Once upon a time in, 1978 to be exact, a young man and woman arrived in New York City. For the man, it was his first time on American soil. Hailing from a small town in Jamaica, the lights of the city amazed him and in the morning, the amount of buildings overwhelmed him. Donna on the other hand, was used to the city life. She spent part of her childhood in the states and her family enjoyed vacations to Florida every now and then. Her hometown of Nassau was so closely assimilated with American culture that the differences were minimal. Fast forward a few years, Donna and Barry met and started a family. 10 years later in Atlanta, GA, I came into the world and completed the family.
My earliest memories begin in Clarendon, Jamaica, running through my grandmother's yard chasing chickens and playing with my pet goat. Yes, I had a pet goat...that later became dinner one fateful evening. Days began by waking up to the sounds of the rooster, having breakfast with my cousins, then moved on to crying while getting my hair combed and finally sitting on the veranda with my grandma watching various visitors come by throughout the day.
After leaving Jamaica, my sister and I then lived in Nassau with my mother's side of the family. Like I mentioned before, life in Nassau wasn't too different from the states. Fewer tv channels, better beaches and a lot more church. My best friend was my cousin, born two weeks after me. We would play in our grandma's backyard all day which we referred to as The Jungle. When my sister and I moved back to the states for good, split summers between Nassau and Jamaica would become the normal.
Before I started school in the states, I recall my mother telling me to "speak properly" as I had acquired the accent and dialect of my family. That's kind of a confusing thing to say to a 5 year old, but I knew I didn't want to be different so I spoke properly from then on. Perhaps that was my first run in with assimilation. It wasn't until I started public school in the most suburban of all suburbs that I really felt different. I wanted to prove my "regular" blackness so much that I even rejected some of my West Indian heritage to fit in even more. My mom was on the committee for Carnival in Atlanta and every year my sister and I participated. I couldn't wait to be old enough to opt out of the Memorial Day festivities and just go to a regular American BBQ. (Stick with me, I promise this won't be a post isn't full of self hatred)
I think a light kind of went off when my grandmother unfortunately passed away when I was 13. Death brings the family back home and so I visited Jamaica again for the first time in years. I sat on the veranda where we used to sit and felt a very strong sense of belonging. This was home.
As I continued HS, I met other 1st generation kids like myself. All of us trying to fit in but also bringing curry chicken for lunch and thinking of ways to outsmart our super strict parents. When I got to college, I found myself more and more comfortable with my heritage when I noticed that being different was more celebrated than fitting in. I looked forward to going home every break and being around my loud ass family and hearing the same old stories and eating the food I had missed so much while at school.
Taking a step back, I'm so grateful for the cosmos aligning and picking me to be a part of such a rich culture that is often misunderstood by so many. Not all Bahamians are hair braiders or conch shuckers. Not all Jamaicans are weed smoking, Bob Marley loving (jk, we all love Bob), "yea mon"-ing people. We brought you greats such as Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and even more recently Kamala Harris. We are a hard working, no nonsense, fun, multi faceted, colorful people and I am so proud.