West Indian cartoon comic strips have been circling the Internet attracting hundreds of young Indo-Caribbeans in Florida, Canada, and NYC–giving them a little something from home to laugh about.
When I mentioned the “Hot Peppa Sauce” comic strips on the subway ride home to a fellow college student, she started to gush about the cartoon’s success at depicting everyday West Indian nuances.
She excitedly told me, “I love that one! With the dishes—the butter dish, the jelly, and the hot peppa sauce!” That comic now holds the record for most liked West Indian cartoon with over 200 Facebook fans.
The artist behind the cleverly-written Facebook sensation is 29 year old Ameer Bacchus, a man with a mission to connect with his own West Indian culture which has always seemed far removed from his experience as a child in NYC.
Bacchus started posting his comic strips for friends and family on Facebook. He now holds over 800 (a number quickly growing) “Hot Peppa Sauce” Facebook fans, many of whom are first-generation Indo-Caribbeans.
Asking why the comic strip is named, “Hot Peppa Sauce,” Bacchus recollected a past experience when a friend he met bursted in laughter and said he was in the kitchen, “getting a piece of salfish and put it between two pieces of bread…then his Mom started yelling and said you can’t fuhget de hot peppa sauce!”
Bacchus said, “That is the one thing we could probably say goes across nations in the Caribbean. It’s not like how the Trinis say cascadoo and Guyanese say hassa. Hot peppa sauce is a name used all throughout the Caribbean to describe the same thing”.
Bacchus, a first-generation Guyanese, grew up in Astoria, Queens among many Greeks and Italians. In an interview, he recalled a childhood experience where he was so upset that his classmates “didn’t play checkers the same way he did”–the West Indian way.
He explained that “feeling a lack of representation” as a West Indian allowed him to develop two sides, his home life shared with family and the side he shared with those outside of his culture. In his teens Bacchus began to be more interested in things like rock music and art than West Indian culture. He said, “It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s that I failed to have something to connect with it.”
After moving to Florida when he was fifteen he found many more West Indians around him. A few years later he became inspired by the experiences around West Indian friends and family in Florida. He started using the funny moments as an art exercise allowing him to “recapture his heritage.”
He explained it’s exciting to be around West Indians because, “We have our own culture. It’s different from Indian people.”
Bacchus said, “I feel like I’ve finally connected to the West Indian people…There’s a lot of people like me who have become a part of American culture but at the same time every now and then want a piece of home.”
According to Bacchus, each comic strip takes about five hours to write, draw, and produce. Bacchus explained “it’s tastefully done” so it can be entertainment shared across boundaries to Caribbeans all over. Bacchus’ comics have been featured in newspapers such as Canada’s Toronto Caribbean and Central Florida’s Caribbean Passport. So far 48 full comic strips have been posted to the Facebook page “Hot Peppa Sauce.”
The comics meant for adult humor feature three West Indian children as the characters: Mat, Bhaggie, and Bushhead. Mat as a bare-chested boy with a dangling gold chain, Bhaggie as a little girl with a plait braid held up with “marbles”, and Bushhead a boy with shaggy hair and overalls.
Each character is reflective of a different part of Bacchus’ social circle. He said that Mat comes from his boy cousins who can speak “broken-down” Guyanese and Bhaggie reflects the many Grandmas who can “tell you the whole story of a Bollywood actor like how many children they have and who they are married to.” Bushhead on the other hand is a character created to provide American commentary on West Indian culture. But nothing can tell the true humor of the comics better than the characters themselves.
Currently Bacchus and his business partner David Shaw, 28, are working to monetize the Hot Peppa Sauce brand by creating a website and opening up a T-Shirt webshop featuring West Indian logos like “Mommy Belay Roti, Daddy Chunkay Dhaal.” The duo, who met in a garage listening to soca music, are planning to open up the brand to others looking for a creative outlet using West Indian culture.
Bacchus dedicated to “Hot Peppa Sauce” left his corporate job and has a “string of odd jobs to keep afloat.” But he doesn’t mind the freelance work saying, “I could write this stuff all day.”
He said, “When I get an email or a Facebook message saying oh my god, I love your work–it’s exciting to know by sharing new stuff I’m continuing to preserve West Indian heritage.”