My visit to Schenectady, Little Berbice

I FIRST visited Schenectady, New York, in the early 1990s when I was a student at the State University of New York at Albany (UAlbany). Schenectady is about a 20-minute drive from UAlbany, and about 160 miles north of New York City.

I was told that there was a growing Guyanese community there, hence my curiosity. I chose to navigate the Guyanese community of this mainly working-class city through cricket, rather than through other cultural networks.

One individual told me that there was a cricket team in Schenectady. I had missed the game and had not played it for some time. I was eager to get back into the game.
I was up for a surprise, however. Whereas in my village, cricket was competitive, the standard of cricket in Schenectady was higher than I had anticipated when considering that the game was played in a foreign city and country.

Some of the players had represented Guyana’s Under-19 team, and the county of Berbice in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Roy Fredericks’ nephew was on the team. Those were days when Caribbean cricket was at its pinnacle. Given the strength of the team, I went in to bat at No. 7 and bowled a few overs of off-spin.

The umpire called me out for “pelting” at one time, an event that gained a lot of traction beyond the boundary after the game. Let us call the post-game dynamics social.

While I played cricket on weekends, my interest grew from the cricket field to other aspects of the Guyanese community. I visited several mandirs, the heartbeat of the Guyanese community in Schenectady.
I was impressed with the persistence of this small community, a few hundred, to maintain their Hindu Guyanese customs in a place that never existed before. Most of the Guyanese are from Berbice with roots in the Whim, Letter Kenny, and Upper Corentyne region.

The community was not restricted to the practice of religion, however. It had begun to grow in the retail business, namely, in small stores, roti shops, bakeries, and restaurants as well as in small yearly reunions. The community remained small because not too many people were attracted to Schenectady because of high unemployment, pollution, and urban blight.

One cricketer told me that his wife had to play for the team to make up the needed 11 players, indicating that Guyanese were hard to find. Additionally, one began to notice Guyanese in the surrounding environs of Schenectady working in various capacities.

The small number of the Guyanese population changed in 2002, the same year I left Albany, NY, and accepted a faculty position at the University of the Virgin Islands. The story goes like this.
Former Mayor Al Jurczynski became aware of how the Guyanese population transformed Queens, New York, and wondered if they could do the same with Schenectady.

The Mayor went to Queens and brought busloads of Guyanese to Schenectady weekly and asked them to buy the boarded-up and abandoned houses at a low cost, ranging from $5,000 to $1.
Within a short period, these houses were transformed into beautiful buildings and almost every aspect of this Guyanese community was extended. The business started to boom. More Hindu Temples were built, and the cricket team extended from one to three, each playing against the other.

Since I left the Schenectady region in 2002, I have returned periodically. I was there last August 2022. The following is what I have observed. First, Guyanese have moved away from the ‘Big Apple’ to escape the fast-paced life in a big city and live in a better environment for their children, although Schenectady has a high crime rate and a reputation for police brutality.

Most second-wave migrants from New York City (NYC) are younger individuals, and they tend to identify with their Guyanese roots in NYC rather than in Guyana. One young man said to me, “Uncle, we are city people you know,” expressing a sense of pride for spending most of his life in NYC.

Second, the Guyanese community is building itself in culture and community amid challenges. They have received hostility from other ethnic groups who thought the leaders were favouring Guyanese and ignoring them, although this feeling has followed a downward trend in recent years.

Like other communities, Guyanese also face internal dissonance and unexpected outcomes.
One study shows a high prevalence of diabetes in the Indo-Guyanese community in Schenectady, caused by unhealthy eating habits. Despite these challenges, the community is striving. For instance, it celebrates Guyana Day in August and there is a regular movement to and from NYC.

In the final analysis, the movement of Guyanese to Schenectady is unique, insofar as being the most recognized second-wave migration in the Guyanese diaspora (

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