June 1, 2009

Looking for deportees in Jamaica

June 1, 2009

Kingston has at times held the dubious distinction of being the murder capital of the world. Its streets are notoriously dangerous. Of course, that doesn't stop my husband, Fernando, from wanting to explore Kingston's ghettos. After our beach outing on Sunday afternoon, Nando told me he planned to go to Trenchtown, to check out Bob Marley's old neighborhood. There is a part of this neighborhood called the Culture Yard that is frequented by tourists, so I wasn't particularly worried about Nando. Once he got to the Cuture Yard, Nando met some Rastas and asked them to show him around. One of the guys took Nando a few blocks into the neighborhood to his house, which Nando said looked pretty similar to the favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

When Nando got back from his tour of Trenchtown around 9pm, he called me on my cell phone, to ask if our daughters were still awake. They were, so he came upstairs with the taxi driver and his two kids. Nando had met and befriended the taxi driver in Trenchtown, and brought him and his two small boys up to meet us. Once they got upstairs and settled in, Nando asked his newfound friend if he knew any deportees, as I am looking for deportees who are willing to tell their story. The taxi driver told us he was in fact a deportee; he had been in the US for seven years and was deported for dealing drugs. He agreed that I could interview him, and assured me he could introduce me to other deportees as well.

I am hoping that this decision of Nando's to bring the taxi driver into our house won't jeopardize our safety. I appreciate Nando's desire to get to know Jamaicans, but we do have to account for the salient financial differences between us and the taxi driver. We are living in a wealthy area of Kingston, and our apartment is likely palatial compared to where this guy lives. For now, I am counting on the fact that most people are not actually prone to thievery and the ethics associated with robbing people with small children, as well as the fact that there is a security guard at the gate. It wouldn't be a big deal if we were to be robbed, but it could be scary, and potentially dangerous.

In any event, the taxi driver and his two boys left without incident and we all went to sleep not too long after. I had to get up early, after all, for the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) meetings in Kingston.

For those not familiar, academic conferences are where faculty and graduate students get together to schmooze, share their ideas, come across as intellectual worthy, and, for many, to have a good time. I have never been to the CSA meetings, so my ability to do all of those things is impaired. Nevertheless, this morning, I went to a panel on Creolism in the Caribbean, listened intently, and tried to ask an intelligent question.

The panel I went to was composed of literary critics. For a sociologist, I am consider myself to be pretty good at listening to and understanding these sorts of pontifications. (It helps that they often draw from social theory to make their claims). I found parts of what they said to be somewhat interesting. All of the panelists touched on the idea of the symbolic capital involved in language. This is the idea that speaking a certain way can produce gains in social status in various situations. This value is produced through social interactions, and thus is always changing, and is dependent on the social characteristics of the speaker and listener. For example, a British accent generally is prestigious in the US. However, whether the speaker is black or white influences the way that this accent is valued. A working class Jamaican, for example, who says “zed” instead of “zee” could be marked as foreign for this elocution. This could be to his benefit, were he to be seen as not African-American, and thus not have the negative stereotypes associated with blackness in the US connected to him. However, if he were in an encounter with the immigration police, this same “zed” could land him in an immigrant detention center, as it marks him as foreign.

This intersection between race, class, language, and nation might be interesting for my research. For example, Jamaican emigrants (who make up nearly half of Jamaicans) are essential to the national economy insofar as they send back millions of dollars to Jamaica each year. However, working class Jamaicans who emigrate and return are often criticized for adopting US-black cultural styles and diluting their Jamaican-ness. For deportees, this is magnified, as they are no longer sending any money back, yet may well have been culturally diluted, in light of their extended stay abroad. To make matters worse, deportees are stigmatized as criminals.

After that panel, I walked the six blocks back to our apartment, and ate the rice and beans Nando had prepared for lunch. The conference is at a nice hotel, with a large swimming pool. I am pretty sure the pool is reserved for hotel guests. But, seeing as though I paid $280 to attend this conference, I suppose that a dip in the pool might be included in that fee. And, if it's included for me, why not for my family? So, I asked Nando and the kids if they cared to accompany me back to the hotel.

They were pretty excited about the idea, and willing to walk the six blocks in the blazing sun. When we were just outside the hotel, I put on my conference badge and gave Nando my wristband that indicates one is a hotel guest. We safely made it through the doors and into the pool.

Now, I recognize that this endeavor involved me taking advantage of my white privilege – that's why I gave Nando the arm band; I don't really need it to get into the hotel. I did briefly think I should not benefit from my whiteness this way, but at the same time, it was nice to share some of my white privilege with my family. Once we got into the pool area, Tatiana asked me if I was sure it was okay for them to be at the pool, since we aren't sleeping at that hotel. I told her it was, since I was working at the hotel that day. After setting up Nando and the kids at the pool, I conspicuously laid my conference bag on his poolside table, and went to hear a few talks on migration in the Caribbean. That was the last session of the day, and afterwards, I went to accompany my family by the pool. I didn't actually get in the water, as I am not sure that being in my bathing suit is part of proper conference decorum.

Back at the pool, I found that my daughters had befriended three young women, and were busy playing with them in the pool. Nando had ordered a couple of beers and some food, so that lessened my worry that they would be kicked our of the pool. One upside to the pool being under repair in our apartment complex is it gets everyone out of the house, and that always comes with its adventures.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Tanya,
    Thank you for sharing your adventures with the rest of us. I just wanted to let you know that someone is reading your posts!
    I hope you all stay safe and look forward to reading about your future adventures.

    Monique (KU-American Studies, Ph.D. candidate)