The History of Now

St. Martin’s history is unique. It is influenced by the island itself. The salt ponds attracted colonizers and the beaches attracted tourists. It is influenced by the climate. The lack of rain-catching mountains influenced agriculture and hurricanes have transformed the island. It is influenced by the politics and economics that split the island in two and controlled its fate from afar.

St. Martin culture comes from its people, and their interaction with that history. It pulls from deep roots in Africa that are still alive in kitchen gardens, folktales, music and more. St. Martin culture reflects the horrors of slavery and the fight for freedom. It retains the spirit of cooperation and self-sufficiency of the Traditional Period, the time between emancipation and the rise of tourism.

Rooftop COVID-19 garden beside Hurricane Irma repair scraps.

Today, we are in a unique and difficult moment. And it is a historic moment. The coronavirus pandemic is global, but on St. Martin, the experience is unique. Our pandemic is influenced by the island’s unique history and culture and this experience should be recorded.

At the island level, the current divide between the North and South is historic. The two sides have taken different approaches to slowing the pandemic. Some border crossings have been closed and the rest are tightly controlled. The frontier that is normally so easy to ignore is very real today.

St. Martiners are well-served by their experience living through disasters. They have survival skills. People know how to make meals from the foods they have. They have turned time at home into a chance to plant vegetables.

At the same time, this disaster is very different from a hurricane. Houses have water and current and stores have food. But the virus has forced people to stay apart instead of coming together to help each other. This crisis also exposes the huge gap between rich and poor on the island. A hurricane destroys houses both big and small. The reality of this confinement is totally different for those who have and those who do not.

The pandemic experience on St. Martin is also unique because it may mark the end of a historical era. After sixty years of a growing tourism economy, the future of the island is unclear. We don’t know how long this crisis will last or what tourism might look like after. Ten or twenty years from now, will we look back on the era of mass tourism the way we look back at the decades when sugar or cotton drove the economy?

This is a moment worth documenting, especially on St. Martin. It doesn’t have the visible destruction of a hurricane, so we must record our thoughts and feelings. It is the rare chance to describe a great change as it happens.

What is your experience during this crisis? How has it been influenced by your history, culture or family? How do you see St. Martin’s future? Let us know by writing to [email protected] or The Daily Herald.

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