Telling a Cuban West Indian story

It is said that the only constant in life is change, and this is something that Communications Specialist Dr Sharon Marshall knows only too well.

Marshall returned home from the Cayman Islands last September after spending three years as a public relations executive at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA).

She has since been promoting her book: Tell My Mother I Gone to Cuba: Stories of Early Twentieth-Century Migration from Barbados.

“My book was presented at the Havana International Book Fair on the 10th of February, which was a wonderful honour for me, and from there we went, my husband and I, over to Grand Cayman where we had a book launch on February 24th, she told Barbados TODAY.

Dr Sharon Marshall

Her next event will be on March 20th, a book reading at the Waterfront Café with fellow authors Liz Thompson and Harold Hoyte.

“The basic research for the book was done for my PhD thesis on British West Indian migration to Cuba. I was awarded the degree in 2001 and had done nothing about publishing the research. And my husband kept prompting me ‘when are you going to publish?” and I would tell him nothing happens before its time. And then all sorts of things happened in my life, my mum took ill and then she died, and I accepted a job in the Cayman Islands, and you know how moving is.”

The topic of her thesis, and later her book, was influenced by her Cuban heritage. Marshall’s mother was born in Cuba to Barbadian parents.

“I had always accepted that as part of our family history but it was while I was on assignment in Cuba for the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, that I met the descendants of other British West Indian migrants [including] a man, Joseph Atwell, speaking in a serious Bajan accent and had never been to Barbados,” she said. Her husband, Pedro, is also Cuban.

As a young girl, Marshall believed that her love of writing would lead to a career in newspaper journalism, but she ended up pursuing a first degree in broadcast journalism from Howard University, specializing in radio production. However, she did not enter a newsroom immediately after graduation.

“My first paid job was as a flight attendant with Pan American World Airways, and after training school in Honolulu, I was based in San Francisco and I did that for two years before I came back to Barbados and started working with CBC in the newsroom.”

She then moved to the Caribbean Broadcasting Union before switching careers to corporate communications at Cable and Wireless. Her next step was to the Caribbean Development Bank where she stayed for 14 years before relocating to Grand Cayman.

While she no longer works in news, Dr Marshall looked back on her journalism career as a rewarding one.

“I have had the opportunity to travel to several countries. I worked with CBU as I mentioned and several assignments throughout the region. I covered a number of CARICOM summits, I did a special documentary for the 10th anniversary of CARICOM . . . We travelled to Grenada, to Guyana, to Dominica and I had the opportunity to interview Maurice Bishop, Forbes Burnham, Michael Manley, Eugenia Charles, so that was one of the outstanding features of my journalism career.

“Another was the opportunity to interview Fidel Castro when he came here for the UN Global Conference on Small Island Developing States.”

She has seen several changes in newsrooms over the years, including the transition from a male-dominated profession to a more gender-balanced environment.

On the observance of International Women’s Day, Dr Marshall believes it is still very significant in today’s society even though women have made significant progress.

“I think women have made a lot of strides in the past several years; however I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We still weren’t able to elect a woman as president of the United States, we don’t have [a female leader] here in Barbados, there have been other examples in the region, in Dominica, in Jamaica, and so on. But I think there are still ceilings to be shattered. And while that remains the case, we need to recognize International Women’s Day to recognize all of the contributions that women are making to society,” she said.

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