The ghost of Federation past
I’VE never set foot on the island of Nevis. The nearest I came to it was seeing it from the shore of St Kitt s, the larger part of the two-island country. At the time that I visited, both islands were behaving like partners in a bad marriage. Smart outsiders stayed out of their business. It was easy to oblige, because we have never been forgiven for the perceived condescension and foolish prejudice about Jamaica which has remained with us following the collapse of the Federal dream 50 years ago.
Now that immigration issues are being tested, it is not surprising that the small island/bigger island resentment seems to be resurfacing. A recent letter to the editor of our oldest newspaper brought into focus the lack of respect for one another, which has never entirely disappeared. The letter writer from Nevis buys out the debate about Jamaicans sent back home soon after landing in Port of Spain, leading to outrage here and the government-to-government meeting held here earlier this week between Trinidad and Jamaican officials.
The letter writer admits that there are many wonderful Jamaicans living in Nevis, but unleashes venom on what he/she classifies as “nasty Jamaicans”. It is no secret that in many places in this Caribbean, where there is yearning for inter-Caribbean unity, we Jamaicans have always evoked mixed feelings. They say we’re too “show-off”, too full of ourselves. You always know when we enter a room. We take over. This is normal to us. Why it should bother anyone makes no sense to us; but still they say: “Who do you think you are?”
Until history caught up with all of us, Jamaica was supposed to be the only violent people in the Caribbean. Nobody else knew crime... a patent fantasy. It is no consolation that every island is wrestling now with the crime experience. Some places can get away with the delusion that their territory is without spot or blemish, but they know the truth.
The assault on people and property is going on everywhere and, “bad to bad”, Jamaica cannot be held responsible for all deviance. In times past, during the tenure of former police commissioner Francis Forbes (now living in Trinidad), there was concerted effort for a regional approach to crime-fighting. Today, the scourge of guns and drugs is everywhere, admit it or not.
The “Nevisian” who wrote to the Jamaican newspaper seemed grateful for the current occasion to vent about the low esteem in which he/she holds our country. We stand accused of perpetrating nasty acts like invading their country to find husbands/wives to marry and get into the US. Once again that old Jamaican habit of always being where the action is, has drawn neighbourly ire. Not to be confused with “irie”.
Why the writer from Nevis seems to be having a meltdown brought on by the Jamaica-T&T immigration debacle could be that he/she still has not forgiven us for mashing up the Federation. The letter brought swift response from another writer who had many negative experiences while on a sojourn in Nevis. He/she was the victim of “anti-Jamaican profiling”, including facing the hurtful accusation that “Jamaica was the Caribbean blight” —fighting words if ever there were any. Many Jamaicans are now discovering the Caribbean, after decades of not taking any particular interest in anything which wasn’t in the North. It didn’t matter, so long as we could get into England, Canada and the US. Those were the good old days when we ruled the roost. Now times have changed. Now you find us roaming all over the Caribbean.
The entertainers are the elite. The really big ones travel first class and have the benefit of agents who deal with the paperwork.
The young and the fashionable, the cyber-driven, creative crowd, the sporting stars and new entrepreneurs, have no time to carry ancient grudges. If the ghost of Federation past is kept alive to divide and conquer, then all of the meetings and consultations aimed at keeping the inter-regional relationships together will continue to end in frustration.
The Caribbean Court of Justice, the trade agreement, the challenges to immigration and the Treaty of Chaguaramas will remain the concern of old people, while the young are merging kaiso with dancehall, and patty and jerk are challenging roti and bake.
Despite the cosy talks between Minister Dookeran on the T&T side and A J Nicholson on ours, immigration red tape will continue to tangle our feet, leaving us to continue treating the issue as a nine-day wonder, not a matter for serious and sustained policymaking.
Barbados will not forget the name of Shanique Myrie. Paranoia will always grip citizens of certain islands when they see Jamaicans coming. We are celebrated, at times, as nice people and just as quickly lambasted as “ghetto commanders”, to be feared and despised. There will always be a trade imbalance. If we don’t get moving to produce efficiently, we will never be competitive. Note: While we’re at it, we cannot bully anyone into giving us jobs and resident status.
The saddest part of our Caribbean story, really, is that we do not know each other well after all these years. Our children sit Caribbean examinations but know relatively little about the Caribbean family, beyond what the book says. We can tell you about every street in Brooklyn, but where to go in Antigua, St Lucia, Montserrat, Dominica, Guyana, etc, etc, is a mystery. Until we stop being suspicious of each other, we will always have border wranglings. They will not cease until “all a wi” learn to trust and respect one another.
Post-script: Pothole in the road already... Mr Dookeran returned home promising some changes in his country’s immigration system only to be reminded by a fellow official that it is he (not the minister) who is in charge. It is the official who is saying: “All yuh, slow down!”
—Courtesy Jamaica Observer