Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington | The ignorance of the deputy mayor
The remark of Montego Bay’s Deputy Mayor Richard Vernon, “Only cowards run away to go to America because they are seeking out opportunity” smacks of ignorance. How could a politician in Jamaica make such an ill-informed, public statement?
Jamaicans have been travellers for generations – from those in the late 19th and 20th century who migrated to Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua; to those who went to the United Kingdom (Windrush); to those who went to Africa, Canada and those who arrived in the United States at Ellis Island. Jamaicans leave Jamaica for a variety of reasons, for example, family reunification, economic opportunities, security and access to reliable healthcare.
The approximate number of Jamaicans overseas, immigrants and first generation, equal the number of Jamaicans in Jamaica.
The first question the deputy mayor should ask himself is whether the island is physically capable of absorbing every Jamaican immigrant who lives overseas. Can the country provide housing, jobs, and infrastructure if every person born in Jamaica remained?
The impact of Jamaica on the world is due in large part to the Jamaicans and first-generation Jamaican hyphens and the incredible contributions they have made on every corner of the world where they reside. Anywhere in the world you travel, you will find a Jamaican living there and the influence of the culture.
If I sound upset, I am. As a Jamaican who left in 1979 due to the crime and violence of the 1970s, I thought I was leaving my Jamaicaness in a period before the internet and even direct phone calls to Jamaica. But what I and all who left Jamaica found was that we became even more Jamaican living overseas. Our patriotism is incomparable as a diaspora. We appreciate the sheer landscape of Jamaica, the culture, the resilience of our spirits, the determination to succeed and unimpeachable love of country. We wear our Jamaicaness on our sleeves. Every. Single. Day. Has the deputy mayor ever left Jamaica? Has he ever visited a Jamaican community in Florida, New York, or London?
Jamaicans in the diaspora are the country’s greatest ambassadors. They share the language, the food, the music, the culture with their adopted homes. If you enter a factory, a store or an office and if there is a Jamaican in that establishment, you will know. Why? Because Jamaicans shine.
All but a handful of Jamaicans in the diaspora eat, sleep, and breathe Jamaica. Everyone always reverts to remittances because it is Jamaica’s lifeblood. The same newspaper article that reported on the insulting remarks from the deputy mayor outlined that in 2021 net remittances to Jamaica amounted to US$3.393 billion. Who does Deputy Mayor Vernon think sent that money to Jamaica? Gremlins? Or the same “cowards” who ran off to America and yonder to mek life?
Where do the Jamaican school principals go when they need much-needed supplies and equipment for schools that the government cannot supply? To gremlins or to the same “cowards” who have overseas alumni associations in the diaspora who daily toil “inna farrin” while ensuring that the next generation of students at their alma maters in Jamaica have the same or better surroundings within which to thrive?
The genesis of the deputy mayor’s statement insinuates that once a person leaves Jamaica that is the end of their connection with the land of their birth. I would say that the non-remittance assistance that Jamaicans overseas give back surpasses the astronomical amount in remittances. The untold number of Jamaican-American organisations that exist and whose sole purpose for being is to help Jamaica should be on the deputy mayor’s radar, and if not, he needs to educate himself. Not to mention the individuals who persistently help their communities without the moniker of an association’s label.
Newsflash! Jamaicans in the diaspora contribute to Jamaica’s development.
Countries like The Philippines export labour because they are aware of the positive impact on their country when their nationals go overseas to work. The pressure valve that it releases when developing countries send workers overseas who turn around and send their pay cheques back home is immeasurable.
The statement also reeks of “badmindism”. A person leaves Jamaica and makes good for themselves overseas. Are you telling them that they should feel guilty because they did not remain in the status that they were when they lived in Jamaica? Money does not grow on trees overseas, and Jamaicans who migrate must toil in four seasons to “mek life”. When rain fall in America people don’t stay home, they walk in the rain and snow to get to work. They work outdoors in below freezing temperatures to eat a food and send money back to Jamaica.
Can the number of higher institutions of learning in Jamaica absorb all the graduates in Jamaica? When government begins to pay public sector workers a liveable wage commensurate with their education and experience and we don’t read about corruption and misuse of public funds in Jamaica, then we can have a discussion on why so many qualified persons in Jamaica leave the country.
The deputy mayor’s statement also suggests that only a certain “class” of Jamaicans migrate, and those who do leave for economic reasons. Newsflash! Jamaicans of all walks of life migrate.
When you are an elected official and you step out and make a statement that is not only ignorant but insulting to millions of Jamaicans, those to whom you report need to educate you – in this instance, as to the importance of the Jamaican diaspora to Jamaica.
I am tired of the disrespect meted out to Jamaicans who live overseas. For example, when the current minister of national security told a Diaspora Connect virtual meeting in 2021 that the diaspora should send money because they cannot offer any assistance in crime-fighting in Jamaica. More than a year later, the prime minister has not said a word about that remark; it should not then surprise me that the deputy mayor would launch such disrespectful remarks against Jamaicans overseas.
Government cannot continue to stage biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conferences in Jamaica and turn around and disrespect the diaspora. Noe sah!
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington, Esq. is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises Immigration Law in the United States; and Family, Criminal & International law in Florida. She is a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Mediator and Former Special Magistrate & Hearing Officer in Broward County, Florida. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com