As of this year, I would have lived in the United States more than I’ve lived at home (Jamaica). Some would say that means I am more American than I am Jamaican, and I would immediately take offense. Back in the day (circa the 80s/90s) when islanders would migrate, they could be caught almost immediately twanging and modifying themselves to blend in with the natives. Immersed in a culture that to this day in many ways continuously Americanizes it’self, it came seemingly natural for them to assimilate. I can remember the “Greetings Across The World,” clips airing on our television set with droves of islanders speaking in unrecognizable accents, then closing with remarks like “Big up unuself,” in their native tongue. I remember my brother and cousins mockingly copying them and adults muttering among themselves about “why these people are twanging.”
A few months ago, my coworker made a comment surrounding a topic I can now barely remember. It might have been politics or some news broadcast, but I know I dismissively referred to this having nothing to do with me because I’m not American. I could see she found it off-putting and almost immediately after making the comment, I heard how it came off. Putting myself in her shoes, I filled the air with her unspoken words, “well if you’re so not like us, why did you come here.” I can’t speak for all islanders, but Jamaicans, especially those in recent generations are ridiculously proud of our heritage. We make efforts not to conform. We want you to hear our accents, enjoy our foods, and go to our parties. Before all else, we want to be identified as Jamaican.
There’s some hypocrisy that comes with that though; choosing to dip in and out of the pool when it suits us. Being unequivocally American when the need arises but disassociating at others. Picking the battles that do and don’t pertain to us and perpetuating willful ignorances.
Immigrants by no means hate the states! We fail to assimilate because no matter how much we acclimate to our chosen surroundings, it will never quite resonates with us as being home. So why did we come? For most person’s it’s in the pursuit of opportunities not afforded to them at home, or to pave the way for better opportunities for their families. It is the cliched but true pursuit of the American dream. We never fully assimilate because we fail to see the situation we left as truly any worse than where we’ve come. For the most part, that is due to unadulterated pride and romanticized perceptions that come with being in a long distance relationship with the dearest love we’ve left behind. It’s also because of some shame. A muted shame that carries the embarrassment of abandonment and of those we’ve left behind. Those who have not been awarded the opportunities we’ve gained and are still in compromising positions. The unacknowledged feeling of selling out.
No matter where you’re from, whether you’ve migrated from Haiti to New York, or Miami to San Francisco, there is always an allegiance to one’s home town. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in a place a piece of you will always remain in your home town. The islander’s apparent inability to conform is not a form of rebellion or ingratitude but simply the remnants of a heart, whose second love will always pale in comparison to it’s first.