In the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis Anton Allahar discovered his calling. Years later he would become a professor of economic and political sociology of the Caribbean at Western University.
Anton was born in Trinidad in 1949 and attended a Catholic high school. He. In October of 1962; Anton was 13 and had just entered his first year of high school.
“The priests came into the classrooms and took us all out and put us in the chapel to pray... We did this for three days,” says Anton. “It was the Cuban Missile Crisis and we were praying that Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev [would] not unleash communism on us.”
According to Anton, the communists were described as evil people who eat babies and killed Jesus.
Rather than run away in fear, Anton decided to run toward them and learn about them. As he read more about these communists he started to question what they were actually doing wrong and whether the Church may be lying.
“I became somewhat taken with some uncharitable people. I became obsessed with the Cuban revolution. I was reading and talking so much about it,” says Anton. “One usually hears the history from the perspective of the victor, from the top down and I was trying to give a view of what things were like in that period from the perspective of the underprivileged, the downtrodden, the enslaved.”
Today it’s difficult to walk into Anton’s office without being immediately engulfed by his intense interest in the Caribbean. There is a photo of Fidel Castro, a small plaque from the king of the Tonga and various other Caribbean paraphernalia. He comments that while they’re not in his office now, he is most proud of his two honorary degrees from the University of Havana and the University of Oriente, Santiago de Cuba.
Anton also spent a year as president of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA).
Though as much as his present day work and accomplishments are a reflection of his personality as a life-long learner, Anton’s career may have never taken off if not for a single act of random kindness.
When Anton came to Canada in 1969 he wanted to go to university and study, but like many he lacked the money. To help earn some cash he got a job at a place in Toronto called Honest Ed’s.
“Ed Mirvish himself (the store’s owner) was for some reason quite taken with me... We'd sit down and talk and he wanted to talk about the Caribbean,” says Anton. “It was an intellectual exchange because I had good cultural capital.”
After learning about Anton’s desire to study in university, Mirvish paid the fees for his first semester.
“I never forgot him for it… I think back — if it weren't for that random act of kindness on the part of Ed Mirvish, maybe I wouldn't have been here today,” says Anton. “To that extent, serendipity... could explain this. There was no grand plan. I just wanted to go to school and study and I met great people along the way and that's part of it.”
With good luck on his side Anton has had a long 33 years teaching, writing and researching at Western. Now he is in his final year, but that doesn’t mean the long journey is coming to an end.
Anton describes his passion for Caribbean studies as more of a vocation than a job.
“A job you do nine to five, a vocation you do whether you're paid for it or not,” he says. “I will be retired next year and I will do exactly what I do now: read good books, talk to bright people, write essays — for no money. It's in my DNA, that's what I do.”