By Michael Jarvis, London UK
At a time when many countries are grappling with the thorny issue of immigration and citizenship, an almighty row has broken out in Trinidad and Tobago that casts the matter in the harshest glare.
Venezuelan Mileidy Materano was earlier this month crowned Miss Grand T&T earning her the right to represent the twin-island state at the Miss Grand International pageant in Vietnam on October 25th.
But celebration of her victory has been tainted by a backlash of anti-immigrant sentiment directed at her which has now spilled over from social media into reports of death threats being made against the pageant winner.
Much of the criticism is based on the fact that Ms Materano was not born in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, according to the local organisers of the pageant that doesn’t matter.
Stolen Productions Ltd which has the franchise to stage the national pre-qualifier for the main event in October insists that their winner did not steal the title and that she met the criteria for participation.
“Our corporate sponsors, distinguished judges and pageant experts came together to orchestrate a show which we are proud to have put forward, representing the best of our beautiful twin-island republic and what our people have to offer on the international stage,” SPL said in a statement.
On the direct controversy surrounding the selection of Ms Materano, the SPL declared that the judges decision was fair and final and they were sticking to it.
“While all of our contestants are crown-worthy, on the night of the final our esteemed judges and audience chose Ms Mileidy Materano as our Ms Grand Trinidad and Tobago. We at SPL stand behind the fairness of the judging process and the results. We stand in solidarity with our chosen winners,” it affirmed.
However, that has not quelled the swell of vitriol targeted at the 29-year-old Venezuelan national who arrived in Trinidad and Tobago as a refugee in refugee.
She is said to have attained citizenship through sponsorship from a local business establishment. Ms Materano who has since set up her own business is said by the pageant organisers to have satisfied all the criteria for participation in the national event.
Social media has been awash with debate and much criticism of the decision. While some have offered their support, many others have decried the decision insisting that it should have been given (and still should be awarded) to a contestant born in the twin-island state.
One of the main criticisms has been about Spanish-speaking Ms Materano’s accent and reported lack of fluidity in English. However, she has hit back at her detractors defending her ability to converse in English as well as her native language, saying that she is multi-lingual unlike many of her critiques.
Given the appetite for controversy-driven topical calypsoes as a staple of Trinidad and Tobago’s long-running and world-renowned calypso area, this issue is not expected to go away any time soon.
It feeds off the ongoing immigration debate in the country surrounding the mass arrivals of Venezuelan refugees into Trinidad and Tobago over the past few years fleeing harsh political and economic conditions in their homeland.
Ms Marcano may be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, but to some of her critics she does not meet the criteria of that anthemic David Rudder song, Trini To De Bone.