Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Letter of the Day | Jamaica is fortunate to have a diaspora

Published:Tuesday | August 16, 2022 | 12:06 AM


I am a firm believer in freedom of speech. However, people are not free to make inane remarks such as that made by the deputy mayor of Montego Bay, Richard Vernon. In a recent speech, the young politician labelled those Jamaicans who flee to greener pastures as “cowards”.

That statement has a Trump-like ring to it, who referred to fallen American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers”. In Normandy, French people still invite visiting Americans into their homes as honoured guests. They know what the Americans did for them on June 6, 1944, but not just Americans, as there were troops which included young men from the West Indies.

I strongly object to this disparaging remark. But Mr Trump does not have a monopoly on such remarks. What I find extremely sad is that Mr Vernon is a young leader speaking to an audience of young people. How could he be so obtuse?

Let me begin by quoting The Gleaner editorial figures. Remittances accounted for US$3.4 billion in 2021. This is by no means a mean figure. What would families do without these contributions? We cannot overestimate the value of these sums.

I was so annoyed recently when a senior citizen expressed the idea that young professionals should remain in Jamaica and build the country. This when her two children have been residing in the United States for a long time. I just simply told her that you can’t take patriotism to the supermarket. I have been hearing this kind of speech over the past 50 years.

Let me state why young professionals leave our shores for greener pastures. And Mr Vernon knows that! Jamaica’s real per capita GDP is 20 per cent less today than it was in 1970. Jamaica has not grown economically as many of our neighbours in the Caribbean. After three years abroad, teachers and nurses are able to purchase a house – something that would not have been possible locally. Then there is the scourge of crime. Some 45,000 individuals have been murdered since we gained our political Independence, nearly two-thirds – or 29,642 – since 2000.

Make that patriotic speech to young professionals living in many parts of Kingston, Spanish Town, Montego Bay and, more recently, Gregory Park! And, by the way, people leave Jamaica not because they are unpatriotic. Many in the diaspora are more patriotic than those of us left on the ‘Rock’. And when they return to Jamaica to continue making their contribution, we often prey on them.

It irks me to hear this kind of talk.

I have not given up on my country of birth. What I would like to see, contrary to what is often expressed in some circles, is massive investments from abroad.

So, Mr Vernon, our people in the diaspora are far from being “cowards”. They are pioneers, adventurers, entrepreneurs. They’ve had to brave the cold, a new culture, and racism.

Fortunately, we have them.