At a diaspora event attended by Trinidad and Tobago prime minister Keith Rowley during his recent trip to New York City, he responded to a suggestion that Trinidad's Piarco International Airport could possibly be renamed in honour of the country's first prime minister, Eric Williams.
“I would love to consider very seriously — and have the Cabinet consider — the naming of our airport the Eric Williams airport,” he told the crowd. At the same time, Rowley reminded the audience that Williams himself never wanted any national monuments or buildings in his name and said that his family, when contacted about the matter in the past, “would view any attempt to do otherwise as politicising his memory”.
The whole idea, however, has left the public rather divided. Some see it as a great step in acknowledging Williams's role as the father of the nation, while others think it unnecessary, including, most notably, the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community — the country's only remaining group of indigenous islanders.
Members of the Eric Williams Memorial Committee were elated at the possibility of the name change: Chairman Reginald Vidale told the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian:
It’s long in coming I would say, it is worthy of a great son of the soil, a great contributor to this country, to our independence and a great contributor to our republicanism.
But the Santa Rosa First Peoples Community has stated that the name “Piarco” is one of the very few indigenous names given to areas of the country, which has survived colonisation and lasted past the country's independence from Great Britain. While acknowledging that Williams deserves credit for his contributions, the group noted that there already is a financial complex, plaza and science complex named after him.
They also emphasised the importance of keeping names like “Piarco” alive, as they mark the forgotten languages of the indigenous people:
This suggestion of renaming the airport through erasing a name in an original language of the First Peoples would further erode the First Peoples heritage and legacy which our community continues to struggle to preserve.
The country's First Peoples have not typically given the level of acknowledgment many feel they deserve, but they are not the only ones against the move. Many social media users have voiced their concerns about changing the name, which they see as unnecessary use of government funds and time:
Netizen Reshma spoke out on Twitter:
Leave it as Piarco International Airport and deal with real issues please!!! https://t.co/6yGqyxyeKy
— Reshma (@ReshKitty) September 28, 2019
Others brought up the renaming of other local sites, such as King George V Park, which was changed to Nelson Mandela Park in 2014 and met with mixed reviews. To this day, many citizens still refer to the park by its original name:
As a matter of fact.. rename King George the V park to its original name fuh meh please.
This new name nobody uses to identify the park, is not a thing.
— Joεvoη ß (@JonBleux) September 28, 2019
They could rename it “Plane Lane” for all I care, I still gonna call it Piarco. https://t.co/3PV25EUxBZ
— Sōjirō The Tenken (@Angelo_vo) September 29, 2019
For many, it seems, the worry is that the change will require a lot of time, money and effort for a government that could be dealing with other more pressing national issues, such as escalating crime.
In any case, the whole idea may well be a moot point: No matter how much members of the Trinbagonian diaspora may feel that renaming the airport would be a fitting tribute to Williams, nothing will be moved for the Cabinet's consideration unless his family agrees — and they seem quite happy with leaving things as they are.