In the Caribbean, love of country is complicated. It is born out of a history of enslavement, rejection, colonialism, and survival in a place that the Empires used like an ATM machine. In “Trini to the Bone” (E3S7, FX’s Atlanta), the central narrative is abandoned to tell a ghost story. It is a story about the ghosts of the new world and the bodies of black women on whom this empire is built. The episode is told from the point of view of a wealthy NYC family, showing the haunting of their home after the death of their Trinidadian childcare worker Sylvia Hosannah.
The title of the episode comes from a song with the same name, a bacchanal celebrating the deep love of Trinidad. The singer praises the wonder of the country, but he also slides in the line, “Some people say God is a Trini.” But if God is a Trini, where will his vengeance be wrought? As James Baldwin once wrote famously, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time!” In this case the fire will be the lingering and pervasive culture that employees the white world ignore will leave with their children.
It is in the episode’s funeral scene that we finally see the new world’s exorcism. In it, we learn of the full life of Sylvia Hosannah: former Alvin Ailey dancer, hardworking immigrant who brought her entire family from the Islands, and finally, almost as an addendum, mother to her own three children. But this glowing portrait is unraveled when Sylvia’s daughter Princess comes to the podium screaming into the mic, “She was with other people’s children, she should have been taking care of her own.” She wails, banging on the coffin lid and crying out, “Where were you when I needed you?”
The answer, of course, is working. And the real sadness here is not the daughter’s betrayal, but her mother’s quiet desperation. The way the people whom she had to pass her culture to were her white charges. The ways that Black women, especially Caribbean Black women, are responsible for other people’s happiness at the expense of their own are tied into a system of capitalism that is ultimately destructive for them, their bodies, their culture, and their families. It speaks in many ways to one of the episode’s many Trinidadian expressions: “Better Belly Bust than Good Food Waste.” If Caribbean women are the “good food,” then we are always wasted. So, who is being haunted in this story, and who has something to learn?
All of us. Because this story is the story of America.
In the last few minutes of the episode, we understand this fully. After a package to Sylvia has a third attempted delivery from an invisible messenger, the white father finally opens the envelope to discover his son’s school pictures with Sylvia on family picture day – an event he and his wife chose to skip. Anyone who has a Caribbean mother knows the look on Sylvia’s face in the final image. It is that look that says, “Do better. Be better.”