June 24, 2009

A minor incident in Brownstown


I am very glad Evelyn has been taking me around Kingston, instead of me going on my own. This became apparent to me on Tuesday, as I was sitting outside in an inner-city neighborhood in Kingston called Brownstown. I was conducting interviews on the patio outside a shoe shop, as it was cooler outside than inside, and the cobbler had the radio blasting inside. A white lady sitting in plain view, however, soon attracted quite a bit of attention.

I was preparing to interview Bobby, a man in his late fifties who had lived a long time in the United States, working on farms, when a roughneck-looking young man approached us. He had his dreads pulled back in a pony tail, and was wearing urban gear. He was accompanied by a smaller man with cornrows. He asked me what I was doing. Bobby said I was interviewing deportees. Perhaps my eyes began to widen, as he looked at me and told me not to be scared.

I smiled and said I wasn’t scared and that he should ask me any questions he wanted. He again asked what I was doing there. I looked him in the eye and told him I teach at the university and am collecting stories from deportees for a book I am writing. He asked me if I had everything I need. I said I do, but I am still looking for people who have spent a long time in the US and have been sent back.

At that point, Evelyn came outside and explained what we were doing. I heard them talking about this not being “a political thing.” I am still learning about Jamaican politics, but I do know that there can be all-out wars in neighborhoods between Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP) supporters. I also know that, despite “Labour” being in the title of JLP, they are actually the more conservative of the two parties. So, the mention of “political things” did not sound good to me.

Things cooled down quickly and the young men left, and I was able to continue my interviews. When we left, I asked Evelyn what had happened with those two young men. It turns out they thought I was providing something to the community – like agricultural jobs in the US – and that I was doing that along political lines. They just wanted to see what I was giving out, so they could get a piece of the action. Having Evelyn with me both made it easier to cool down the situation and she was able to explain to me what happened afterwards.

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