First Lady Arya Ali and the Importance of High Profile West Indian Women
By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. (Fort Lauderdale Attorney)
Photos: Visit Guyana and Arya Ali
Her Excellency Arya Ali is the First Lady of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. On August 8, 2020, she addressed the nation in her first official speech. She provided insight on her background and her future goals.
First Lady Arya Ali grew up in Lusigan and Ogle on the East Coast of Demerara. (See map below). She sadly lost her father, a lumberyard owner, at age 9 and was raised by her mother, Parbattie, who worked as a cook. Her education and career are noteworthy. First Lady Arya Ali attended Sacred Heart Primary, St. Joseph’s High School, and the University of Guyana. She is currently pursuing an International Masters in Business Administration at the University of the West Indies, and was employed at the Guyana Revenue Authority. She is married to Guyana’s President, Irfaan Ali, and they share a son, Zayd.
As First Lady, H.E. Arya Ali seeks to remedy social and cultural inequalities in Guyana. The division between those of African descent and those of Indian descent is intense and stems from the British promoting racial tensions in Guyana. First Lady Arya Ali also aims to restore Guyana’s charm as a benefit to both its citizens and tourists via her National Beautification Project. She even personally participated in efforts to clean up debris at Guyana’s seawall in September.
First Lady Arya Ali’s high profile is a welcome to West Indian women and girls around the Indian diaspora. The British colonized Guyana and imported hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured workers to harvest sugar. After the indentureship period ended, many Indians remained and never again returned to India. Their descendants are now the majority of Guyana’s population. However, British colonization left a lack of resources, education, and cultural identity for the Guyanese-- and especially its women.
Bollywood movies were extremely appealing to West Indians starting in the 1950s. For the first time, the Indians in the West Indies were able to further connect with their Indian roots. Their previous connections were often limited to oral stories shared from generation to generation. Even into the millennium, high profile Indian and West Indian women were limited to Bollywood and Hollywood movies. West Indian women in these positions are even less famed.
First Lady Arya Ali’s status, coupled with the access to information via social media, allows West Indian women and girls to view a West Indian woman in a prominent position. United States Vice President-Elect Kamla Harris, similarly, affords the same recognition for Indian, Jamaican, and African-American women and girls. The ability for a girl to view a woman of her same background in a high profile position provides an immeasurable sense of self worth, identity, and confidence. It is hoped that this upward trajectory of opportunities for West Indian women continues.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a civil litigation/transaction and bankruptcy attorney. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a minor degree in History that focused on the slavery and indentured servitude eras, a minor degree in Criminology, and a Juris Doctor degree.
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