Thursday, May 29, 2008

"I didn't know I was Black Until I Came to America."

The heading on this post is a quote from a young woman I met in Jamaica this past weekend at the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.

The festival exceeded my wildest expectations. I met amazing authors like Lawrence Hill, Margaret Cezair-Thompson and Jackie Kay. I had a fabulous, though nerve-wracking, experience reading from my book, Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain in front of an audience of over 1000 people. And the weather cooperated with high temperatures, cool breezes and no rain (until the last day).

But what I enjoyed the most about my little visit to this little island was being surrounded by the most beautiful Black people in the world. What an experience for this chick raised up in the whitest, white Wisconsin, to be in a warm world of welcoming brown faces and kinky hair. I felt giddy to be in the real majority for once. I considered rushing back to America to scoop up my children and bringing them back to Jamaica to raise them in a place where their cute, little, brown, faces would transform to simply cute, little, faces, because the brown would be redundant.

After my reading this woman came up to me with her friend and told me she understood my struggle of trying to define Black in America, because it happened to her when she arrived here for college and was immediately informed by the race police that she must quickly join the Black race or else face the risk of not belonging. "Growing up in Jamaica," she told me, "I didn't even know I was Black." Suffice it to say, America's racial politics sent her right back home after she finished school.

So for now, I have no immediate plans to move to Jamaica, but it is a tempting thought. Although I must admit I would miss snow. After all, I am from Wisconsin.

Peace Out!


Mango Mama said...

Girl, I know what you mean. Jamaica may be my most favorite place on earth. Loverman used to produce a film festival in Mo Bay every year and we would spend a month on the island. It's truly an amazing place and I love the country's motto--- Out of many, one people.

I'm happy to hear you had a wonderful time. The festival sounds amazing. Welcome home.

Me said...

Mango Mama,

I'm still smiling. And it's so good to hear that other people feel the love. We're already plotting our return.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

My parents are from St. Martin. They knew they were Black before they came to America but didn't it was a PROBLEM before they came. ha

It was so weird going there for the summers from my very white, suburban town. The two worlds couldn't be more different.

Andrea said...

I just finished your autobiography and I loved it! As soon as I finished I called my sister and insisted she get a copy. I think that after reading it she will finally have the inspiration to write about growing up Native American and her experiences at Columbia Law School.
I look forward to your other books!


Me said...

Hey Ragazza,

Do you still summer in St. Martin? I'd love to visit.


I'm glad you liked Kinky G. And I hope your sister decides to share her stories too. Thanks for visiting the Meltingpot.

Cloudscome said...

I difinitely have your book on my summer reading list. Your publisher wouldn't be sending our review copies by any chance, would she?

Cloudscome said...

Definitely, I mean.jc

Me said...

Hi Cloudscome,

Good to "hear" from you again. Please stay tuned to find out how you can get a copy of KG from my publisher. You've given me a great give-away idea.

aicha said...

i'm american by birth, but grew up in a straight up caribbean household, and last summer was the third i've spent in JA (bogwalk, to be exact). if the person quoted in the title of this post was trying to suggest that racial identities don't exist in the caribbean they've mislead you. the way caribbeans formulate racial identities (and the hierarchies thereof) is different from in the US as well as within the caribbean, but they ARE there. it sounds beautiful and romantic and tragic that the island girl left the soft breezes of the caribbean in search of a better world only to be whipped around by the gale force winds of racial conflict in america, but, um, JA gained independence from UK rule in '62.

that aside, i live in spain now. loving it. can't wait to read your memoir.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Kinky Gazpacho and like so many other folks, I loooooooved it. I enjoyed all of it and can identify with so many of your experiences. My father was a Mexican-born, American serviceman and my mother was a British warbride and we lived on the Texas border across from Mexico. My grandparents on both sides were multi-cultural and non-steriotypical of their ethnic groups. My husband is from South America (but not the kind mentioned in your book):) and his dad from northern Italy. Our youngest daughter and her husband (who is from the DR.) His grandmother was part-Armenian and French. So our littlest grandson (8 months) is a real Heinz 57!!!!