The Immigrant’s Challenge: One Love–One Family
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
[Keynote Speech at Rochester Jamaican Organization celebration of Jamaica’s 56th Anniversary of Independence, 20th July 2018]
Your celebration falls almost mid-way between the 242nd anniversary since American patriots issued the Declaration of Independence and the 56th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from England, August 6, 1962. You have found a way to kill two birds with one stone – celebrating the independence anniversaries of your former and current homes at the same time.
As we celebrate these two countries, we are confronted with uncomfortable truths. The news is not always good coming out of Jamaica, as the Jamaican people struggle to survive the economic and security challenges of a globalized world. The globalized nature of transnational organized criminal networks plagues small vulnerable countries with limited financial and security resources to provide adequately for the safety and security of their citizens.
Jamaica, blessed by its hospitable climate, beautiful beaches, and the warmth of its welcoming people, is, by dint of its geographical location, caught between the producers of illegal drugs in South America and the consumers of illegal drugs in North America. Jamaica, like many island states in the Caribbean and elsewhere around the world, is also threatened by global warming and climate change. The entire Caribbean region is threatened each year by progressively more severe and devastating hurricanes. And, the U.S.-Jamaican partnership to deal with the mutual threats of transnational criminal crimes and climate change is threatened by massive foreign assistance budget cuts and environmental policies of the current administration in Washington.
It is worthy of note that the peoples of Jamaica and America share many things in common. They cherish freedom, democracy, Rule of law, respect for human rights, and respect for the dignity of all human beings.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly, in only its third session following its founding, adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the Declaration). The international community was responding to the heinous acts and the atrocities of governments and individuals which occurred, leading up to, and during World War II. Adoption of the Declaration was the first time in the history of mankind that countries had agreed on a comprehensive statement of the alienable and equal rights of all human beings.
For many years after the adoption of the Declaration, and as we have seen more recently on the southern border of this great country and elsewhere around the world, gross violations of human rights remains a very troubling and urgent issue confronting humanity.
In 2015, the then-United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
“…has become a yardstick by which we must measure right and wrong. It provides a foundation for a just and decent future for all, and has given people everywhere a powerful tool in the fight against oppression, impunity and affronts to human dignity.”
Successive United States governments, though not always with clean hands at home and abroad, have contributed significantly to upholding and defending human rights norms around the world. One of the main precepts of the Declaration, a human rights norm, is that all “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Also in 2015, the U.N. high Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pointed out that the Declaration discredited tyranny, discrimination and contempt for human beings that have marked human history. But, many years after the Declaration was adopted, adherence to the protection of human rights pursuant to its provisions, the commitment made by all countries including by the United States, was not universally applied.
Those who are old enough will remember the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and the 1960s, and the anti-Apartheid struggle which lasted for decades in South Africa. The global landscape was littered with human rights abusers, and lack of human rights protection existed for many years hence. Just after years of achieving independence, recognizing the dire human rights conditions to which hundreds of millions of people around the world were subjected, then-Jamaican Foreign Minister, the Hon. Hugh Shearer proposed to the United Nations in 1963, that the year 1968, the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, be designated the International Year for Human Rights. A major objective was to encourage countries around the world to work towards giving effect to the precepts of the Declaration by setting 1968 as a target date to reach that objective.
Today, we must focus attention to issues of human rights which have emerged in the United States in recent months, and which have created a period of misery and sense of hopelessness in immigrant communities across the United States.
In 2012, when we were here celebrating Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence, we had a different president in the White House, and we were in an election year. President Barack Obama was re-elected to serve another four-year term.
The America we knew then, the country where we made our home; the country where we raised our children and nurtured our families for generations; the country in which we have developed further the skills we came here with, and where we acquired new skills and expertise which we have used to further the development of our communities, our states, and the United States of America; the country for which many of our men and women of Jamaican and Caribbean heritage have sacrificed their lives, in the U.S. military services, in defense and protection of freedoms for all Americans; it was a country that welcomed us as immigrants, and appreciated the significant contributions that we have made as immigrants throughout America’s history.
We had another election in 2016 and a new president was elected. Since then, the America that welcomed us has undergone a number of fundamental changes. Some of these are significantly impacting all of our lives, but more so the lives of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from non-European countries. Many of our fellow immigrants, who are legal permanent residents and naturalized and born citizens of the United States, because they look or sound like foreigners as perceived by some, are deeply troubled by the realities of today’s America.
It is hard, very hard, for some of us to lose our Jamaican accent, or shed our Jamaican culture; and even the way we walk or dance signal to the astute observer that we are Jamaicans. No matter how elegantly dressed we are, it is not very difficult to pick us out of a crowd. We are proud of our Jamaican profile, and no form of discrimination or profiling, nothing, will change who we are. We are Jamaicans, and as Jamaica’s National Hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey reminded us,
“A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Garvey also admonished us to be confident in who are. He said,
“If we have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.”
We are proud of who we are and of the country from which we came. We are proud to be immigrants and of the achievements of our fellow Jamaican and Caribbean immigrants. We stand on the achievements and contributions to American nation-building of all those who came before and those who are currently achieving and contributing to our adopted homeland. Jamaican and other Caribbean immigrants have sacrificed for this country, our adopted home, from the birth of this nation.
Samuel Frances, a Caribbean man who fought in the Revolutionary War with General George Washington was cited by Washington for his bravery and service in the cause of freedom from British rule. As a reward, President George Washington made Frances the first Chief Steward of the first White House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later in Washington DC. Our tradition of service and faithfulness has transcended nearly two and a half centuries of American history.
Most recently, President Obama, in 2011, appointed a Jamaican woman, Angella Reid, as the White House Administrator and Head Usher in charge of the entire White House. She was the first woman and only the second person of color to serve in that capacity; essentially the same job Samuel Francis had nearly two and one-half centuries before. Among other recent notable appointees of Jamaican and Caribbean heritage in Obama’s administration was Marine Lt. General Vincent Stewart, originally from Kingston, Jamaica, as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Ambassador Dr. Susan Rice, whose paternal grandparents came from Jamaica, served as Ambassador to the United Nations and later as National Security Adviser to President Obama. There were many others of Caribbean heritage who served in the Obama administration. These few represent a very small sample of Jamaican and Caribbean immigrants, their children and grandchildren who have made their mark on American history – in every facet of American life.
Yet, many immigrants now wonder if there will be a knock on their doors in the dead of the night; whether they will be taken off of a bus or other public transportation simply because they look or sound like foreigners; many are afraid to travel by bus from one city to the next to visit friends and families; many people – immigrants and other people of color – now question whether they can safely move around within their communities without facing some form of profiling and discrimination; and young men of color now feel vulnerable and threatened just because of who they are.
We are numbed by images of helpless people who are fleeing tyranny, economic deprivation, and a host of inhumane adversities only to be met with inhumane treatment from those from whom they expected mercy. We see people seeking to enjoy the political and economic freedoms America offers to those who strive for a life free from fear and free from want; a safe and secure environment in which to raise their young families, now being caged like animals.
It is an America we do not recognize. It is an America which contradicts everything we have come to love about this great country. It is an America which is rapidly losing its moral standing in the world. It is no longer the America whose standards good people around the world are literally dying to emulate. We must return to the America we once knew. Take it back we must; and take it back we will.
Jamaican immigrants, like other immigrants, are not afraid of the unknown. Many came to America risking the little personal assets they possessed, not knowing how they would survive the harsh winters in places such as Rochester; but they came with hearts filled with Hope and minds filled with Desire. They came to create and construct a new life; a life of which they could only have dreamt. They travelled into the unknown, fearful but not afraid. They came long before the internet and available international media gave us the ability to learn everything we needed to know about every corner of the world without leaving home.
Immigrants, Jamaican immigrants, are known for their resilience, their persistence and endurance. They do not wilt in the face of adversity; they get stronger and they fight harder.
One of the things we learn as immigrants is that no matter what the situation is today better must come. We know that change for the better is in our future and we will not be denied. As immigrants we must also know change will only happen if we make ourselves a part of the change we want to see in America. We cannot be apathetic, even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. If we want change we must follow the advice the great Mahatma Gandhi bequeathed to us:
“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
Gandhi’s words heralded an eternal truth that we can make a difference and that we should not underestimate what we are capable of. Gandhi said:
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world problems.”
Politicians and civic leaders who join in these celebrations are not celebrating Jamaica’s independence merely to participate in the revelry. They are here with a message, to let you know that while they are leading on the political front they want your full participation in the civic affairs of your city, state, and your country. It is your duty to hold them accountable in defense of your interests, and, where your interests and theirs coalesce, you must establish beneficial relationships. If your interests diverge, your votes can hold them accountable.
The elections this year are perhaps the most important in an immigrant’s, our lifetime. As immigrants, as Jamaicans, we must be a part of the change desperately needed in Washington.
If we are uncomfortable with, if we are disgusted by the inhumane treatment of immigrants, we know the few in leadership who conduct themselves with such abhorrence and disdain for human decency can only continue to do so with impunity if we the people allow them to. They are not representative of the vast majority of Americans. They are not representative of the America we know.
As Gandhi also admonished us,
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dry, the ocean does not become dirty.”
Gandhi further reminded us that,
“As human beings, our greatness lays not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.”
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”
As we say, action speaks louder than words. Go forth and let your light shine!
One Love – One Family.
© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post