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, October 02, 2009

Are You a REAL Jamaican?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of the pronouncement, “You’re not a real Jamaican!”?

Well, regardless of who is making the statement – a non-Jamaican or a Jamaican – (s)he is making some comment about how you are seen, relative to other Jamaicans.

You either fall short in some way, relative to the group, or you are in some way “better than” the group. They’re making a comment about how Jamaicans are identified and how you measure up to that identity. Depending on how you feel about being Jamaican, you may or may not be pleased with the implication: you’re not like other Jamaicans, but it really doesn’t matter to the observer – it’s how (s)he sees you. If you’re offended, you might find yourself saying, You’re wrong -- I am a real Jamaican!
Really? How do you know? And if you’re right, then why does at least one person disagree?
Now, what about when you, a Jamaican, assess some aspect of something that is supposed to be Jamaican – music, food, politics, social practices, etc, -- and it doesn’t measure up? That can’t be a Jamaican, not eating with the knife and fork in a restaurant. Jamaicans don’t join lines. Jamaicans eat rice and peas on Sundays. Jamaicans love reggae.
Really? How do you know? Is there any Jamaican that would disagree with you? How do they know?
Here’s another one that causes much trouble for Jamaicans living overseas who pay a visit to the island, and are surprised to find things have changed. They no longer know exactly how to do things.
Back in their land of exile, they dreamt of the vacation where they would spend a Sunday just as they did when they were growing up: eat a big breakfast, maybe head to church by 11:00am, stop by some relative or friend for home-cooked Sunday dinner (which would be ready at around 2:00pm), watch Sunday matinee . . . If you haven’t caught the joke yet , then you definitely don’t live in Jamaica.
The “big breakfast” is no longer guaranteed; persons who go to church on Sundays can go at 7:00 am (or earlier) for the first of two or three services; stopping by someone’s house without an invitation or prior arrangement is no longer always acceptable; the home-cooked Sunday dinner has been severely compromised, as is evidenced by the long lines at KFC or other fast-food establishments on Sundays; and, as for the Sunday matinee – that doesn’t only indicate you’ve been away from Jamaica but you left a long time ago and probably took your clothes in a “dulcimena”!
Although we would like to think that there is a clear way to identify what being Jamaican is, there really isn’t. Not in an absolute sense.
We have traditions, and things that mean “Jamaican” for many persons. However, this is a subject of many debates because even the longtime ways of doing things are not the same for everyone.
For example, many Jamaicans know of some hard squares made of coconut, sugar and ginger, wrapped in greaseproof paper and sold as “sweeties” or sweets. What do they call them – busta, stagger back, dosie . . . ? If you knew these sweeties by one name or the other, are you more or less Jamaican? And, if your mother never allowed you to eat these, for fear you broke your teeth, is it that you’re not Jamaican? If you never heard of them . . . you get the picture. Or should we just simply say, half yu life gone!
With advances in technology that bring the world to Jamaica in various ways and with unprecedented speeds, many things have changed. In addition, Jamaicans leave home a lot; and just as many people from other countries come to Jamaica, many of whom stay to make Jamaica their home.
This movement of people and ideas across our shores is influencing a cultural hibridity in many aspects of Jamaican lives. To be sure, some things will change, and some things will remain the same. We have some old ideas and practices that are deeply rooted in Jamaican life. We have some new ones that we have developed that suit how we live today, and these are gaining acceptance. And then we are getting some that fall in between – a mix of old and new, that over time, will be just as Jamaican as anything that was here from olden days.
All of this is arguably “good, bad, and indifferent” as the old timers would say.
So, the next time someone declares you like or unlike Jamaicans, you’d better ask – which ones?
This article was written by Tracy McFarlane.



At 10/02/2009 9:13 PM, Blogger Rockaway Girl said...

Very interesting article! I had that question posed to me several times , usually at my place of employment. "You not a real J'can" or "You don't sound like a real J'can" and I usually ask, "how would you know, how much of Jamaica and its people have you known?"

That usually shuts them up, just like that! One old woman had the nerve to TELL me i came from Trinidad because I didn't fit the stereotype of what she thought a J'can should be...I was fit to be tied, but I held my tongue because of her age and I respect my elders. I smiled and told her she was wrong and to have a blessed day!

At 10/04/2009 12:35 PM, Blogger marina said...

At a popular eating spot in New Kingston yesterday, a little girl looked at me smiling - Mommy, is that Auntie so-and-so? Mommy laughed, no dear, you think all Indians look alike? It cannot escape me even though I claim none of it as heritage. 'Real' problem. Worse with the constant "You're Trini and you don't like Carnival?!". And worst, the disdain I was greeted with by an Indian from India when I said I didn't participate in any of the cultural events. Ah bwoy. Or as I guess I SHOULD say, 'pressha'!!

At 10/04/2009 6:38 PM, Anonymous Manchester said...

Am I a real Jamaican? Once I would answer with a bold yes..and in many ways still do. But increasinly I wonder first--who are these people-- strangers who I see on my island home- and with whom I have no familiarity, but they too are calling themselves, Jamaicans. If they are-- I am definitely not.

Secondly, who are these family members who have become so materialistic, that they too have joined those to judge others merely/largely by material accomplishments?

By that I mean the culture has changed. And so much so I have lost something/ties that made me a strong ambassador for that nation state.

On the other hand, outside of the country, I never respond to the question/suggestion-- "you do not sound/behave--like a Jamaican. Why?

Jamaicans are individuals largely a by product/represenative of their value system and family background. Some I want to know more about. Others, I only want to say hello -- and move on. We are a mixed bag like people from other countries with the: good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yet, politically a real Jamaican has a different meaning all together. Strong on values, certainly!

One who values Jamaica for its African heritage-- the bedrock on which it is built and stands, honoring our: Culture--rice and peas on Sundays, family values, belief in a strong educational system, respect for our religious beliefs. Sundays should remain a family day-- not for shopping.

Those who try to make Jamaica so secular that some day 'prayers' may not be allowed in schools is frightening even to think about.

A real Jamaican: proud, confident and respectful, never crompromising on what really matters!

At 11/04/2009 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been told that I am not a real Jamaican simple because I speak English, like to cook with salt from the Dead Sea, and use cumin on my steak! I only get that from French, Italian or German people I meet. After spending four years at UWI, I found out that during that time, everyone thought I was from Barbados. I have a PhD, an impressive job title and boss people around for a living, but I have suffered the embarrassment of being introduced to me as a person from Jamaica, only to have the other person assume (out loud) that I am a go-go dancer. I don't think that Jamaica people are particularly to blame. I think that human beings in general tend to be ruled by stereotypes about our country, and try to pressure us into acting the way they imagine we should act. I met a Filipino-Jamaican once, who told me, "I'm not a typical Jamaican..." Why? He had mocha coloured skin (cafe late). He proceeded to speak only to (and have casual sex with) fair skinned, Caucasian people, refusing to speak to me because he didn't want to "dirty" his image by speaking to someone with dark skin. The "white people" were my friends, and they made fun of his pretentious behaviour behind his back. Our country is blessed with cultural and racial diversity. I think that we should treat stereotypes as such, and either shrug them off, or suppress them.

At 12/10/2009 6:43 AM, Anonymous WiseJamaican said...

After my friends online saw my picture they told me that I am not Jamaican lol. Anyway I love reading the article it have me laughing.

At 12/10/2009 5:13 PM, Anonymous Natalie said...

I don't know if this is the best place to say this, but I just wanted to give you props for writing this blog and keeping it up for four years of interesting posts to document your journey home. Thanks a lot for writing, and good luck with your future in Jamaica or wherever you call home.

At 12/11/2009 8:11 AM, Blogger fwade said...

Thanks Natalie.

My writing has slowed down considerably, as you may have noticed, given that I now feel that I have "moved." But I love to hear what's happening to Jamaicans who are thinking of returning.

At 12/26/2009 10:30 PM, Blogger yusuf said...

As always an excellent posting.The
way you write is awesome.Thanks. Adding more information will be more useful.


At 1/07/2010 1:41 AM, Anonymous naat said...

Am i a j'can?? The question was wondering in my mind for a long while.At last i understand this.Any way thanks for presenting the nice info.Carry on.

At 1/25/2010 2:40 PM, Blogger BenCrum said...

I heard the Ghanian/Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes use a phrase, Half Your Life Gone, at a reading in Manhattan recently. But he didn't explain it. I'd very much like to know what it means. I intend to ask someone at the Roti shop in my neighborhood, but, in the meantime, can someone fill me in?

At 1/26/2010 6:51 AM, Blogger fwade said...

I think it literally means that you have lived half of your life already. The Bible makes reference to 70 years as a standard, so maybe the phrase would mean 35??

At 2/26/2010 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People who usually feel proud because someone told them they dont sound jamaican or look jamaica feel that way because they think being typical jamaican is being black. we all know how most jamaicans hate their blackness. They go to great lengths to tell you how their great grand father or great mother was chinese, indian, white etc. Some of these people have a clear jamaican accent but are so in denial. Some of these people are products of rape and one night stand but feel so happy is not only black blood running through their veins.


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