A few months ago I was at a friend’s birthday party when a young Jamaican man approached me. Soon into our conversation, he asked me where I was from, to which I replied, “Kingston.” He then gave me the smuggest look. Surprised by his demeanor, I met his expression with a simple, “what?” He responded with a slew of questions that I can only assume were meant to test my Kingston knowledge and affirm that I was in fact a Kingstonian.
Soon into the questionnaire, I got annoyed and inquired about the reasons behind the tone of his exchange. He alerted me that, “people lie all the time and say they’re from Kingston,” and so he wanted to see if I was telling the truth. When I asked where he was from, he laughingly said he was from Kingston before eventually getting around to the fact that he was from Clarendon. I wrote him off as being extra. Perhaps he was suffering from his own insecurities about his upbringing and thereby projecting them on me.
A few days ago, a family member of a patient, picked up on my accent and asked where in Jamaica I was from. Once more, I replied Kingston, he chuckled. When I asked what warranted his laugh, he said, “In Haiti, we do the same thing too. Everyone wants to be from the capital.” I alerted him that I did in fact grow up in Kingston and that there are no accolades in being from Kingston, any more than there are in being from Montego Bay or any other parish. For all you know, I could be from the very worst part of Kingston, just as I could be from the very best parts of Mandeville or St. Ann.” I concluded by saying, “I don’t think it’s a thing sir.”
But is it? Does everyone want to be from “the capital?” Are there people living abroad who claim to be, and more so, often prove to be some of the proudest members of the Caribbean diaspora, who are not proud of their rural backgrounds? What does it mean for a person to be from St. Elizabeth, Trelawny or Westmoreland? How can there be shame in sharing where one is from, no matter how humble his or her beginnings.
I do understand that there is an ease in quoting the most popularly known city to outsiders. After all, a Floridian who readily sites their residence as Miami will most likely be the participant in a much shorter conversation than the person who responds Plantation. But to lie because of some skewed impression of affiliation is just unnecessary.
No one should ever be ashamed of where their story began. The story of our lives is often intricate and would not have played out in the way that it has, if every single circumstance before now did not happen in the precise manner that it has. As immigrants the most important part of our story starts with where we are coming from. It is important to stay true to that. Do not lean towards identifying yourself with a group to which you do not belong, merely because of skewed opinions of outsiders.
I’m highly surprised to find that immigrants lying about the parish or city they are from is rumored to be common practice. I have always been of the impression that Kingston was naively synonymous with the area of Jamaica rife with crime and violence. It seems the country-come-to-town mentality warrants exploration by both city-folk and rural residents. What impressions are town’s people giving, that in some way or another impacts the self-worth of those who grew up outside of the coveted capital?
What has your experience been with this issue? Is lying about what parish one grew up in truly common?