The land of wood and water.
4,244 square miles. 635 miles of coastline. 7402 feet above sea level. 146 miles long. 3 million people.
Tropical breeze. Clear blue seas. Fresh jackfruit. Waterfalls. White rum. Ocean breeze. Hurricanes. Warm, sweet rain.
Today is Jamaican Independence Day, so today, let's talk about Jamaica. Jamaica is a small island in the Caribbean, but relative to its size, its impact on the world is immeasurable. Did you know there are 4.5 million Jamaicans (estimated) worldwide, with an estimated 400,000 in the UK alone? It's no wonder that food and language in multicultural cities in the US, UK and Canada have been greatly influenced by Jamaican migrants. Words like 'wagwarn' were staples in slang culture in my teenage years, used by those of any ethnicity to this day. When I was growing up, I remember hearing so many negative things about Jamaica. At this point, Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the world, and now, currently sits in the top 10, although this is always presented with no analysis of the socioeconomic situation left behind by the British. At this time there was also a steady stream of information in the media describing Jamaica as dangerous (outside of its purpose as a tourist destination of course). All of the information I saw in the media on Jamaica was based on crude stereotypes, weed smokers, lazy, no problem man.
The stereotype of Jamaicans as living debaucherously was a far cry from the Jamaican household I was growing up in and all the information I had been given about Jamaica from my parents and grandparents. Interestingly enough, whenever I visit Jamaica, I never feel as though I'm in any danger. I actually feel more free and comfortable being myself in Jamaica than I have in any other country I've visited. Even though its not home, and everything is a little different, the culture, the language, the customs... Jamaica still feels like a home to me. There are a great many parts of my own city I would feel more in danger in than the average Jamaican street.
As I said in my last blog post, I am of mixed heritage, Jamaican and Kittitian, but when asked, I always say I grew up in a Jamaican household. My mum's parents were both born in Jamaica in the 1940s and both moved over here as British citizens in the 1960s, they then went on to get married and have my mum and uncle, making a life in Leeds for many decades, until when I was teenager, they moved home.
My grandfather became a pillar of the Jamaican community in Leeds, founding the Jamaica Society (Leeds) along with 5 other Jamaicans (including my grandmother). He moved from driving buses in the city to working in race relations to being awarded an OBE for his work in the community. My grandad was the treasurer of our church, and every Sunday we would sit there for hours after church finished while he counted up all the collections, locked up all the building, and did all the rounds. I never realised how much of a pillar of the Jamaican community my grandad was until he died. People flew out to Jamaica for the funeral. The church was bursting at the seams for his memorial service. The community lost a real one that day.
My grandmother is the warmest person I've ever known. A true Jamaican grandmother. When my mum died, my grandma was there, pot spoon in hand trying to force food down my throat for weeks. She was there for every tear, every spiral and every meltdown. When I go to Jamaica my grandma spends 2 weeks feeding me every 3 hours, cutting up mangos and making fresh juice. She's a giver, which made her the perfect person to take up midwifery as a young woman. She probably delivered hundreds of Leodensians, even starting a home care business after her retirement to future support the community.
Since the Windrush era, many Jamaicans have contributed to life in the UK, from food and culture to propping up the NHS with those in the diaspora. As a British Jamaican it can be hard to see how much Jamaica and the Jamaican people have given to the UK while simultaneously being regularly greeted with questions of 'why don't you go home then?' While the UK is my home, it can be hard to feel at home here. Like many Jamaican Black Brits, I identify very strongly with Jamaica and long for the day Jamaica will welcome me home with open arms.