By Tennielle Hamilton-Clark
It’s 1985. I’m 3 years old. I can feel the warm Jamaican sun on my face. Sweet, perfectly ripened mango covers my mouth, my hair, my fingers, and even my favorite stuffed bunny named Bun-Bun. My mom tells me we are moving to this new country that she calls, “America.” I immediately wonder, “What’s America?”
In America, I walked a tightrope of cultural identity for years. At school, I was in America. But as I stepped off the bus and entered my house, I was back in Jamaica. At home, everything was different. When discussing politics, we used terms like Prime Minister and parish. My parents would have barrels of things from Jamaica like clothes, food, and newspapers shipped to America to preserve our Jamaican culture. They felt that they needed to maintain a connection with our homeland, even though we started a new life in a foreign land.
With every step on American soil, I became more and more Americanized. I used to go home and talk about what Reagan or Clinton was doing in office, social security, and other issues that would impact our future. The racial injustices that happened in America, from Emmett Till to Rodney King, were frequent topics of discussion. My fear of riding my bike around the neighborhood because I was frequently called “nigger” and had eggs thrown at me just for being black in Pennsylvania didn’t even stop the transformation. These social concerns receded from my conscious Jamaican thought to recesses of my American mind.
By the time I was 18, I was just like many of my friends. I was more concerned about Destiny’s Child, Spring Break, what my college roommate was going to be like, and if I was going to drive myself to college like my friends. My hatred for George Bush’s administration just compounded the issue. As an African American, I felt my voice didn’t matter. I felt like Kanye West, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” As an immigrant, I felt he cared even less about me. When people in power do not look like or think like you, how can they speak for you?
As I got older, my Jamaican passion for social issues was brought back to the surface by my experiences as an “African American woman.” Since I could “pass” as a native born woman, I would find myself in conversations where foreigners were ridiculed for not speaking English or for taking jobs from ‘real’ Americans. The Jamaican in me couldn’t stay silent. I would “out” myself to let them know not to let my dialect fool them. I, too, was an immigrant that was brought to this country to learn, grow, grind, and dream. My family being here didn’t cost anyone any job. Last time I checked, there wasn’t a line at the job fair for truck drivers, taxi cab drivers, janitors, or construction workers – the jobs my family came for, sacrificed for, and bettered our lives with.
By the time President Obama took office and fought for 7 years, the social cataracts that had developed due to my American indifference were fully removed. With every decision and battle, President Obama widened the scope of political discourse from a white America-big business-lobbyist focus to an everyday people focus. Once again, I saw my face in magazines. Corporations were trying to figure out what my needs were. I felt it was cool to be black.
I am often asked, “Are you a citizen?” While I am not a citizen, I have decided to pursue citizenship; however, this is not without some reservations. As President Obama leaves office, my fear that our voices will be silenced again almost causes me to hyperventilate. And if Trump is elected, I may just pass out. But hey! My family still has a house in Jamaica. You might just see me waving to you from the ‘boat I came in on’ – off to enjoy the warm Jamaican sun and the sweetest, perfectly ripened mango that covers my hands, face, and even hair, but no Bun Bun.
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