Eva of SocaMom.com
Alysia of Rewind & Come Again
Tracey Jackson, Author “From Yaad”
Featuring: Nicole Bent
Heritage and identity is more than where you were born – that’s just one facet. It’s where you identify with. It’s a complex multifaceted, multilayered thing.AlysaSimone
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American born, Caribbean raised. Weh mi nuh jus’ seh Caribbean American? Well, that’s because for some people, the answer is easy, how they identify, but how other people tell them to identify, that’s a whole different story. So as, what’s becoming my norm, here’s a little story from Nicole.
Nicole: So both my parents are Jamaican, and both my sisters were born in Jamaica. For some reason, my mom and her hot self, had to go to California. She was already pregnant when she left Jamaica and she was in California with my grandmother, and she had me there. And then she took me back to Jamaica and then she had my little sister. Her and my dad got married and we stayed there for a little while, and then we moved here. I was the only one that could go with her because I was a citizen. I came to this country, whatever, and I was young. I was like five. So I grew up here, but I’ve always loved my heritage and my culture because it’s who I am. My parents raised me in a Jamaican household, not an American household. Yes, I went to an American school. I had American friends and I also had Jamaican friends, because when people come from a Caribbean country or any other country, they tend to kind of find their people and then they congregate. So we used to go to the babysitter and she was Jamaican, and all her kids and we used to hang out with them. That’s how we grew up.
So now, I’ll meet certain people—and it’s not even so much in my family, because I didn’t really have too many people in my family who will say to me, “Oh, you’re not Jamaican.” It’s other ignorant people that really pissed me off, because it’s just such an ignorant statement. I was in Jamaica for carnival with my husband, and we went out with his friend and his new girlfriend. I don’t know what they were talking about, but the guy started saying these stupid comments because he knows that that stuff pushes my buttons. So all of a sudden now, he started to bring up how Jamaican am I. What is this conversation? So then she says, “Oh, you were born here?”
And I said, “No, I wasn’t born here I was born in the States, but my parents are Jamaican.” She said, “Oh, well then you’re not Jamaican.” So I said, “Excuse me?”I was like, “No, boo, you’re wrong.” So I said, “People like you come out with this foolishness telling somebody else what they are. It makes no sense. How are you telling somebody that they’re not a part of a culture that their parents birthed them into? You make no sense.” Yes, I’m not going to—my patois is not going to sound like your patois because you grew here. You live here all your life so it’s going to be different. You’re going to know things about certain products and things that you use because you live here and you grow here. Yeah, that’s true, but that doesn’t make it any different, from a cultural perspective, what we share. We know about the food. We know about certain sayings. We know about the same things about our culture on a whole. So it just really pisses me off when people go in with that type of attitude. I find that it’s mostly in our community, black people on a whole, and then the Caribbean people.
Kerry-Ann: Today on the podcast, I have Eva of socamom.com, who is of Trinidadian heritage, Alysia of Rewind and Come Again, of Guyanese heritage. And last, but definitely not least, Tracey, who is of Jamaican heritage and the author of a book I recently read, “From Yaad”. So can I get some reactions to that clip you just heard. Tracey, let’s start with you.
Tracey: That clip has been the center point of my life. I have been told on so many occasions, despite the fact that both of my parents are from Jamaica and I grew up in a Jamaican household. I really didn’t eat American food until Senior High School, but told all the time “you are not Jamaican”. Matter of fact, I’ve always been called the Yankee. Even some of my co-workers are Jamaican, they kind of poke fun at me a little bit and they’ll call me Yankee, but nevertheless, I’m like jeez. I mean, yes, I was born in the United States, but I don’t have any ties here. All my ties are in Jamaica. And if I really want to add another layer, I’ll have ties in England because that’s where some of my cousins were born. Some of my cousins were born in Holland. Some of my cousins were born in Toronto, Canada, but I really don’t have ties to the United States outside of me being born in Brooklyn. It’s just been this lifelong thing of me riding this fine line between you’re American but you have Jamaican heritage. And since I wrote the book, things have been progressing well for this story. All of a sudden it’s okay—now it’s you’re of Jamaican heritage, you’re Jamaican, Tracey, but I’m like, “Wait, you guys just said…”
Kerry-Ann:You know what you’ve said though, I think is a symptom. It’s okay to call yourself Jamaican-American, Trinidadian-American, Guyanese-American or any American once you get famous. They will claim you.
Tracey: Oh gosh, yes. Totally, totally. I’m seeing that a lot more often. The funny thing is, and I’ll keep it very short, I have some really good—some friends, some girlfriends who were born here, but their parents are Cuban. They consider themselves Cuban. They don’t consider themselves American. They consider themselves Cuban. And I said, “Why do you consider yourselves Cuban?” They’re like, “Duh, Tracey, both of my parents are from there and all my family. I was just born here.” So it’s like okay, but if I tell a Jamaican, “Hey, I’m Jamaican.” They’ll say, “Well, what part of the island you were born in?” I’ll say, “Well, I was born in Brooklyn, New York but my parents…” “Oh, you’re a Yankee. You’re not Jamaican. You’re of heritage.” It’s like this back and forth tennis game.
Kerry-Ann:Let me get Alysia’s and Eva’s reaction.
Alysia: Well, this sounded very familiar to me.I mean I grew up—my brother and I were the first generation in our family born here in the States. We grew up with everyone telling us we’re Yankees. So our household was Guyanese, but as we grew, we were very steeped in American culture. So we’re very half and half. A lot of things of Guyanese culture we didn’t like or weren’t really, really deep in, and so that made it even worse. I think the fact that we could jump back and forth in our speech and in what we liked and what we took to, really offended our native Guyanese family and native Guyanese people. They’re like, “Well, if you’re not born there or at the very least, don’t claim all of it or you can’t tell me about this street in this town, then you can’t claim any of it.” And for me, it’s like I claim all of it. I claim all of it. You can’t tell me what my heritage is. And to me, heritage and identity is more than just where you’re born. That’s just one facet. It’s where you grew. It’s what you identify with. It’s a complex, multifaceted, multilayered thing. So when people get so simplistic, this will be like, “Well, if you weren’t born here then you’re not of here.” It’s more than that for me and for many people it’s more than that. You can’t tell me what it is. So I claim both, I’m American and I’m Guyanese.
Eva: One of the things that I notice with people who would say that to me, and it doesn’t happen very often, but when someone says that to me, it’s usually in the context that I get a privilege that they are not getting, that I have the privilege of having a wonderful, rich Trinidadian heritage behind me, as well as all of the perks that come with being an American and having an American passport.And it doesn’t feel fair that you basically get everything. So I don’t want to just straight out call it a jealousy thing, but it’s kind of like why do you get everything? Why can you wave this flag and claim all the music and the food and the culture and this, that and the third, but you also have this very valuable American passport. So I get it, but like you guys said, you can’t tell me who I am and what I get to be. You know what I’m saying?And then also, it’s so true, when you do something amazing, all of a sudden the American part just disappears, like it had nothing to do with anything. It never happened.But just yesterday, I was just—okay, I’ll take it. I don’t need them to validate who I am and my heritage based on my accomplishments. I’m going to validate that myself based on my upbringing and what my values are.
Kerry-Ann:You know what, let me ask you a question, because Tracey brought up her Cuban friends. I seem to think that—I don’t think Haitian-Americans deal with it. Once you’re born of Haitian parents, they’re Haitian. I don’t think people from the Dominican Republic who are born here, they’re like, “No, you’re not Dominican.” So is it something that’s very specific to the English speaking Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados. I don’t know. I feel like Haitians, definitely Puerto Ricans, definitely Dominican Republic don’t deal with this if they were born here. So I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that?
Eva: I think it depends on how easy you can assimilate. It only takes one generation for me to sound like somebody who had many, many generations living here. So for someone who is growing up in a household where they speak French, it’s going to be—and you’re coming to the US, you’re going to hold onto way more of it through the language than I would. My dad used to record us when we were younger and you listen to tapes of me as a kid, and I have a very strong accent, but that thing disappeared over time. If I’m growing up in a house where they speak French, it’s not going to leave as quickly. If I’m growing up in a house where they speak Spanish, it’s not going to leave as quickly. So that I can understand.
Kerry-Ann:Yeah. Tracey, you were going to say something?
Tracey: Yes, that is so true. I also have Haitian friends as well, who were born in New York, born in Brooklyn and they still speak Creole. They don’t have that American versus Haitian. They fully identify with being Haitian and that’s it, that’s the end of the story. Close book, end of discussion.
Kerry-Ann:Yeah, no one’s running them down saying you’re not Haitian, you’re American.
Tracey: No one is running them down even though they were born here in the States, and either one or both parents were born in Haiti. They still speak Creole very fluently and that’s it, I’m Haitian. Done.
Kerry-Ann:Yeah. So I think Eva just brought up an interesting point that maybe it’s because with Haitians, Puerto Ricans, people from the DR, they have an additional language that gives them that extra, like no one’s going to say you aren’t because there’s a second language spoken in the household. And so, for us from the English speaking Caribbean, we code switch, whereas—and over time—and Eva, we’re going to have this conversation another time, over time, people are going to say, “Well, you don’t sound Jamaican, Jamaican, because your accent has kind of neutralized a little bit.” So let me let me ask, does anyone kind of understand the perspective, other than what Eva said, the perspective of why someone would say that you shouldn’t call yourself a Jamaican, you’re just American? Because in the clip, and that was from Nicole, she’s not saying that I understand your struggle, I understand your daily life, but inherently, the culture, the way that her parents’ race are similar. So she’s not going to pretend that yeah, I know what it’s like to live in this part of Jamaica. That’s not what you’re saying. So any thoughts as to more insights, other than the privilege of having an American passport, why people hold this view? And do you find it’s a mix of people living on the island who have this view? Because in this particular instance, with Nicole, she was having this conversation with someone who lives in Jamaica. Is it also the opinion of people who are born in Jamaica, but are living here, that once you’re born here, you’re just straight Yankee?
Alysia:Yeah, I think people are really protective of their heritage and culture in the Caribbean. We’ve been exploited in so many different ways. Our culture has been taken and morphed, and has been the basis of so many cultural innovations and explorations without giving back due credit or without us benefiting in a way that—quick example, tropical house, which is really reggae music or dancehall music. You know spun, record companiesover here are really profiting, but the originators of the art form are not. So I think there’s a thing,people are really protective about their culture. And so I can understand it. I see why people appoint themselves gatekeepers and say who is and who isn’t. But you do yourself a disservice when you’re so—especially sometimes, it’s just so condescending, so close-minded and shutting off a vein that could be feeding the country. It really just shuts off a necessary artery that could be people giving back and helping to uplift the culture and expose it in new ways and helping to benefit. So I get where it comes from. If I’m not out here representing in a negative fashion that seeks to gain from the culture without giving back, then I don’t understand why you’re shutting me out.
Eva:I fully and completely agree. That was so beautifully said. That’s all I got. That’s all I wanted to say. That was great.
Kerry-Ann:I was born in Jamaica and I want my kids to consider themselves Jamaican-Americans. You’re “Jamerican”. I want that because, also from a cultural preservation, in the US when you look around Brooklyn and people think about Flatbush and Utica, those neighborhoods don’t reflect the culture that—Alysia, you and I, from Brooklyn—and I don’t know how long you lived in Brooklyn, Tracey, before you moved. The cultural strongholds, so who else is going to continue to grow the culture? It’s the next generation. So if we’re telling them they aren’t, then over time, what happens to the growth of the culture by those who live here? And that is kind of what my concerns are like. I enjoy seeing my son dancing to Ding Dong. The other day, the kids were in the car and they were mocking me. They were like, “Aunty Kerry have road rage. When the man beep the horn,” they said, “Aunty Kerry seh don’t toot mi!” The difference is—yes, let me tell you, I need to let them do a podcast episode because they all going in. If it were our parents, they would first of all, get reprimanded. You wouldn’t even think of mocking them, but I was happy to hear them attempt doing the patois the way I do it. I just laugh. So I want them to be able to be part of the culture, the language, the food, and be able to identify, because a lot of how they grew up in the house is very Jamaican.
I keep telling the story when my husband—when I first met my husband and he was helping my daughter with the homework. He asked my daughter, “Where’s the maths?” And my daughter looked at him like, “What are you talking about?” And I’d have to say, “Babe, it is math. It’s not maths over here.” Just like very little things, but I was appreciative because I’ve lost that reference because I’ve lived here more than I’ve lived in Jamaica. So it just kind of brought back memories. So now my daughter tells that story because she now knows what maths is and sticking plaster, because Jamaicans don’t call Band-Aid, Band-Aid, they call it sticking plaster for whatever reason. It’s allowing the kids—I enjoy seeing my kids enjoying the culture, the parts that they do get to understand and the parts they do enjoy. And I’m like why take that from someone because they weren’t born on the island itself? That’s kind of where my thing is, preservation of the culture. So Tracey, let’s jump to you a little bit, “From Yaad”. I don’t want you to give away the book, but I enjoyed it because I’ve always wanted to have this discussion about like introduce yourself, you’re like, “Hey, I’m Jamaican.” “Which part of Jamaica you’re from?” “I was born here, my parents are from Mandeville.” “Then you’re not Jamaican.” And you have a conversation with some people who’s like, “Hey, I’m American but my parents are Jamaican.” “Then you’re Jamaican.” I think a lot of us deal with those two sets of conversations. So in this book, “From Yaad”, like what was the inspiration behind it?
Tracey: The inspiration behind this story—I wanted it to be a conversation piece.I wanted to highlight a young lady who grew up with Jamaican parents, with the quintessential Jamaican mother; a little bit overbearing, little bit loving, a little bit overbearing, a little bit more overbearing and loving sometimes. I wanted to highlight her growing up within American culture succeeding and then having to deal with, okay I have this culture behind me, but I want to succeed in the inherent culture of the place I was born in, but yet and still I’m living and working and breathing American culture, but yet and still I have Jamaican culture as my anchor or as the anchor. And how to progress between those two lines, between these two dominant cultures, not only in family life, but in friendship and also on the job. I felt like that story had to be told. So I’m like okay, well let me put together this fictional character and put the theme behind it with some very important pieces within that story to spark conversation. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about what it means to have Jamaican parents, but yet and still, you live and work in the United States and there are certain expectations placed over you. Not to give away the story, but you live and breathe Jamaican culture, but yet, at any point in time, you are told that you are a Yankee. You are reminded that you are not born on the island. So it’s but wait I’ve been living and breathing this culture all my life and I love it, but at any moment, I’m told you weren’t born on the island, you’re not Jamaican, what are you doing. So I wanted to bring that to the forefront for conversation.
Kerry-Ann:There is one theme in the book that I found very interesting and I want to ask Eva and Alysia. That theme was responsibility. I felt like the—I’m not trying to give away too much of it. Even though you were born here, there is a certain level of responsibility that the character was expected of, to her culture. So I don’t know—Eva, Alysia, I don’t know if any of you have had experiences where there is a responsibility of—like Jamaican parents, a lot of times, some, not all, and maybe not so much now, have a responsibility of going back home or doing something for back home. So I don’t know Alysia, Eva, if you’ve had any of those conversations, you know of anyone who’s had those experiences, trying to get your thoughts on that.
Eva:Not so much my family, like my immediate family, because they spread out. My mom came to the US, her mother and sister went to England. Another brother went to Cyprus, another one went to Australia. So their responsibility to each other—everybody had their kids with them. Their responsibility to each other was so spread out that they didn’t have that we have to send a barrel home, we have to do those kinds of things. For my dad’s side of the family, it’s a little bit different because no one really left. So they do have kind of a responsibility and a pool and things like that, but not the same as I’ve seen some of my friends who, they have a twice a year barrel that they spend. They go to BJs or Sam’s Club and make sure that they get all of these things. When they go home, they go down with three suitcases, come back with a carry-on. It’s very different depending on the family, and then I think the financial situation of the family. You are brought up to know that there is a possibility that there might be somebody at home, a family member at home who may need to come live with you at some point or you may need to financially support somebody at some point. I don’t think it’s like here, where you are responsible for your family pretty much and that’s it. You always have like a little connection that says at any point your card can be pulled and you’re going to have to come up with something.
Kerry-Ann:That’s pretty much it.Alysia. Go ahead, Alysia.
Alysia: Well, no I mean I grew up with helping my parents pack barrels to send home. When we did go back and visit, seeing cousins and like, “Hey, ain’t that my shirt?” My things had a life after, they would disappear into the barrel and then I remember just really hitting me like people are using our things and we’re really—this is not just disappearing into the post. I think as we got older and with each generation that responsibility has kind of faded a little bit. It doesn’t feel so we must think of those who are living back home, if only because so many people have left. We don’t have that much family left back in Guyana. And it’s more on yourself. So now as an adult, I’ve felt a responsibility to those who are still there and also to maybe do something for—even if they’re not my family, to do something for the community there.But yeah, I definitely grew up with “Who’s going home?I need you to take this for so and so. Here’s an envelope. Here’s a package. How much room do you have in your suitcase?” And all of that.
Kerry-Ann:Yeah. So as you wrap up, any final words on what it means to be Caribbean-American, and very specific Jamaican-American, Trinidadian-American, Guyanese-American. Just any final thoughts on the topic or the discussion as to why this is important in terms of identification, etc..
Tracey: Once again, it just means knowing how to traverse between these two massive cultures and knowing how to stand firm in what you know to be true. And for me, and I can just use myself as an example, all throughout my life, I’ve had Jamaicans tell me you’re a Yankee, you’re American. So I went to a black college. I went to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. And if anything, that is just the mother of everything black experience in America. You are required to take two levels of African-American history, and you see it every day on the campus. I’m like okay, wow this is cool. I’ll even go back to me being in elementary school. Everybody’s grandparents either lived in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina. I’m like, “Well, my grandparents are in Jamaica.” So what does that mean? So even growing up, even coming up to this point now, I’m like wow, I embrace, yes, what it means to me, what it means to be black in America, but my roots and my ties are not here. So by culture by, by family, by historical purposes, I am Jamaican because that’s where my family is. That’s where my family name is. That’s where all of my family ties are, is back on the island.
It’s not in respect to those who can trace back grandmothers and great grandmothers and grandparents who were slaves in Georgia, in the southern most parts of the United States. I can’t do that. I have to look at lineage from the island. So I’m planning a trip to go back to the island to see how can I trace my family history, which I know is, yes, it’s steeped in the island and it’s probably going to somehow be traced back to England or Europe somewhere. But yet and still, my home, my family, my culture is elsewhere. So it’s kind of like balancing the two, but yet being able to speak on it at the immediate when someone says, “Okay, well you’re a Yankee.” Yeah, by birth, however can you call someone Yankee when their grandparents—when they can’t trace their family roots here in the United States? What do you say to that? And I I’ve been saying that lately to those who’ve been calling me Yankee and that shuts the conversation down, because it’s like yeah, you do have a point. That just shuts it down. It shuts the ignorance level down when someone says, “Okay, yeah you’re a Yankee.” It kind of comes off condescending, but when you shut the condescending down with facts, it’s “oh yeah, you are Jamaican, you are of Jamaican heritage, you are one of us”.
Kerry-Ann:It’s very interesting that—and then I’ll ask Alysia and Eva for final thoughts. It’s just very interesting that Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans don’t—they’re like if they could trace some great, great, great, great, great, great, great, they’re Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans…
Kerry-Ann:Yeah. Alysia, Eva, any final thoughts. Alysia comes with the poignant one liners and just dips out…
Alysia: I mean I just think, for me, what it means to be Guyanese-American, is to recognize and honor the culture, practice it without usurping it. I think that’s also a point that a lot of native Guyanese and a lot of native Caribbeans are worried about. As I don’t portray myself— I always make a point like yeah my parents are Guyanese or I’m of Guyanese heritage. I don’t ever say I am Guyanese because that’s not what I am, but I revel in both sides of my culture. So I just ask that native born Guyanese, native born Caribbean people allow me that and don’t police the culture when I’m only trying to big y’all up. I’m only here to benefit of all of us. So yeah, to be Guyanese-American, I feel blessed to have—to me, I get the best of both worlds. I get the worst of both worlds. I just have such a richer experience being more than one thing. I feel blessed for it and just ask that folks respect that. Even if you don’t, that’s your business, I’m still going to claim what I claim.
Eva: I will say first, I’m so jealous of people who were born here, but raised in Brooklyn and places like that, because at least you could walk around the corner and see somebody get—something. I didn’t have the benefit of that. I grew up in the south and then I went to an HBCU where like you said, there’s people who can trace their roots back all through Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina. And it’s very isolating when you go in your house and it is a fully Trini house, and then you go outside and you have no one to identify with it. You are searching for something, somebody. And I think that’s the basic human need to connect with people in some kind of way. So what I would ask is that people who are thinking this way, just try to feel what it’s like or to empathize with what it could be like to be alone. And so when I started socamom.com, I wanted to—I didn’t want people to feel that way. So if you could trace it back to a great grandparent who was from St. Lucia, anything that would help you to hang on, to identify, to feel close to somebody, that is important and that’s a valid need. So I would say don’t discount other people’s need to connect and to feel included.
Kerry-Ann:That’s a wonderful point to end on. Ladies, thank you so much for this conversation. I know it’s not going to end. I really want you to check out the book. It’s a nice, easy read. I love it. There is one scene in the book, that just let me drop the book and walk off the subway. When you read it, then you understand because I was just like… that’s how much it grabbed me because I think it’s not necessarily a wrong conversation, but there are bigger issues that we need to address, and just kind of putting to bed—or like Alysia said, allowing us to rightfully identify ourselves as Jamaican-American. We’re not saying where we’re full grown Jamaican, Trini or Guyanese, but allowing us, because like we said, we’re just trying to amplify and big up the culture and make people know this is the thing. So ladies, thank you so much. Again, we’re going to have nuff conversations about many topics affecting culture and thing. And so until next time, everybody walk good.