we are as a people, St. Martin, unique and united – 2 in one.
Today, even in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 reality, of safety first, moving smart and ensuring our survival, we celebrate and commemorate St. Martin – one island – two countries under two completely different governing bodies, both with European connections. Yet by the will of the people of Soualiga as expressed just recently in the unity march, we live peacefully, and we move freely.
On a day like today, should we highlight our nationalities, our differences, our challenges with self-governance, and lack of mutual understanding across the Atlantic, or do we celebrate and commemorate who we are, what is so unique about us, “what” is actually so special about St. Martin?
Regardless to our differences of opinion, political status or nationality which has historically hampered our forward movement, we share much, much more than land, sea, inner waters and air. We share bloodlines, family ties, customs, culture, the foods, music and dances mentioned initially. We share businesses as well and our economies are undeniably interdependent and interlinked. The product that is St. Martin is not special because of 16 square miles in the south or 21 square miles in the north. It is special because despite our many differences, we are one people.
The example have been set by our people, who would like to see true unity, not just in nice flowery words said by officials today, but in actions when we have to come together for decision making purposes, in cross border discussions on land and waters, and how we can cooperate, collaborate and truly unify in our strategy to survive, become truly resilient to external shocks, protect our people, secure their livelihood, educate them to the highest level, provide them with every opportunity to be the very best they can be for this land and for this world.
We also share the sorrows, the trauma of disasters, whether of the natural or human kind, as neither the gale, nor the pandemic stops at the border. We must strive as has been restarted to have continued dialogue aimed at synchronizing protocols in health and wellbeing, tourism, education, the diversification of our economy, the necessary upgrades in our systems, reforms of our policies and laws and the attainment of the sustainable development goals by 2030 that will improve the quality of life for all our people.
Together the Councils of elected officials on both sides, representatives of our people, are committed to join in a platform to dialogue together and with our European Colleagues in Quadripartite meetings to resolve several pending areas of contention, including those related to our borders as well as joint projects, and plan strategically in unison moving forward to become financially independent and determining our future status as per the will of the people. As such, you the people will have to be consulted frequently, updated regularly and remain involved in the process.
We must also share in victories as we strive for even more tangible unity, a unity which benefits our people of all creeds and colors, and share in the celebration of this day, November 11th, as envisioned by the late Dr. Claude Wathey, and Dr. Hubert Petit. They envisioned a day where we could celebrate us, our culture, our history, and our traditions. Several years ago, Madame VP Damaseau and I strove to move today’s celebration away from Dutch and Frenchness, and more towards what we are culturally; simply St. Martiners… and place our focus on our nationalities, borders and accords on Treaty of Concordia day. But I see we have a long way to go in separating these two special days in our history and how we celebrate them.
Yet I am convinced that as things have evolved over 527 years, we must look at the lessons learned and create new stories. Create and officially recognize true symbols of unity and put them in our laws, yes, whether it be the unity flag we already culturally recognize or another as chosen by the people, a unity anthem, dance, and decree. I challenge all who will give speeches today, to lay aside pride, hurt, and negativity and truly come together as our people did on September 16th, as we walked in unity to express our wishes to remove unnecessary barricades seeking to separate us.
We have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate despite all of our challenges here and abroad. Every St. Martiner can take enormous pride in who we are for we have been through much and yet we stand. So today, I celebrate our resilience, and our endurance, which is at the very core of being of the People of St. Martin. By the grace of God, the adversity of the last three years has taught us much. The months of 2020 go by quickly and we continue to fight through the challenges brought about by the pandemic, while still recovering from Hurricane Irma. It has been no easy task for the people and its governments, yet here we stand, celebrating still, on a smaller, more virtual scale, but celebrating never the less.
Despite this, we have all become our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Despite the differences between us, political or otherwise aside, our St. Martin has banned together, and thus far, we have taken care of each other. St. Martin is as great as the people who envisioned it, toiled at it, and now it is up to us who have inherited it to continue to make it grow.
This is our challenge today; to keep the spirit of solidarity alive because we have accomplished so much together, and there is so much more for us ahead to work in unison on, than to focus on the differences, as we set our sights on a positive future for our nation.
Today I recognize all those who have toiled and passed on, forging a way for us to be here today. I pray for all those currently facing tough times as we strive to bring much needed improvements to your daily lives. Those who have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, and businesses, do not be discouraged, do not lose hope, faith and love. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions and together we can surmount any challenges we face as we have done in the past.
Our St. Martin has a history of rising again and again. We are St. Martin strong. Never stop dreaming of a St. Martin where great thing can happen, where opportunities abound and where dreams can be achieved. It is up to you and it is up to me. Are you up for the challenge?
We have been blessed with this land, and thus it is our responsibility, but much more than that, it is our duty to take care of it, to love it, and to celebrate it.
St. Martin is my home, St. Martin is your home, let us do just about anything and everything to make it bloom, to make it grow, to make us grow. I challenge each and everyone of us – let us make St. Martin the greatest tiniest unified nation on our Earth.
On behalf of the Government and People of St. Maarten, I wish us all a Happy St. Martin Day 2020.
May God continue to Bless St. Martin and all her people.