Disrespect to Jamaicans who leave Jamaica
Dahlia Walker-Huntington, Esq.
(14 August 2022) — The remarks of Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor that “Only cowards run away to go to America because they are seeking out opportunity” smacks of ignorance at the highest levels. How could a politician in Jamaica who reads the newspapers, listens to the news, or is on social media make such an ill-informed, public statement?
Jamaicans for generations have been travelers – from the pioneers in the late 19th and early 20th century who went to Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua in the region to live and work; to those who went to the United Kingdom during the Windrush migration; to those who went to Africa, Canada and those Jamaicans who arrived in the United States at Ellis Island. Jamaicans leave Jamaica for a variety of reasons – to reunite with family members, for economic opportunities, for security and for access to reliable health care just to name a few.
The approximate number of Jamaicans – immigrants and first generation overseas, equal the number of Jamaicans living on the island. The first question the Deputy Mayor should ask himself is whether the island of Jamaica is physically capable of absorbing every Jamaican immigrant who now lives overseas? Can the country provide housing, jobs, roads and other infrastructure if every person born in Jamaica remained on the island?
The impact of Jamaicans on the world is due in large part to the number of Jamaicans and first-generation Jamaican hyphens – you fill in the blank – and the incredible contributions they have made on every nook and cranny of the world where they reside. Every corner of the world that you travel, you will find a Jamaican living there and the influence of the culture. In America Jamaicans are at every sphere influencing policy daily.
If I sound upset, you bet I am. I am a Jamaican who left Jamaica in 1979 due to the crime and violence of the 1970s. At the time I was 18 years old and thought I was leaving my Jamaicaness behind in a period before the internet and even direct phone calls back to Jamaica. But what I and all who left Jamaica for a variety of reasons found was that we became even more Jamaican living overseas. Our patriotism overseas is incomparable as a Diaspora. We appreciate the sheer landscape of Jamaica, the culture, the resilience of our spirits, the determination to succeed that we were taught and unimpeachable love of country. We wear our Jamaicaness on our sleeves. Every. Single. Day. Has the Deputy Mayor ever left Jamaica? Has he ever visited a Jamaican community in Florida, New York or London? Has he ever seen the vibrance of Jamaican communities overseas?
Jamaicans in the Diaspora are the country’s greatest Ambassadors, they share the language, the food, the music, the culture with their adopted homes. Everybody wants to be Jamaican because those who live in the Diaspora have made it “cool”. Members of the Jamaican Diaspora shine in every industry and dispel any negative myths about Jamaicans. If you enter a factory, a store or an office and if there is a Jamaican in that establishment, you will know. Why? Because Jamaicans shine – their work ethic is unmatched (hence the ongoing joke about how many jobs a Jamaican in the Diaspora has at any given time)
Jamaicans overseas predate the 21st century terminology of “The Diaspora” and all but a handful of Jamaicans in the Diaspora eat, sleep, and breathe Jamaica. Everyone always reverts to remittances because it is Jamaica’s lifeblood. Facts are facts. The same newspaper article that reported on the insulting remarks from the Deputy Mayor outlined that in 2021 net remittances to Jamaica amounted to US$3.393 billion. Who does Deputy Mayor Vernon think sent that money to Jamaica? Who? Gremlins? Or the same “cowards” who ran off to America and yonder to mek life?
Where do the Jamaican school principals go when they need much needed supplies, classrooms, and equipment for schools that the government cannot supply? To Gremlins or to the same “cowards” who have overseas Alumni Associations in the Diaspora who daily toil “inna farrin” while ensuring that the next generation of students at their alma maters in Jamaica have the same or better surroundings within which to learn and thrive?
The genesis of the Deputy Mayor’s statement insinuates that once a person leaves Jamaica that is the end of their connection with the land of their birth. Au contraire! One could venture to say that the non-remittance assistance that Jamaicans overseas give back to the land of their birth outshines the astronomical amount in remittances that can be quantified. The untold number of Jamaican American organizations that exist in the United States whose sole purpose for being is to help Jamaica should be on the Deputy Mayor’s radar, and if they are not then he needs to “wheel and come again” and educate himself. Not to mention the individuals who relentlessly help their communities without the moniker of an association’s label. Newsflash! Jamaicans in the Diaspora contribute to Jamaica’s development.
Countries like The Philippines export labor because they are keenly aware of the positive impact on their country when their nationals go overseas to work. The pressure valve that it releases when developing countries can send workers overseas who turn around and send their paychecks back home is immeasurable.
The statement also reeks of “badmindism”. So, a person leaves Jamaica and makes good for themselves overseas, you are telling them that they should feel guilty because they did not remain in the status of life that they were when they lived in Jamaica? Money does not grow on trees in America or anywhere overseas, and Jamaicans who migrate must toil in four seasons to “mek life”. When rain fall in America people don’t stay home, they walk in the rain, snow and sleet to get to work. They work outdoors in below freezing temperatures to put a roof over their heads, eat a food and turn around and send money back to Jamaica; and support organizations that support Jamaica.
Can the number of higher institutions of learning in Jamaica absorb all the high school graduates in Jamaica? When government begins to pay public sector workers like teachers, nurses and police personnel a livable wage commensurate with their education and experience and we don’t have to read weekly about corruption and misuse of public funds in Jamaica then maybe we can have a discussion on why so many qualified persons in Jamaica leave the country.
The Deputy Mayor’s statement also suggests that only a certain “class” of Jamaicans who migrate and those who do, do so only for economic reasons. Newsflash! Jamaicans of all walks of life migrate.
When you are a public figure, an elected official who represents a political party and you step out and make a statement that is not only ignorant but insulting to millions of Jamaicans, those to whom you report need to educate you – in this instance, as to the importance of the Jamaican Diaspora to Jamaica.
I am tired of the disrespect meted out to Jamaicans who live overseas – e.g. when current Minister of National Security told a Diaspora Connect virtual meeting that the Diaspora should just send money because they cannot offer any assistance in crime fighting and policing in Jamaica and more than a year later, the Prime Minister has not said a word about that – it should not surprise me that the Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay would launch such disrespectful remarks against Jamaicans in the Diaspora.
Government cannot continue to stage biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conferences in Jamaica and then turn around and disrespect the Diaspora. No sah!
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington, Esq. is a Jamaican-American attorney who practices Immigration law in the United States; and Family, Criminal & International law in Florida. She is a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Mediator and Former Special Magistrate & Hearing Officer in Broward County, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Members of the Jamaican Diaspora across several countries have responded in disgust to the asinine statement of Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon. A recent report in the Jamaica Gleaner quoting responses from Diaspora members in the U.S. was aptly headlined, “Boneheaded.”
© Dahlia Walker-Huntington & The Ward Post