Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Jamaicans living the American Dream

Published:Thursday | May 26, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Jamaicans in Jamaica have been accused of being lazy. That, coupled with a real shortage of jobs, has fuelled a dependence on remittance to the tune of US$2.23 billion in 2015 alone.

The traditional Jamaican who emigrates in search of a better life is seen as the complete opposite. We've been the brunt of many a joke, ridiculing us for working harder than most. It's not uncommon even today for Jamaicans to hold down two or more jobs and work overtime at each; all in the hope of 'Living the American Dream'.

So on Sunday, something felt amazingly good about seeing Lowell Hawthorne on Undercover Boss; a Jamaican man who dared to have the American Dream and was now living it.

The series Undercover has become a regular part of many people's Sunday evening TV line-up. CEOs, especially American CEOs, have often been seen in the light of opulence and excess; out of touch with what actually goes on in their companies and blind to the personal and professional hardships their employees face. Undercover Boss humbles CEOs to real-life levels, and has them meet their real-life employees and see their real-life success and trials.

Immigrants who feature in these stories are usually at the bottom of the totem pole. But not this time. Lowell Hawthorne is Golden Krust's CEO, and head of the world's largest Jamaican patty seller. Funded by loans and savings from family members in 1989, the business is the only Jamaican franchise company in the US. It has come a far way from being a single bakery in the Bronx to today having over 120 locations across that country. Lowell and his company exemplify the kind of success that all Jamaican small businesses aspire for. What makes it even more special is the fact that it was selling 'Jamaicanness'that afforded Lowell and his family this dream.

Featured in the episode were oxtail, banana porridge, curry goat, patty and stew chicken and rice and peas. All regular staples on the Golden Krust menu. It couldn't get any more Jamaican than that. It was heavy laden with Patois and Jamaican animation and in total was just a great contrast to the negative stories about Jamaican violence that riddled media in the past month. It was also great to see an ordinary Jamaican success, minus the 'rich and switch' airs that many Jamaicans who have made it are accused of. Lowell was relatable and onlookers could easily be convinced that his success was achievable in their own lives as long as they put in the work.

 

JAMAICAN FLAVOUR

 

Research group Neilson estimated that some 4.88 million American viewers watched the episode, making it the 4th highest-watched programme on the night of Sunday, May 22. Twitter lit up with Jamaicans and foreigners sharing positive comments about how yummy the food looked, about the benevolence of the Hawthorne family, and about the Jamaican flavour the people possessed. Jamaica and hard-working Jamaicans (albeit from New York) were on show.

One unforgettable character from the episode was a recently migrated 22-year old Jamaican named Odean. The man has serious knife skills! His Jamaican accent was thick, punctuated by the occasional assimilated "Bro". His line of the century encapsulated the sentiment of all Jamaicans who migrate. "We didn't come to America to skin teet and play games, bro." Odean's light nature and drive impressed all the viewers (his many Twitter mentions confirm it), and when Lowell offered him $15,000 and a chance to own his own location we all celebrated.

Odean is just one of the many Jamaican's working hard in the US to build their dreams.

The Golden Krust outfit has been unapologetic about two things: hiring Jamaicans and hiring family. Today, 70per cent of the Golden Krust workforce are Jamaican immigrants and 34 Hawthornes work in the business.

The franchise dispels two myths:

1) That family-operated businesses will always remain small 'mom and pop shops'.

2) That Jamaicans don't look out for their own.

Selfish silos have been the demise of Jamaicans in some instances. The strength of many nationalities right here in Jamaica is how they stick together and how much they look out for each other to a fault. Making an effort to hire Jamaicans who sometimes find it difficult to assimilate in a foreign culture has proved beneficial to Golden Krust. Who better to work in a Jamaican restaurant than a Jamaican?

I wish one of our local stations would get the rights and air the episode. Those SMEs hoping to penetrate the US market could learn so much from watching it. It was truly a moment of Jamaican pride and a testament to what we can do.

Here's another gem I took away that was said by another employee named Mike - "Cheap labour doesn't come with skill and skilled labour doesn't come skilled."

Heeding the warning, Hawthorne raised the salary package for three of the four employees he met; the lowest by US$18,000. Boss move.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.