Monday, August 25, 2008

Are we doing our part?

I remember reading a newspaper article some time ago. The article was a discussion of a phenomenon that West Indians have long noticed and give varied reasons for: children from the West Indies or of West Indian parentage often do better academically than American children. The line in the piece that sticks with me though, is a quote from a Jamaican parent who said "wi nuh come fi milk nuh cow, wi come fi drink di milk" in response to a question about West Indians' political inactivity in the school district.

The statement rings true I think for many of the West Indian Diaspora. For us, there is a disconnect between the place we work and pay mortgage, and the place we call home. "So when yu going home?" No one ever thinks that's a question about what time they're leaving work. Home for us conjures up pictures of Sangsters International Airport or the Harborview roundabout. We pore over paper and online versions of the Gleaner and the Observer and hope beyond hope that things get better before it's time for us to retire to Mandeville.

Since the early days of migration, people of the Caribbean have come ashore in the United States (and I suppose England) with one eye always turned towards home. We come, not for a better life here, but to be able to build a better life back home. Out patriotism never wanes. More Jamaicans know who Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell are than those who know Tyson Gaye or Allyson Felix.

I think that's fine; there is nothing wrong with identifying yourself as child of the rock. I think there is a problem with seeking to reap when we are not willing to affect our communities in a positive way. Try as you might, it's impossible not to leave an imprint, so what kind of imprint will it be?

Our disconnect from our adopted home is due in no small part to our inability to understand our neighbors. That misunderstanding often results in judgments that cause us to be viewed as arrogant. We don't understand why Black Americans still gripe about slavery. Many of us don't agree with affirmative action. We work hard, support our families. As my sons say, "we get what we get, and we don't get upset." Our experiences, our frame of reference is different. The fight is not ours, so we don't get involved.

One truth is that we owe it to ourselves to do our fair share of milking. After all, the milk has never been free. Another truth is that many of us will never make it home for more than a week of vacation. This will be our home. It will definitely be our children's. We need to do more than take up space. We shouldn't be living in predominantly West Indian neighborhoods where the political leadership is unaware of our unique concerns and frustrations. Our children shouldn't be filling the hallways of schools that don't teach West Indian Literature or talk about Henry Christophe at least during Black History Month.

Who is your commissioner? Who is your mayor? Who is your state representative? What budget challenges is your municipality facing? What problems are plaguing your town? Who have you told? Who have you written? Do you attend town hall meetings? Have you campaigned for a candidate you know will represent you? Those who are citizens, have you registered to vote?

I applaud my friend (I hope it's truthful to call him that) Marlon Hill who has been a strong voice on many topics that affect the South Florida community. He has been an outspoken and active supporter for presidential hopeful Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Through his work with the Caribbean Bar Association, the Miami Light Project and other organizations he also serves the underserved. He is also fiercely patriotic towards his island home of Jamaica. One thing does not negate the other.

Even if you're sure that you will take your milk and go back to your little piece of the rock one day, still go on milking the cow for your fair share. You must, as my father says "water where you are fed."

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