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.

Monday, April 28, 2008

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.

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At 4/28/2008 7:10 AM, Blogger Geoffrey Philp said...

Francis, I may be excluded from this debate seeing as I live in Miami, but I think it comes down to trust and we should trust the people to make the right decisions.

I don't think we would ever vote for someone who has been only a few weeks, months, years in Jamaica. And I don't think we would vote for someone who hasn't shown a real love for the island or the people.

I do think also that this is a great debate. I also think that YOU are expertly poised to take this debate wider--beyond this blog:

Who or what is a Jamaican?

If Jamaica were a business, what would be our mission statement?

What would be our identity statement?


At 4/29/2008 5:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am one of those that beleive that if you want to run for political office in Jamaica, you MUST be a Jamaican. If that individual has made a bad decision affecting the lives of a nation, they must stay here and bear the consequences, not escape to the core. If you beleive in the system so much, you should be able to give your ALL! Holding on to foreign citizenship is a sign that one has very little faith in Jamaica. Why is it so hard to let it go if you want to run for political office? To be honest, when i see some of the people who are holding US citizenship (in particular) and serving as an MP....they might as well give up the US citizenship because they wouldn't last a day in the North. People are looking for what you are qualified to do and not the fact that your family has 2 shillings to rub together....and most of them couldn't qualify for more than the check out guy or girl at they have lived their best life here!

Anyway, before they can make a change to that law, they would have to ask us as a people, what we think. I am assure you that most Jamaicans will say that one would have to give up their citizenship. I have said in a previous post, that the problem is not finding competent people to serve, as they do exist here....but if you're not kissing up to someone, you won't get very far. Also, if one wants to serve the Jamaican people, at least have a working knowledge of Third World dynamics. There seems to be some general notion that we are idiots down here and have no clue how to direct our own affairs. However, if one doesn't understand that we are on the periphery, never to arrive at the core, then it is all in vain. No foreigner seriving is going to make the situation better.....guaranteed!

At 5/01/2008 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the emotional motivation for wanting elected officials to be 100% Jamaican.

What does that mean though.

I was born and raised in JA, left for college after 6th form. Since then I have become a US citizen. I self identify as fully Jamaican and as a young person want to work to make Jamaica a better place.

And I will say that this does sting, feels like a slap in the face, like saying that I am no longer Jamaican enough.

Other than the emotion leading to borderline xenophobia, what motivates this desire to otherize and exclude? What is the historical harm or the likel future harm of someone with dual citizenship but Jamaican through and through serving?

Jamaica risks alienating many of its best and brightest whose lives happen to have taken them off the beautiful island we love.

At 5/01/2008 6:10 PM, Blogger fwade said...

Good points...

At the same time, someone born or naturalized in Canada, Fiji, Gambia, Malaysia, Pakistan etc. would not be restricted in any way... these are all Commonwealth countries to whom the law does not apply.

At 5/07/2008 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

About this issue: whether JAMAICANS holding dual nationality are eligible to run for political office 'at home...'

In principle, it is preposterous (not to mention hypocritical) to believe this is entirely acceptable. That said I am yet to hear a plausible argument as to why it is unacceptable.

To what extent does dual nationality impact on the abilities of those who possess such and aspire to hold political office to function effectively? This is the question that continues to ‘gnaw’ at my conscience. If one’s choice of dual nationality does indeed impact negatively on one’s ability to be of service to Jamaica – then by all means, one could recommend that his or her political pursuits be taken to other shores. However it is abundantly clear that this is not the issue -- when it needs to be!

Politics [and hypocrisy] aside, many Jamaicans opt for dual nationality as a means to provide such things as a solid education for their children; i.e., part of being a responsible parent. Further, I am yet to meet a Jamaican alive who regardless of whatever ills they may have suffered at the hands of the ‘Little Rock’ is ready to completely disregard their heritage. In fact, it is this ‘die-hard allegiance’ that is so admired and envied by others.

Another puzzling thought: how many dual citizenship holders in Jamaica and elsewhere – products/off-shoots of ‘globalization in effect’ – may now be less inclined to be of service – where their skills, expertise and experience could greatly enhance [re]-development – for fear of having to relinquish their rights earned, sometimes at tremendous costs, elsewhere? Should their right to hard-earned citizenship elsewhere now be relinquished purely on the basis of ‘blind-sided’ patriotism?

Needless to say, the precedent being set is terribly un-nerving, not to mention the discouragement it paints for the very vibrant Diaspora overseas. Any dream of returning to ‘the land of wood and water’ may as well be discarded. Or if you do decide to return, banish all and any political aspirations you may have. It seems to me that we may be creating a very dangerous alienation tactic.

Ms. Jamaican girl makes a valid point: if you are truly Jamaican then you must be prepared to stand the heat of the coal stove when the going gets rough. But what about those who (like Anonymous), through their own (or some former generations') blood, sweat and tears get a chance to go abroad and better themselves with the sole dream of returning home to give back? Is part of their 'punishment' supposed to be 'yes yuh can come PROVIDED that you just come and spend your money and silence your voice?!'

I am also concerned that we may be seduced by short term victory at the cost of long term gain.

Recently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Nauru, the world’s tiniest republic located in the South Pacific, blocked the opposition’s attempt to amend the country’s Citizenship Act on the premise that to do so would have made two senior ministers illegible to take their seats in Parliament. I suspect that the Chief Justice’s decision was at least partly based upon the belief that the country would stand to lose more by the absence of these two senior parliamentarians than it would gain by flirting with political principles.


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