My name is Sonya Sanchez Arias and 42 years ago, when I was 13 and he was 14, my brother, Saro, died.
I would have loved to have known who Saro would have married. Who his kids would have been. But I’m grateful for the 13 years we had together.
My mother, Judy, was dating a Venezuelan and didn’t want his family to be bad-mouthing her without her knowing, so she went to Spain to learn Spanish. And met my father, Sarin, who was a bullfighter. Not too many people can say that! Saro and my elder sister Lydia were both born in Spain. My grandmother visited them in their cramped little apartment and insisted they come to Trinidad.
I think my husband, Fernando Arias, fell in love with me because I showed him his island heritage. His family left Havana and went to Miami in 1965 with only the clothes on their backs. Cuban Americans are so terrified of socialism, they cannot see Trump is fascism. But not my husband. I cannot even put into words how angry he is about Trump, a man who is everything his family taught him not to be.
Any black, brown-skinned or Latino person or woman that votes for Trump is like a chicken voting for KFC.
I don’t block Trump people on Facebook. Because they always prove my point!
Every penny I’ve ever earned in my life has come from photography or art. My husband is a photographer, too.
Fernando and I have two Yorkies, Dreadie,15, and, Ziggy, 16. My cat was called Smokey and my lovebird, Bunty. They’re like family. My sister was really good birth control. Every time we visited and saw her children climbing up the walls, we would think, “Maybe next year!”
I was born in Trinidad. My grandparents’ home on the Western Main Road, across from the police barracks, where we lived until I was four, had a HUGE influence on my life. Because it was the best place for Carnival. And Hosay. I would look through the little gate at all the jab-jabs and jab-molassies, scream, run away, and pelt back to the gate for more. I got a full dose of culture in my formative years.
I consider myself a recovering Roman Catholic but an extremely spiritual person. Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell and spirituality is for people who have already gone through Hell.
I absolutely believe in the afterlife.
Saro was allowed to go out, do what he liked, whatever, whenever. The girls were a different story. The young boys would pass our house and say, “Forget those two girls in that house. Their father is a bullfighter.”
I’m a sixth-generation Trinidadian and all the women went to St Joseph’s Convent. When Saro died, I was in form two.
Death happens to old people and sick people, not your 14-year-old big brother. Especially under the circumstances in which it happened [a homemade bomb exploding in his hand]. No one knew what to say to me. Conversations were very hard. Even today, for somebody like BC Pires asking if it’s something I could talk about “for the papers”, it’s hard for them. So, back then, it was REALLY hard.
After Saro died, I felt like I would lose my mind if I stayed in Trinidad so I begged my parents to send me away to boarding school. So I could try and heal, erase it, try and recover somehow.
My dad was in Spain, at his own father’s funeral. My mother had to call him in Spain, to tell him that his son had just died. He hit the concrete wall next to the phone with his fist so hard, he broke his hand. Everything about my brother’s death was traumatic.
Saro came into my room the morning he died and said he and our sister Lydia and her boyfriend, Richard Mattison, her future husband, were going to Maracas Beach, and did I want to come? I said, Nah, I have homework to do, I’ll come next week. That was the last conversation I ever had with the brother I adored, my best friend. I don’t think I ever got to tell him how much I loved and cared about him.
Saro was one of those “earth angels” who come into your life and teach you so much. And leave very quickly.
I think my mother knew, physically, felt it in her bones, the moment he died. We were watching TV together and she had been uncomfortable that whole day. All of a sudden, she gasped. At one point, she jumped up, in distress, and ran to the window and saw the car coming up the driveway, Lydia hadn’t opened the car door yet and my mother was wailing, “Where is my son?”
I know my mother didn’t think my brother would live a very long life. When she was pregnant with my younger brother, Jose, I remember her saying to someone that the baby was going to be a boy and that God was giving her this son because he was going to take her older son. I don’t think I was supposed to hear that. I would have been eight years old when she was pregnant. Looking back, now, I can understand why she might have said that: because Saro was just so fearless.
Saro would skateboard down Lady Chancellor Hill, in the days when you didn’t wear kneepads or helmets. He would jump off the roof of the house onto the trampoline we had. I always thought he would grow up to be a stuntman for the movies. Or work in demolition. But he could never have been a bullfighter. He’d never harm an animal. Fish, maybe.
There are A LOT of emotional parts of Saro’s story but I still get emotional over this: I remember my mother dropping to her knees at the side of Richard's car and screaming. It was like someone had pulled her soul out of her body. I still shiver today. I suppose I never wanted to go through that.
My mother drove to the beach. Saro’s body was still laying there, towels over it. The police said she couldn’t remove his body. My mother told them they’d have to arrest her because she was taking her son home.
My brother and I were like mad scientists – I still see myself as a mad scientist in my own works of art, using [found materials]. He used to make rockets from toilet paper rolls, cardboard tubes and tampon applicators. Then Saro got a book at CIC that taught you how to make gunpowder. The charcoal was easy but it was like a treasure hunt for us, to get the saltpetre and the sulphur. I helped him to make gunpowder all the time.
I know exactly how he made the bomb. He’d made several like it before. An aluminium cigar canister, a CO2 cartridge from my dad’s soda-making equipment, and a wick made from gunpowder. We didn’t know we were making homemade grenades. He’d throw them in the river and they would go off underwater and the fish would float up, like, shocked. That’s how he fished.
At Saro’s funeral, all these women with great intentions were telling my mother, you have three other children you have to focus on. I remember my mother saying, I have five fingers on my hand. If you cut off my thumb, I’ll still have four fingers. But I’ll miss my thumb forever.
Death either brings a family closer together or it completely shatters it and that’s what happened to my family. I lost everybody. My parents got divorced. Lydia wanted to just leave her [future] husband Richard. They’re still married today.
My mother, Judy, was like my brother, Saro. I come back-and-forth to Trinidad for my exhibitions and it’s amazing, how many people take the time to come up and tell me how much of an impact Judy and Saro had on them. That’s very healing. It’s wonderful that they’re remembered by so many in such a loving way. I’ll be the age, this year, that my mother was when she died in 1999. She’s another one who went too soon.
I don’t think my father ever recovered from losing Saro. Papa died in 2010. He would have been 44 when Saro died.
Judy kind of adopted a lot of troubled teenagers and offered them a neutral territory and an “older sister” perspective. This Christmas gone, I went for dinner by [fashion designer] Meiling and a lot of Minshall people came around, like Wendell [Manwarren, of rapso group 3 Canal] and the entire conversation was about how Judy brought them into the mas camp, helped them with their art. After about two hours of Judy stories, [the artist] Ashraph asked me, “How long has Judy been gone?” And I said, “More than 21 years now.” And a woman at the table [new to Trinidad] said, “Oh my God! This person you’re talking about for hours has died? I hope that, when I die, my friends and family speak about me the way you guys have been talking about this Judy.”
Judy was Trini to the bone. The whole island could be sinking and she would be going down with it and waving the flag. I don’t know if I’m Trini to the bone or just Trini as fuck. The Trinidad accent isn’t going anywhere.
I’ve lived longer in America than Trinidad now but the Trini in me doesn’t wash away.
I just love the personalities in Trinidad and the mixture of people, cultures and religion. For me, that always implies possibilities. Trinidad was multicultural long before America began trying it.
I’m real proud to be a born Trinidadian. By circumstances, and by choice, I am now American. It’s like having two parents who are divorced. They can’t live in the same house but they’re still very important to you and make you who you are. I love both of them.
To me, Trinis are a melting pot of many different ingredients, cultures and races, all exceptional on their own. But, when mixed together, a unique blend of delicious flavours and ENDLESS possibilities.
To me, Trinidad and Tobago means a multi-layered, multi-ethnic hybrid nation. I am the culmination of all of the tenacity and potential of generations of all of Trinidad’s ancestors and all their contributions. I am, as Minshall would say, “the tip of the spear that leads into the future”.