A Certain Vehement Pride
This entire episode regarding Parliamentarians and their dual citizenship has driven up a certain kind of Jamaican pride that I am ambivalent about.
The sentiment is a typically forthright Jamaican one.
"Anyone who run tings a yard must be Jamaican."
To this all Jamaicans would undoubtedly agree.
However, things get murky when we add on other stipulations regarding which other citizenships they are allowed to hold to still be allowed to run for office.
For example, here is what it seems to current law tells us about the eligibility of Jamaicans with overseas immigration privileges.
Those who CAN run for office:
-- a Jamaican who has lived all their life in the U.S. or Canada but never bothered to get their new citizenship
-- a British/Indian/Barbadian citizen whose grandparent was Jamaican, and has just claimed their Jamaican citizenship last week
Those who CANNOT run for office:
-- a born Jamaican whose parent took out US citizenship for them when they were children (as is the case of Daryl Vaz) and who might never have left the country for a day
-- a US citizen who has become a naturalized Jamaican or claimed citizenship through a parent/grandparent, but has not explicitly renounced their US citizenship
The situation is quite unclear, and in some cases it can be argued that it's unfair.
But the reaction of some Jamaicans has been a proud, reactive one -- no-one should be running the country who is not Jamaican. It's just that the definition of "Jamaican" has become murky indeed.
Before independence 1962, there was not such thing as a Jamaican, as everyone born on the island was British (without all the rights of a British subject.) Jamaican citizenship is a relatively new invention.
The recent court challenge has shown that the original 1962 definitions are inadequate for the complex, interconnected world we live in. When our own laws disqualify people like billionaire Michael Lee-Chin from ever becoming a parliamentarian, it must give us pause for thought.
Who exactly are we, in our pride, trying to exclude?
Obviously, we don't want, for example, a Cuban who has only spent two weeks in Jamaica to be able to run for office.
Also, we DO want to wholeheartedly encourage all Jamaicans to be eligible.
It's just that we need a 2008 definition of the word "Jamaican" in our constitution to match the world we live in.
Those Jamaicans who want to return should involve themselves in this debate, and in the Constitutional changes that are likely to come. As major stakeholders and providers of remittances that exceed earnings from tourism and bauxite combined, their future is woven into the future of Jamaicans living back at home. They are the umbilical cord that has kept the economy afloat.
I wonder if, in our vehement pride, we might alienate them, discourage them from coming home with their expertise, turn them off from sending their remittances and lead them to conclude that Jamaica is turning its back on them?
If so, that would be tragic, and we would all be worse off.