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.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Belonging at Home

Visiting the U.S. for the third time in the past month has brought on a sudden realization.

I have just noticed while walking among Americans that I, as a Black Caribbean man, am largely invisible. I don't mean that people cannot see me, I only mean that they choose not to.

When I am home in Jamaica, or anyplace in the Caribbean, there is a constant and persistent eye-contact between myself and strangers that takes place at the shopping plazas, at parties, at stoplights and while running on the road. It is most often comforting, although at times disconcering.

It could all be a function of the small size of our Caribbean countries where, it seems, each person counts. When we meet someone for the first time, the unspoken assumption is that we will meet them again.

In the U.S., I find the opposite to be true. Behind a first-time meeting is the built-in assumption that you will never see them again. Relationships just seem so less permanent - more like loose threads than part of a web of finely-woven fabric.

Another explanation for the "no-look" might be just stereotyping. After all, according to American news reports, I should probably be in their penal system someplace, along with a lot of other Black men my age. Yet, there I am walking through Macy's. From my observation, it does seem as if eye-contact varies by race. In the U.S., I notice that Whites and Asians seldom recognize my presence, while Blacks often do. Latinos fall somewhere in the middle.

In the 20+ years in which i lived in the U.S. I came to accept this way of relating to people as if it were quite normal, and can see it for what it is only now that I have moved away.

And, no, I don't miss this part of America one bit.

Here at home, I like running on the road and saying "Yes, yes" to Zatto, the rasta who tends to the grounds of the nearby golf club. I love being honked at by people I barely know. I enjoy feeling that I belong to something even when the guy selling newspapers, and the one hawking hub-caps, and the nearby gardener all ask me for school-fee money for their kids.

These interactions all remind me that I now belong to this Jamaican fabric, and part of why I Moved Back to Jamaica was to escape the nagging feeling of being just another loose thread blowing in the wind.

14 Comments:

At 9/29/2006 8:13 PM, Blogger Yamfoot said...

i know what you mean, even though I didn't live abroad except for school.

that's why they are so joyous when they come here for vacation, because we all (mostly!) smile with them and say hello and get upset when they don't answer back!

 
At 9/30/2006 7:03 PM, Anonymous zen said...

Obviously you have not visited Texas????

 
At 9/30/2006 8:54 PM, Blogger N_HER_IMAGE said...

I agree with you, however, I do not believe you are "invisible" because your Caribbean. It has more to do with the fact that you are a minority in general.

 
At 10/01/2006 7:25 PM, Blogger Mad Bull said...

I have felt that...

 
At 10/03/2006 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you know why I too moved back to the Caribbean. After 19 years of living in the suburbs of NJ, I had enough of just being a "number". It was time to have a sense of belonging again. As you rightly stated, when people honk their horns at you on the road or recognise you in a shop, restaurant, the grocery store, wherever, there is nothing sweeter.

 
At 10/03/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Abeni said...

Exactly why I couldn't live in the US.It was too cold and not in the weather sense.I missed the familiarity of my home and the sense of belonging.Couldn't wait to leave although everyone thought I was mad not to pursue the American dream

 
At 10/05/2006 12:02 PM, Blogger Marcia Willmarth said...

Francis – you have put into words exactly what I have felt and disliked immensely upon returning to the US after living in Jamaica and why it is my only dream to return as soon as possible. In Jamaica during my early morning searches for fresh coffee, I would invariably encounter people who would look up from their work with a delightful “Yes, Miss Marcia”. On similar coffee searches here in Arizona, my experience is quite different.

Although I most likely do not meet the traditional definition of “minority”, I experience invisibility on a daily basis. I live in Scottsdale, AZ where people tend to their workouts much more vigorously than their inner work. I tend to my inner work with a passion that often precludes my work outs, and as a result, I am not the socially accepted size 4-6. As I walk through my day, I grin while remembering that I am a “Champion Woman” in my country of choice! Those who pass by me with a quick judgment, and who choose not to make eye contact with me are the ones who are missing out. I would venture to bet that is the case with you as well!

Continue to share your heart, knowledge and wisdom with those who value it. And remember...you are home now. You, Mr. Francis Wade, are an integral part the Jamaican Fabric.

 
At 10/06/2006 10:59 AM, Blogger Joyous said...

I had this very same conversation with my daughter recently, in fact I was using it to underscore my reasoning that is it exactly this sense of being invisible why many young black people resort to extreme behavior in their sense of style, music etc., any attention is better than none. The irony, however, is while they might think that they are not being observed, trust me they are. One need only look at the music industry, Madison avenue or popular culture to see and hear how many “blackisms” have become a part of the norm from the sublime, CNN inviting us to “Get fit while you get your 'groove' on,” to the ridiculous, Katie Couric’s “you go girl!”

So while making eye contact might give rise to the tacit recognition you expect from another human being, your uniqueness is certainly welcome, especially if there is some means of co-opting it.

When you have a minute you should check out the phenomena of the Bratz dolls. A few years ago we were all laughing about some of the urban fashions that we tagged “ghetto fabulous” that was until the look went mainstream and gave rise to the Bratz Dolls complete with overly exaggerated lips, make up and yes even ghetto fabulous wardrobes.

 
At 10/10/2006 11:12 AM, Blogger Mummy Mel` said...

That is so true. I went away to Canada for two weeks during a Christmas vacation and I noticed the lack of eye contact immediately. Sad to say for the entire duration of that holiday the only eye contact apart from my friends was with the Customs Officers :S

 
At 10/13/2006 5:51 AM, Blogger fwade said...

Yamfoot,

I think you are right -- a I remember an American saying to me that she enjoyed Jamaica "because the natives were so friendly."

She was from New Jersey, where I was also living and she had braids in her hair and a tan she was quite proud of.

We have so much going for us, and I wish more of us travelled so that we could appreciate the fact.

 
At 10/13/2006 5:53 AM, Blogger fwade said...

n_her_image -- yep, agreed.

Then, when I open with my mouth with my well-preserved accent, sometimes I emerge from anonymity.

Sometimes.

 
At 10/13/2006 5:56 AM, Blogger fwade said...

Joyous,

Interesting -- I never made that connection before, but it makes sense. I wonder if that applies in Jamaica, as, generally, conservative dress correlates with class? (Although there are counter-examples everywhere.)

 
At 11/07/2006 12:22 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

It happens to minorities in other countries too not just in the USA. It begs the question , "If home is so good why do we go away only to return?"

 
At 2/01/2008 9:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the feeling me luv, and dats why soon, me gween join back my beloved country!!

and soon come~ LOL

Respect!

 

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