I have spent a good amount of my youth being shuttled on flights between Wisconsin, Jamaica and New York City. Early exposure to travel is the benefit of divorce they don’t tell you about. Boarding an airplane conjures up more than a fear of flying. Every time I hear the pilot tells the passengers to turn off their electronic devices and fasten their seat belts, I flashback to the day when, at 8 years old, I left my mom in New York City to live with my dad in Jamaica for two years. She was bawling and I was smiling, not because I was a sadistic child that enjoyed the emotional pain of others.
That came later. My young mind couldn’t process the magnanimity of that moment. All it could focus on was the fact that I was flying to Jamaica with the cute teenage boy who was a family friend.
There is always something special about flying back to my hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. Sitting on my two connecting flights I eagerly anticipated that feeling I always get on the drive from the Norman Manley International Airport. It’s a warmth that envelopes my heart when I know that I am home. I only lived in Jamaica my first 10 years of life, but I constantly carry my Jamaican pride with me. And the older I get, the more homesick I get. The more I look within, the more I realize that Jamaica is intrinsic to who I am. From my worldview to my laissez-faire attitude (that will quickly turn antagonistic if you steal my food, are a racist or a Mitt Romney supporter. I guess that last one was a bit redundant).
Unfortunately, most Jamaicans are unaware of my shared nationality and patriotism. They hear my American accent and dismiss me as a lazy and privileged American (lately I have been able to adopt an accent that sits in the middle ground, which many people refer to as “international”). The only way for me to appear Jamaican in Jamaica is to stay silent, at least that’s what I thought. In Customs I was walking towards the line reserved for Jamaican residents (No need to call the INS, readers who live in Arizona, I am a legal U.S. Permanent Resident) when a security officer was frantically waving me in the direction of the visitor’s line. It took a stoic stare down and a flash of my Jamaican passport for her to believe that I was a Jamaican.
I guess I no longer look Jamaican. My stepmom said it was because Jamaicans get blinged out for flights while I was dressed like a Gap model/ humorous lesbian (I prefer the latter. Ellen is hilarious and a sharp dresser). While a stern-faced officer checked my passport and asked me questions, I looked back and saw a scene I would only see in Jamaica. A young Jamaican boy who was maybe six years old at most was throwing a horrific tantrum–a mix of shouting, crying and lying prostrate on the floor. The outraged mother hit, not spanked, him and grumbled something in Patois. The people in the Jamaican resident’s line nodded approvingly at the mother’s response. Two Sean Paul-looking men took it further and discussed what they would do if it were their kid. By one man’s charade exercise, his response would have been to stomp his foot repeatedly on his hypothetical child.
This time I didn’t get that warm feeling on the drive back form the airport. That warm feeling happened earlier in Customs. I can’t explain it, and I won’t try to, but when I saw the mother beat her kid and the man stomp his hypothetical kid, I knew I was home. You may disagree with the
intimidation parenting tactics (and I do too), but it’s my culture and I still love it. I may not look like it, sound like it or agree with it most of the times, but I am a Jamaican through and through.
* To the officers reviewing my documents for American citizenship, I love America too. You guys have Chipotle and 16 Candles. Who doesn’t love that?
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