A year has come and gone and I still find myself on this beautiful island. I find the work I am doing — community development — to be fulfilling and the earlier stumbles of learning experiences have slowed. I am comfortable in my daily movements and can generally navigate myself around Kingston and many other spots on the island. I find myself calling Jamaica home.
I happen to be from a country that I can travel to and from freely with only the financial demand of buying tickets a barrier. I recently went for a short visit home; coming back was easy, especially as airport security and technology continue to advance.
Every time I travel to and from this island it reminds me of a time several years ago that a good Jamaican friend of mine asked me to help her obtain a visa to Canada for travel purposes. And how much work it was: letter writing and notarizing, document photocopying and in the end how our efforts were not fruitful as she did not demonstrate strong enough ties to Jamaica and her visa was denied.
This was very sad for us, not just because of the feeling of wasted effort but knowing that I can freely visit her but she cannot freely visit me.
When I think about this it upsets me. It leads me to ask myself how as a Canadian, born to two immigrant parents; as a person of colour in Canada who is mindful of my identity and positionality; how can I stay accountable to this place I currently am in? How can I contribute in a meaningful way while also remaining grateful for having the opportunity to experience the uniqueness of Jamaica?
I grapple with my many identities. I am definitely Canadian, both of my parents immigrated to Canada earlier in their lives. My mom came to Canada at 5 years old in the late ’60s during one of the immigration booms, in part due to the Family Reunification clause being added to Canada’s immigration policy. As many people know, this is a time that a large number of Jamaicans settled in Canada as well.
My dad did not come until later in life but they were both citizens before I was born. Therefore, by default, due to the practice of birthright citizenship, I am Canadian. But I also identify with both of the countries my parents come from. I speak my mother’s language and am constantly working to get better at my father’s.
Canada, just like Jamaica, has a very violent history of how our indigenous people were treated in terms of cultural genocide, violence and ongoing territory occupation. I therefore already have feelings of living on land that truly does not belong to me. This leads me to being mindful of what it means to take up space in a country that I am visiting.
My experience here is in some ways removed from realities that many Jamaicans face. Working at a women-centered community service organization has sensitized me to some of the issues that Jamaican women face and how difficult it can be for them. And while I share some of the same struggles, for example street harassment, I ultimately can leave if I want to.
All of these layers of thoughts lead me to trying to figure out a blueprint of how to live accountably and responsibly on land that doubly does not belong to me. I write doubly because first this land was violently removed from the indigenous people and now belongs to Jamaicans. Or maybe it does belong to me in some ways; as a person with African parentage can I rightfully claim space here the same way many Jamaicans feel tied to Africa?
In the most simplified of terms I try to live my daily life with integrity. I try to be friendly and open in my daily movements. I try to honestly and heartfully interact with the communities I am a part of. I spend my money mindfully, supporting local business as much as possible. I try to honour the land by exploring different parts of the island, by reducing my plastic consumption and by disposing of my garbage correctly. I try to be aware of the injustices Jamaicans face and actively address them by supporting the work of the many Jamaicans who are bravely fighting for social justice.
To me, being a responsible global citizen means understanding the injustices faced not only by Jamaicans but by people facing borders all around the world. And how, with ideologies such as birthright citizenship, the privileges I have that are tied to my passport are arbitrary. And that ultimately privilege is unequally distributed in our world. I will keep leading with my heart and living with awareness.