Jamaica and the diaspora next generation
As I walked around the Diaspora Conference last week in Montego Bay, it was very apparent that my peers were missing. Those members of the diaspora in attendance were pushing the age average well above 50. I saw very few persons who were below 35, and it got me thinking, "What would a young person in the diaspora want from Jamaica anyway, and what do we want from them?"
It's a very interesting relationship that's emerging with this new under-35 diaspora demographic. One very different from that of their parents. Tomorrow's diaspora Jamaican isn't one who has freshly migrated, with strong ties back home. They have no one they feel responsible enough for to send monthly remittances to. They have no real affinity to Jamaican brands and products. They don't intend to live here, so they aren't making investments here to one day be returning residents.
They are second-generation children of migrants who feel sentimental about the birthplace of their parents. They still identify with reggae and jerk chicken and Patois more than with anything their host country has to offer, because these are the things they grew up on. And that opportunity shouldn't be missed by Jamaica.
Perspectives among generations
In a presentation dedicated to addressing the generational connect and disconnect, the presenter put questions to a panel of young first-, second- and third-generation Jamaicans and the responses weren't good:
- Every time I come, I'm expected to give handouts. I better not come from foreign without a barrel.
- Jamaica will always be where I vacation, but not where I live. There's no way for me to make a living there.
- Jamaicans don't treat me like a Jamaican. I don't feel like I belong.
We need to address this. Urgently.
The next generation of diaspora youth want to be Jamaican, and it's in our best interest to facilitate them feeling like they belong. We don't want them for the money. We want them for a lot more.
There were a couple of standout under-35 Jamaicans I met at the Diaspora Conference that left an impression on me - an impression that highlighted why we need each other.
I met a young man named Shawn Cargil from New York driven by no other impetus than to see a better Jamaica. No ulterior motive. And it was very refreshing. When I asked him why he came, his response was: "To expose what's wrong about Jamaican politics so we can make it right." The decisions of the political directorate didn't affect his life, but they did affect the lives of his people - and he cared.
I loved that. He went on to tell me how his sister had moved to Jamaica and was making a life here for herself in agriculture - and how, in spite of everything, she was happiest here.
Second-generation Jamaican twins Marie and Maria Wilson left their cushy corporate legal and finance jobs in New York to come start a business in Montego Bay. They didn't have to. But they were able to see some opportunities that Jamaica presented with fresh eyes. Eyes unshackled by the many problems those who live here harp on daily.
Perhaps we need the young diaspora to remind us of the things we take for granted and that we do have promise.
UK resident Nathaniel Peat is teaching little Jamaican boys how to build solar panels. No matter how long he has been living in the UK, they see him as Jamaican - and he sees himself that way, too. A recipient of the Governor General's Youth Award, Nathaniel makes Jamaica look good wherever he goes. We need him.
Forget where you live. I'll even go as far as to say forget where you were born. Being Jamaican in your genes, in your heart, trumps all of that. Jamaica has no better advocate, no better ally, than one of its own living beyond her shores. And diaspora members will never truly be anything but Jamaican to those they live among.