Chelsea Debarros: A young and inspiring author

LATE last year I received an email message from an individual requesting to post my article titled “Backtracking and ‘boring’ the Border: a remarkable intervention” (April 11, 2021) in this space on her Facebook page. It is not usual for individuals to ask for permission to post materials, and, actually, it is a decent thing to do.  What caught my attention, however, was the topic of the article to be posted, and my unfamiliarity with the email sender. I was taken aback by the thought after more than 25 years of backtracking from Guyana to North America and elsewhere someone is exploring an event that was once a household word in Guyana, and the Diaspora. I am convinced that backtracking has not received adequate analysis, however. I probed further.

I realised that the name of the email sender was Chelsea DeBarros, a young lady, living in Queens, New York, from Guyanese background. The age and location of Debarros did not shock but surprise me since she might not have been directly involved in the backtrack journey that was so central to about at least 50 per cent of the Guyanese population in Queens. She was too young, I thought. Nevertheless, the following statement from her provided me with a little window into her inquisitive mind. She declared: “I learned of significant historical movements I often overheard my parents discuss: Independence Day from British rule, the 1830 abolition of Slavery Act, Prime Minister Burnham’s 1972 ‘House, Clothe, and Feed the Nation’ initiative, and the growing racial tensions between Indo and Afro Guyanese and ‘twice removed,’ which refers to Indo-Guyanese people’s migration patterns from India to Guyana and North America.”

Chelsea Debarros

Her declaration reveals what is called in sociological circles intergenerational oral communication and knowledge, which generally hits a sort of dead-end by the first generation born in the new enclave. The common reaction is, oh no, here we go again, the same story. Debarros proved to be different. In her own words: “I realised who I am: a proud American with heritages in Guyana, India, and Portugal. I love all of the ancestors who created me, although I do not have a photo of them or know all of their names. I discovered that “two times removed” does not mean “origin-less”. Rather, it makes me a citizen of everywhere and nowhere. My home and identity are not fixed to a place but established through feelings of belonging”. What a confident description of herself in an environment where the forces and facets of American ways have the tendency to bulldoze traditional immigrant mores and embrace the ideals associated with unwavering assimilation. Debarros has instead expressed her “sociological imagination” revealing her relationship between social and personal patterns as to what is happening in the world she lives in. I am impressed.

I am therefore not surprised by her academic lucidity declaring that “as a rising graduate with a BA in Sociology and Criminology, with minors in Anthropology and Civic Engagement, I spend most of my time researching how social factors and current events influence the livelihoods of certain populations.” In the early years of the Trump administration, Debarros witnessed how the Immigration and Customs raided the ethnic Queens region looking for undocumented individuals in the most daring ways striking fear in the community. “As an American,” she espouses, “I was disgusted, shocked, and disappointed at the harmful enforcement tactics that terrorised communities and workers.” She contended that her observation of the aforesaid events has inspired her “to conduct ethnographic research into the Guyanese population that rarely gets spoken about: the undocumented”. Further, she is of the conviction that she is “a voice for the voiceless by sharing their backtrack journeys.” We salute you.

Chelsea Debarros is currently writing a book on “Backtrack Journeys: Life of the Undocumented in Little Guyana” that focuses on the thrilling stories of three undocumented Guyanese and their unrevealed journeys from their homeland to the United States via the backtrack or illegal route, capturing their trials and tribulations without renouncing but using their identity to have a livable life in their new-found home. Here is an excerpt from chapter one titled Veda’s Arrival in which Chelsea describes why Veda left. “Guyana no longer felt like home, and Veda had to get out. She got in touch with a one-legged pirate named Cardo, who got her to this point. As she stood on the sandbank and heard his boat speed back off into the abyss, she fought the desire to scream at the top of her lungs. She sat down. Her head was still spinning after their landing. She had been dazed and exhausted by the vastness of the dark ocean, the crashing of the waves, the constant hurling back and forth. Sapna mumbled her prayers to Lord Rama, but Veda knew that her saviour wasn’t coming anytime soon.”

I believe that Chelsea Debarros, an undergraduate student at Hofstra University with mixed Guyanese heritage, a product of mass migration from Guyana to North America, is a highly perceptive individual endowed with creative writing abilities. These attributes, among others, are so necessary to succeed in the world of authorship, and I am convinced that she will answer in the affirmative, bringing candid stories, which for some reasons, have been buried and closeted. Yet, they are central to the Guyanese migratory experience (

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