Our diaspora's best

The year 2020 was challenging, described early in this edition in an ironic riff off Dicken’s famous text as “the best of the worst of times”. However, thankfully, it ended on a soft note of optimism with the rollout in December of two more vaccines, and its deployment to combat the deadly Covid-19 plague.

At this time, inoculations are underway in Canada, with the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna being prioritised and delivered first to recipients who are most vulnerable among us, such as the elderly and frontline practitioners. As the new year unfolds, the vaccination effort itself will receive a shot in the arm, so to speak, with its outreach dispensed across the nation, provinces, and territories, and so arrive in our many communities.

We can say the arrival of Pfizer-BioNtech’s and Moderna’s vaccines were injections of hope in December, and was a positive entry in the diary of a bad year, with its upper narrative dominated by the coronavirus’ spread.

However, it was also a year that was infected with a subtextual narrative notable for its virulent, global politics of divisive leadership, and blatant attacks on election and democratic traditions. Also, in the scorched-earth left behind by Covid-19, there emerged a culture of political appropriation that sought to claim the emergent vaccines as the successes of proactive, governmental interventions, and with this, attempts were made to display it on partisan, nationalist standards.

It is, therefore, important to note that the success story behind the emergence of the latest weapon in the arsenal to fight this deleterious viral infection was the result of a pan-national effort, which Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg pointed to last month. That while the present, flailing US administration attempted to appropriate the vaccines’ emergence as successes from its hurtling, warped-speed initiative, the truth is its arrival was really the result of a global current of skilled and hard-working immigrants, a range of nationalities working assiduously together, a success-story outcome from diasporic arrivals who were positioned in the right place at the right time.

As Goldberg pointed out, BioNTech was founded by two German scientists, both of Turkish descent; also, the head of Pfizer is Greek, and that Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was co-founded, and is chaired by a Lebanese immigrant – with its other co-founder a Canadian immigrant.

Also, Moderna’s chief executive is a French immigrant, and the biochemist Katalin Karikó, a central figure in the development of the messenger RNA technology used in the vaccines, is Hungarian-born.

As we note on Pages 1, 14, and 15 of this edition that celebrate the positive directions our diaspora is taking, Caribbean and immigrant experiences were also central to the development, and rollout, of the Covid-19 vaccine.

It is a remarkable outcome that the global current took Vidia Surendra Roopchand from his island birthplace of Wakenaam in Guyana to the US, where he landed as a member of the scientific team that developed the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Roopchand credits his success at Pfizer to foundational structures of education and early lifestyle guidance gained from family, educators, among others, during his formative years in Guyana.

Roopchand’s narrative stands out for its motif of arrival and success inside a thriving diasporic network that links us together across borders. We note more linkages during the US vaccine rollout, with its historical dispensing by Patricia Cummings, a nurse with Guyanese roots, to US Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, herself with Jamaican and Indian heritage. Also, the US’ first vaccination shots were delivered by a Guyanese-born, US national, Dr Michelle Chester, and was administered to Jamaican-born Sandra Lindsay, and a Haitian-American, Dr Yves Duroseau.

In a difficult 2020, yet another positive entry into the diary of a bad year are the contributions by our Caribbean diaspora, and immigrants from other worlds, who are today making a significant difference in overcoming the marauding coronavirus pandemic.