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Emancipation Day

It's Emancipation day and days like today are exactly how the first flag candle came to be. Emancipation Day is one that featured heavily on my mind when I was designing the Jamaica candle last year.

As a Black British person of Caribbean descent, the upbringing is a unique experience. For me, all of my grandparents were born in either Jamaica or St Kitts. When an open call was put out for citizens of the colonies to come and rebuild the 'Mother Country' after World War 2, my grandparents packed up their lives, left their families behind, and eventually settled in sunny old Leeds. That choice allowed my parents to meet, and then go on to create a mixed heritage family.

I would describe myself as the most Jamaican Kittitian. My Kittitian family inside the UK is very large, and I'm lucky enough to live in Leeds where an extremely large percentage of the Kittitian and Nevisian communities settled ( I thought St. Kitts and Nevis were both a lot more populous than they are until I went there). Core memories in my life are being at my Kittitian grandfather's house every weekend. That same grandfather who never lost his accent and never lost his culture. However when it comes to actual connection to the island, my love and connection with Jamaica has always been very strong. I went there for the first time when I was 6, and I've been repeatedly over the last 2 decades, including taking my son last year for the first time. My extended family on the island has always been close to us, despite the distance, and I have second and third cousins whom I think of as first cousins. When I think about that crucial moment in each of my grandparents' lives that allowed me to exist, a moment filled with hope and wonder, I contrast it with the reception they received upon their arrival and the misinformation that still surrounds the Windrush generation today. The pride I feel when I think about how we came to be here is suffocating at times.

Within the UK, the common stream of thought is that the British, upon realising chattel slavery was wrong, decided to abolish slavery ('the first in the world' is something you often hear), but this isn't the case. Generations of West Indian people fought using armed resistance, guerrilla war techniques, and the topography of their islands to EARN their independence. Eventually, it became a financial drain on the British Empire to continue fighting these wars with the enslaved, so slavery was abandoned.

Growing up in the UK, while you still have access to certain aspects of your culture, you are no longer immersed in it. I feel the history and folklore is an element that is a struggle to maintain, especially when you consider the pressure put on previous generations to 'assimilate', many of us cannot even speak the languages of home. When studying history in school, the only bit that really related to your ancestors is slavery, so its a very large focus of your upbringing, and Emancipation Day is 'the end' of that chapter (except slaves were forced to continue working for a further 4 years). In school, there is a lot of focus on this historical time, but it is not ALL of these island's histories and unfortunately, the rest of that history is not easily accessible in the UK.

As adults, the choice is now ours. We have less pressure to assimilate. We have access to the world's finest information, and social media to connect with those back home with ease. It now becomes our responsibility to ensure that our culture is passed on to our children and there are many steps to this. Learning the language, understanding the culture, visiting the island (outside of your family's homes), reading the histories, learning the folklore, the stories (think Anansi the spider), even commonly used phrases (duppy know who fi frighten). The choice to hold our homes close is now ours, and over the last 10 years, I have reached out to mine with open arms.

Happy Emancipation Day!

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