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Who am I...

I am the granddaughter of fiercly proud Irish immigrants. My grandfather sat me on his knee and regaled me with stories of famines, revolutions, fairies, and leprachauns, my grandmother sang Irish ballads to me until I fell asleep. They were so proud of how Irish I looked and that my mother gave me an Irish name.
I am also the granddaughter of a Swedish immigrant, who taught me to love everything pickled, and a French Canadian seamstress who tried in vain to teach me her talent. "Bah! Impossible'!"

I am the daughter of a extremely left winged liberal hippie, and a staunch right wing Republican. And it wasn't cute in a "Dharma and Greg" kind of way. It was horrific, so much so that my mother felt forced to leave the country after a very nasty divorce when I was 5 years old in order to put as many miles between herself and my father as possible. She took my brother and I to Jamaica, she married a Jamaican Rastaman, and we stayed there until 1997.
So, I grew up in rural Jamaica, I begged my mother to part and plait my long, straight blond hair like my school friends. I grew up running barefoot, climbing guinep, guava, and mango trees, playing jacks and jumprope and shooting marbles. I didn't own a stove until I was nearly 30, I washed my clothes and bathed in a river, I collected water from a village standpipe, waiting in line with the other girls, and sometimes boys, and carried the 5 gallon bucket back home on my head. I stood every morning, and sang the national anthem, "Jamaica......Jamaica......Jamaica, Land We Love!" with pride. I played Nanny of the Maroons in a school play for National Heroes Day. I played netball and field hockey. I let the other children pinch my arms so they could watch me turn white, then pink, then angry red. My favorite snacks were and still are jackass corn, grater cakes, asham, dunkanoo (or if you're feeling particularly risque, you can call them "Blue Drawers", heehee!) and peanut drops.
Once, in school, I got into trouble with some other girls for skipping Maths class and going to the farm to hang out with the Dread and partake of some of Dread's, um, Sacrament, and as punishment, Headmaster made us stand in the mid-day sun, in the common, for 4 hours. After we had the palms of our hands whipped with a leather strap. I was so sick and sunburned the next day, I couldn't go back to school for nearly a week.
So, way back then, I was "the likkle brown gyal, P. dawta." IN high school, it was especially hard for me to break the rules....I tried to stop at the market to chat with this sweet rastaman, but by the time I got home, someone already told my mother and step father.
By the time tourists started to influx the area, late 70's, early 80's, my friends realized I wasn't a "brown gyal" but I was actually white, as white as the tourists who got red (in more ways than one, hee hee!) on the beach, and they gleefully pointed this little known fact out. Suddenly, they were surprised that I knew how to wash clothes, peel dasheen and yams, cook curry and grater coconut for rice and peas, even though we had been doing it together for a decade.

So, dating, I only knew the boys I went to school with, so of course, that's who I dated. My friends, Odette and Nerine and Paulette, who were by now savvy to my whiteness, would ask me, "Don't you want a white man?"
I thought about the white guys who came to visit Jamaica and hung out at my parents bar and restaurant; red, sunburned, most often quite drunk and very high on too much high grade ganja sold to them too cheap, and who left in a week to come back in a year.
No, suh! Dem chat too funny an ah wha dem kno 'bout dumplin an yam, an dancehall an Festival! Wha me a do wid dem? Cyaan nyam fishhead, bone choke him kill him! A Yaad man me waant!

And then I got pregnant in 10th grade, hiding my pregnancy by banding my belly, while my classmates voted me Prefect. Dropped out, went to live with my baby's father in a one room house with no running water. He was a ganja man, so that's how we made our living. Every day I would hike my big belly, and then my baby, and then my second big belly and second baby, up into the mountain to the ganja field.
So, flash forward, split up, new man, 4 more kids, moved to Miami to attend midwifery school, met soon to be ex, black Panamanian, had one more baby, getting divorced....

Communities, I think I identify with several. Midwifery community for sure. Jamaican community here in Miami, definately. I tend to feel most comfortable with Jamaicans, have more in common, a shared background, growing up experiencing many of the same things, a shared sense of humor which many Americans don't find amusing. Most of the friendships I have formed here are with Jamaicans.

How does my community describe me......
I live in a predominately Black neighborhood, so I am refered to as "the white woman on G**** Ave, with all the kids, the Jamaican white woman, the midwife."
Instant recognition! I just can't hide.

Jamaican community......"C******" "Which C****** are you talking about?" "you know, white C******, the midwife".

Would I use the same descriptions, I think I have....it certainly describes me.

My kids, being multi-racial, are blessed and proud to be able to identify themselves as "Jamaicans" when anyone asks, and they do ask. They know, first and foremost, that is where they belong, where they call home, and where they will return. Race has never been an issue for them, until we moved to Miami, but they know why they are followed around the store or pulled over by the cops or thrown to the ground and searched. We have never lived anywhere else in Miami, so I don't know if their experience would have been different in a white neighborhood. They have been teased about being Jamaican, called "jerk chicken" by schoolmates or have kids talk to them in an exaggerated fake accent.

So, who am I? An Irish-looking white woman with a strong Jamaican accent who has a lot of kids and doesn't go to church and enjoys dancehall music and a room-temperature Guiness. A midwife who plans to return home and open a maternity centre so Jamaican women can have an alternative to the nightmare they call hospitals there. Someone who loves tattoos and Indian food and Bollywood movies. Someone who wishes she could dance salsa and is learning to speak Italian. A single mama (again!) of beautiful brown-skinned babies. A woman who grew up singing to Jesus in school and chanting to Haile Selassie at home, and who now would rather ask the Goddesses and Orishas for divine intervention. What I know of being "white" I learned from my grandparents, who were proud of their countries and cultures and histories and passed on much of that pride to me. The daughter of a man who refused to let me speak in front of his friends on my rare visits to see him because of my Jamaican accent, and who refused to hang pictures of my children in his home because he was ashamed of having Black grandchildren and ashamed of having a wife who left him and who now loves a Black man. The step-daughter of a gentle Rastafarian with gnarled hands and wild hair who taught me, by example, to love and respect every living being on earth, and who I watched literally take the shirt off his own back to give to a homeless man, and who showed me that it is really possible for a mortal man to be Christ-like.
Can I wrap all that up into one word?
 
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