(This blog in not reflective of the experiences of all Jamaicans abroad, and no Jamaican national should be insulted by its content. The narrative is based on personal observations and experiences. The intent is for readers to read, then use the information to engage in conversations with others, especially during this Caribbean-American Heritage Month.)
The migration of Jamaicans to countries like the Canada, England, or the United States, is a romantic notion to many. The anticipation that everything good is about to happen is foremost in most minds. Having all the things one never had is the dream. Most people left on the island often think so. They see those who migrate to a foreign land as people living a great life. The new “foreigners” are often perceived as being rich, having an easy or better life, and not wanting for anything. Did life in their new homeland allow them to become what was perceived?
The reality however, is that the majority of those arriving in their new country, failed to see their lives in that way. As they learned, traveling “abroad” did not always translate to the dreams everyone had. While many did see some of their dreams realized, many of the population arriving in new lands found themselves challenged on a daily basis to “make life” for themselves.
Most of those who arrived to their new destination before the age of eighteen, found that they were able to make a comfortable life for themselves. Their access to the school system played a critical roll in helping them to navigate many facets of their life in their new homeland. The adjustment to life in general, were often less challenging as it pertains to assimilation/adaption.
This group unlike some of their parents who didn’t have, or couldn’t access schools in their new country, were able to set themselves on a pathway to create “the good life.” Most were able to emerge from that system, functioning as well paid professionals to include teachers, doctors, lawyer, and business owners. The lifestyle they lived as a result of that achievement made them the envy of the struggling masses at home, who saw their lives as being “easy,” and “effortless.”
Then there are those who had no access to the school system, and have done well by sheer grit. Most of this group arrived after age eighteen, found it difficult to navigate the educational system, and immediately found work in jobs that paid minimum wages. This group however, decided that they were not going to let the challenges of daily life prevent them from “making a life” in their new country. They struggled in many areas, to have the quality life they wished for themselves and their families.
These stumbling blocks often are a rude awakening for a group of people who had never encountered them before, and who had a very different frame of mind prior to leaving their home country. They got submerged in a system that did not slow down for them to catch up. Life moved along, they grabbed on, and went along for the ride.
Today, life for many Jamaicans abroad, has had little change. With little time to process what is happening on any given day, they perform their daily rituals, a cycle etched on their brains. As “work” takes precedence over everything, family life suffers. The close, daily, interactions they had with family and friends in their home country, is now often a distant memory. Often, this group of people do not speaking their dialect (unless they meet people from their country). They are teased/mimicked when they speak, and the language is received as being primitive. They live constantly being questioned about their accent and asked to explain where they came from. Most times the questioning isn’t because people are interested in the person, but because they want it known you are different and not always welcomed in their space. There are no leisurely strolls along the streets, fearing the thought of being arrested for trespassing. There are no greeting people as you pass them in the streets, as you may be considered strange or crazy. No yards to “hang out,” and often no extended family or community members to look out for you. Most startling, is the knowledge that you are no longer in the majority racial group and you struggle to process why exactly you are now described as a minority.
Jamaicans abroad learn to do many things differently, and learn to be tolerant of new behaviors they encounter. Many are told to “grin and bear it,” if they want to have the semblance of the “good life” they heard about.
Although some have made bad choice, Jamaicans on a whole have willed themselves to survive in their new homelands doing positive things, and building productive lives.
No one should assume that life has been, or is easy, for any Jamaican abroad. It shouldn’t be assumed that they are rich, or living the good life with no cares in the world. They are a group of people who work very hard to maintain life in the foreign countries they now reside. Their new life has come at a cost, and many are not willing to share their struggles with those back home. Perpetuating the idea that “everything is alright,” is their mantra. The struggle to assimilate and build a comfortable life in a foreign country continues for many. Hopefully they will share their stories with those in their homeland, to help build a deeper understanding of the realities of life away from home.
Some Questions for Conversation:
- What has life been for you in your second home country?
- What has been the most challenging experience you have had?
- How did you assimilate or adapt to life in your new country?
- What would you change about any of the experiences you have had?
- Do you have any advice for someone who may be thinking of leaving his or her home country?
- Do you have any advice for someone who had migrated?
- What would you want natives to know about the way they interact with you?
- Are you happy in your new homeland? Why? or Why not?
- What are the expectations of you from family members?
- How do you feel about family in your homeland?