Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Migrating to America

Now that I'm home, and really feel like I'm home for the first time in 21 years, my mind has been floating to exploring the reasons why we Jamaicans, including myself, migrate in the first place. What is it that takes us away from home, and more often than not to some place that's colder, nowhere near as pretty, socially hostile (or at least indifferent) and very, very far away from those that we love?

I think this is going to warrant a few blogs at least so I'm going to consider this blog a bit of a throwaway, or in other words a way of getting the first few thoughts out of my head and into words, in the hope that some deeper insights will follow at some point (funny how that works...)

In a poll conducted a few years ago, over 80% of Jamaicans said that they would be willing to migrate to the US if given the chance.

Well, in talking to theseJamaicans, it's clear to me that they (estimated to be some 80%+ of the country's citizens) have absolutely no clue as to what they really want. In other words, they have no idea what the USA, Canada and England have to offer and hold a seriously distorted view of the countries they aspire to live in.

This ignorance is probably not resolved for most, until after the green card has been issued, and the move has been executed. I think it takes a couple of years for the emigree to realize what they have really gotten themselves into. At that point, they join the ranks of fellow Jamaicans who continue to paint an overly rosy picture of their new home country.

What does it mean to migrate?

This is one of those moments when I wish I were a poet, because the end point of a migration and a few years of acclimatization is probably best expressed in the form of a poem or picture that evokes a feeling of the space that one finds oneself in.

From this moment forward, I'm going to focus on migrants to America, but I believe that the same principles apply to all 3 major destination countries.

Choosing to become Black, White or Fringe

After about the third or so year, a Jamaican emigree makes a subconscious choice to join one of the subgroups that people must join if they are of African descent, or at least coloured. They "become" either Black American, White Mainstream, or remain on the Fringe as an ethnic group member.

White Mainstream
The smallest subgroup is that of White Mainstream.

Jamaicans comprise a variety of races, including Black, white / European, (East) Indian, Chinese, Lebanese (Syrian,) Jewish and others. Jamaicans who are not Black normally enter the White Mainstream subgroup. So do some Black Jamaicans, as this subgroup is not defined by race as much as it is defined as mindset. Jamaicans who join the White Mainstream subgroup are often those who are generally professionals, who tend to be better educated.

These Jamaicans are marked by the White Mainstream accents that they possess, and sometimes by an unwillingness to put forward their Jamaican-ness unless directly asked (usually by another Jamaican.) Their children, depending on their complexion, become a part of White society, and quickly lose any contact they once had to Jamaica. They maintain minimum contact with other Jamaicans in the US, and do not join in the activities or clubs of other Jamaicans, as they have effectively put that world behind them.

Black American Jamaicans
As can be expected, most Jamaicans become Black American. They affect the accents, tastes, values and social/cultural habits of this subgroup, even though they might maintain their Jamaican-ness as long as they can. The majority of Black Jamaicans join this group, as it is the easiest to join, even though there are significant cultural differences between the two cultural groups.

Most Jamaicans eventually affect Black American accents, and by the following generation the link between the person and their Jamaican-ness becomes increasingly tenuous, until it eventually disappears altogether for practical purposes.

The Fringe
The Fringe Jamaican consigns himself or herself to the ethnic edges of society. They may never lose their pronounced Jamaican accent. They may never apply for US citizenship, and therefore not vote in their adopted countries. They may still bea eating ackee and and saltfish, green banana or rundown every day for breakfast.

They would surround themselves with other Jamaicans, and only become as American as they needed to, in order to get by in their jobs. Their attention would be focusedon what's happening in Jamaica, and know the latest news on politics, sports and the weather. They, of course, would be planning to be in the US only temporarily, and never feel that they "belong."

A Jamaican who migrates is faced with a choice as to which group to ally themselves with, or to join -- and join they must.


At 3/23/2007 10:25 AM, Anonymous Cayt said...

I found your article very interesting seeing I am in that position myself of having moved to the USA due to marriage. I would like to add that the move is most difficult for those of us who are professionals in Jamaica and are made to literally start over career-wise in the USA. Qualifications gained outside the USA are not readily accepted. So if you are content to be a 'labourer' all well and good. For those of us who through pride maybe or just a sheer resistance to settle for something less in the working world, be prepared for the long haul of starting over....

At 2/21/2008 6:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very insightful. The first part had me nodding my head.

Mi de ina di fringe 100%.

Fortunately my workplace is rather diverse so foreigners are the norm rather than a strange exception.

It's true that Jamaicans in other countries are redefined in a way they just simply aren't at home. Not to say there isn't residual prejudices in Jamaica but other societies more rigidly assume cultural background based on physical appearance.

I can't imagine selling out myself to fit in though, I wouldn't know where to start.


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