So About Your Last Name…

today in class (sociology of poverty) we were doing group work, and were discussing immigration and employment.

one of my group members, another black canadian female with jamaican parents, shared what she learned about her last name/her heritage on a side note:

did you know that my last name, edwards, comes from the last name of the man who owned the plantation my ancestors worked on? that is my family history and i feel a sense of pride knowing where my last name comes from.

i found that interesting, but had to play devil’s advocate:

i do not feel a sense of pride knowing that my last name more than likely was imposed onto my ancestors from people of english descent. i feel a sense of annoyance that my dominant history was disrupted and that there was an attempt to recreate the history of millions of people and their future offspring through a simple name change and adoption of ways. just because i am unable to pinpoint what my african last name could have been, i refuse to accept the current last name i possess as a way of tracing or understanding my ancestry or heritage. at the same time, i am open to the fact that somewhere down the line one of my ancestors could very well have been a white man with my current last name, and that the “plantation” family name could have been something different.

but who really knows. i found the conversation rather enlightening personally. this girl is exactly like me in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, race, ability but prides herself in something i never really took pride in, or had even given much thought to: the possibility that her ancestors inherited the last name of their plantation owner.

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Run

Regardless of where you were born…you will always have advantages and disadvantages based on being born and raised there. For example, some look and say you’re more disadvantaged if you’re born in a third world country over a first world one…but I don’t fully agree. That’s just where the material things are concerned, that people conclude first world countries are more advantaged. But like I said before, there are advantages and disadvantages, each merely highlighted and focused on when two countries are compared.
Where my life is concerned, I feel my head is filled with mostly book knowledge, but not enough about life’s general knowledge. Which is a disadvantage for me. I look at my mom, who stands opposite to me; she had more knowledge and skills pertaining to life than me at my present age. No doubt, because of where she was born and raised, and where I was born and raised. Moving along however, I wonder if she knew, that by the age of 22, she would be in Canada? I wonder if she was prepared to leave her whole family and life behind to follow my dad and start fresh? I wonder how she did it? I wonder if she wanted to move here? I wonder if she was prepared? I wonder if she knew she wouldn’t go back home for decades to come? If she knew, would she have left?
For me, as much as I want to leave Canada, I know I will eventually be drawn right back here. When the things I like get overbearing, I get sick of them. I put as much space as I can between myself and the thing, if only temporarily. I want to move to France, but I don’t see myself living there for more than 5 years. And besides. I don’t know if I could leave everything behind like my mom did. I guess the reason for my unwillingness to run, is because I’m not running from much. I don’t think France would necessarily offer me a better life. It would not offer me anything much, that Canada could not or can not offer me.
From my mom’s standpoint now, her running to Canada meant running from a little, to a lot. She grew up in the country side of Jamaica, near a fishing village. With so many siblings, I will not say how many, it was hard to make things stretch. She heard about “farin” (Jamaican Patois for “foreign,” foreign meaning of course any over developed English speaking country such as Canada, America, and England) as a girl but never once dreamed she would get the chance to live and have children there. Now in her early 40’s, my mom like other Jamaican born people, has established a comfortable life over here in an “overseas” (Jamaicans sometimes use that word interchangeably with “farin”) country. But I wonder if they are all happy. I know materially some may have more, but I wonder if it was worth losing who they really once were for it all. I wonder if it was worth shifting mentalities and changing their way of thinking for. I wonder if it was worth severing most ties with their island for. I wonder.
Below are some photos of what my mom’s community in Clarendon, Jamaica looks like today
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Canadian Pride

I notice Nova Scotians and Quebecers have the most pride as Canadians.

I want to pride myself in this land. I want a rich Canadian culture and history like they have.

I do not just want to be Canadian because I was born here. I want to feel Canadian.

Before I die, I should to visit every Canadian province and territory, the capital cities of each.

Then maybe then I will say I am proud to be Canadian, and that I finally feel Canadian.

Then maybe then when I hear the national anthem, it will mean more to me.

Then maybe then when people ask me what I am, I will tell them with pride and sincerity,

I am a Canadian, born and raised.

 

 

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Wanting More

Perhaps there are some things I am taking for granted. But I still fail to see what’s so special about this country I am living in.

Canada isn’t bad, but it’s not that great either. It’s whatever to me.

I want more from my country. I don’t feel Canadian. I want to feel Canadian, I really do.

But I wasn’t raised Canadian. I was raised in Canada. But not as a Canadian.

(On a side note, I’ve never understood how immigrants try and learn Canadian culture when they come here. I feel that when they come here and try and learn to be Canadian, they’re really learning the acceptable way of living in the west. They’re learning western ideals. Their idea of beauty changes, their way of thinking, and even doing.)

So because of my detachment, I find myself comparing other countries to live in,

and concluding that Canada is peaceful & boring.

It’s a wannabe Britain

Like a student who pays utmost attention in class and desperately tries to please the teacher

And a less rowdy America

Like that same student, that is surrounded by other distracting students, and notices that her neighbour would rather not listen to or pay attention to the teacher but rebel. Our once focused student unfortunately, ends up losing her attention span, and joining in with her other peer.

Your background, where you or your parents are from will sometimes influences how you see the current country you live in.

For example…My Afghan coworker loves Canada, she thinks she has more freedom here, and appreciates the peacefulness.

Freedom and peacefulness, I personally take for granted. I’ve never had either threatened in the same way…

And how would I? Look where my parent’s are from. They’re not from some kind of suppressive or communist regime.

Sure life would have been more rough if I were born where my parent’s were and not here.

I am not blind, I see for myself what kind of life I could have been living.

But even then. I don’t appreciate Canada the way I should.

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Canadian Bilingualism

It’s no secret that some of the best paying jobs are reserved for those who speak both English and French

I was looking the other day for lessons to aid with my French. One summer in Quebec didn’t quite appeal to me anymore.

And besides. If Canada has two official languages…why should I have to travel out of my province to learn French?

I mean obviously going to a region that has a bounty of French speakers makes sense,

but at the same time, shouldn’t I be able to learn French in any province through lessons?

And furthermore, shouldn’t these lessons be free of cost, sponsored by the government?

So I thought. I soon realized that my searching was near fruitless, I didn’t find the answers I wanted.

I did however stumble upon a page, describing free French or English lessons for immigrants, sponsored by…

the government.

Now quite naturally I was a bit annoyed, and even found myself envious of these immigrants.

Here I am trying to become bilingual, while many immigrants, if interested, could become trilingual.

But then I thought to myself:

“Some may gain these free language courses, but the years they may have lost, the adults anyways, studying in their home country cannot be replaced, all because their degree isn’t recognized.”

Free French and English classes though, outside of school, should be offered to all Canadian nationals, not just the immigrants.

I asked myself then,

“Is it in the government’s interest to promote true bilingualism?”

I don’t think so.

In elementary schools, classes are just 30 or so minutes and not more than twice a week. It’s a mere exposure to French it seems, a little taste of nourishment, an appetizer with no promise of a grand meal. This appetizer is given to students, for just 5 years, from grades 4-9. What is the sense of taking French for just 5 years? Why isn’t it taught along side English or “Language Arts,” as it’s called in elementary schools? We have signs in labels in both French and English, but what’s the point if not everyone by the time they graduate highchool, can read what’s written in French?

French remains an option in Ontario. Perhaps that is the current problem.

If you want to continue French past grade 9, you may.

If your parents would like you to speak French, they may enrol you in a French immersion school.

English and French are equal under the law, yet, I feel as if a person would get farther being a native speaker in English and a substantial level of French, but not the other way around. Otherwise French wouldn’t be such looming option over the horizon.

I personally feel that classes should be in both languages, students should learn both. Students should also start at an earlier age as well, not after they’ve been instructed in strictly English in the previous years. The government needs to do more to ensure that Canadian nationals are thoroughly familiar with both languages, and it starts through education. And if perhaps a person would like to better speak or perfect either languages after school, government funded classes should be available to them.

Being Otherwise

I looked at myself, a female Afro-Canadian, born to Jamaican parents. And looked at my friend, a male Indo-Canadian, born to Guyanese parents, and said:

Ever wonder where we would be without colonialism, what we would look like, and where we would be? Can you imagine how the world would be if Red Indians were left to themselves in North America, the Arawaks in Jamaica? Obviously we would not have certain inventions, or would we? And who would get the rightful credit for it? Now, in 2013, would we have as much cross crustal contact? Would some of us be so genetically…complex? Everything colonialism has given and taken, different. Everything we take for granted and love about ourselves, taken from us. Would you therefore say, that colonialism, has defined who and in some cases we are today? The discourses of colonialism, the mere thought of erasing them all, or some of them, would require much brain power and imagination.” I finally concluded, answering my own question.

But he then asked:
So if you could be born again, what would you keep the same about yourself, what would you change, would you want to be the exact same person?
I told him I would be the same, Black, Christian, a female and of Jamaican ancestry, but born in France. He said he’d be the same as well, except born in England, and of Guyanese ancestry. It was kind of interesting that both of us would remain pretty much the same, save one minor difference. Perhaps because in some ways thinking otherwise, it is hard for us to do so. We realize things could be otherwise, and it’s hard for us to accept the “otherwise.” Also, I guess we cannot know for sure how living otherwise would be, if it would be better or worse than our situations now. Perhaps it would be neither, because we would not know any better or worse…Or would we? Who can say?

Caribbean Restaurants vs Jamaican Restaurants

Please note, before reading this, that this post is based off the observations I’ve made in my region, which is the Greater Toronto Area, in Canada. It just may happen that some, all, or maybe none of what I am saying, may apply to where you are. I am not writing my observations as if they are set in stone rules that are supposed to apply to all Caribbean restaurants everywhere, I am not.

Im more likely to eat from a “West-Indian” restaurant than a “Caribbean” restaurant…

I buy my groceries from a “West-Indian” store, not a “Caribbean” store.

There is a Caribbean restaurant on the campus of my school. It is popular, as it is one of the few places on campus you can get a home cooked meal at a reasonable price that is also rammed with flavour. It is also one of the few places that is “ethnic” in origin. So last week when a friend of mine invited me to try some food from there, I of course said yes. She reassured that “Dude, if you’re Jamaican, you’ll love their food.” Glancing over the menu, I recognized a few familiar dishes…Jerk Chicken, Ackee and Saltfish, and Mannish Water. (Kidding, I didn’t see Mannish Water.)

That experience, (along with many others) has led to me conclude something about the title “Caribbean Restaurant, ” when used to classify, and businesses that use the term “Caribbean” in their restaurant names. “Caribbean,” is merely an umbrella term that seeks to categorize foods from some, but not all, islands. Islands, that have notable differences, that are not homogenous in language, race, religion, and especially not food…This is not to say that you don’t have some similarities between some islands, but it is the similarities between some islands, that these “Caribbean” restaurants focus on, or they focus on one particular country’s dishes more so than others, more so than their own…

Taking the restaurant at my school as an example, the people running and cooking the food are from Grenada. However, I found that there were many more traditional dishes specific to Jamaica than anything else on the menu. Jamaica is a part of the Caribbean. Jamaica is not the only island in the Caribbean. So to say you offer “Caribbean” food but a large percent of your menu only really consists of Jamaican dishes, that is odd. As a “Caribbean” restaurant, shouldn’t the focus be on dishes from a range of islands, not just one or two? Unless you’ve specified somewhere the style of cooking you will be doing, or where you and the chefs are from, so guests can know what to expect?

It is for this reason, that if you’re looking to enjoy authentic Jamaican food, you should stay clear of any that are named “Caribbean Queen” but don’t really say the kind of food they cook. Caribbean food technically can be Latin American style of cooking from the island of Cuba, or it can be West Indian from the island of Trinidad. “Caribbean,” as mentioned before, is an umbrella term that ignores difference. Restaurants owned and operated by Jamaican’s are more likely to have their country name incorporated into the restaurants name, have a flag in the window, or have some manifest way of letting you know it’s a Jamaican operation.

One obvious reason for incorporating “Jamaica” into the mix is no doubt because they want people to make a connection between the island, the people hailing from the island who have achieved global recognition, and their food operation. I really only need to mention one Jamaican here, which still influences people of all generations and has influenced a strong youth culture posthumously: Bob Marley. Perhaps if music isn’t your thing, surely you’ve heard of the “Fastest Man in the World” Usain Bolt, or have heard of Marcus Garvey, if you’re into black history. When people see the names of these people, one of the first few series of words that come to mind is “Jamaica” or “Jamaican,” which is why restaurants owned and operated want the word Jamaican, or Jamaican flag in plain view.

Interestingly enough, I’ve run across so many “Jamaican” restaurants, such as Albert’s Real Jamaican , but hardly any restaurants that cater to the dishes of specific countries, such as (and I’m making this up of course) Mama’s Grenadian Kitchen, Guadeloupe Flavour, Curacao Fusion. It seems like countries that are not as well known, rely on the term “Caribbean” to bring an image into the minds of people. Because let’s face it, unless you have a good sense of geography, how else would you know that the countries listed above, are in the Caribbean? And furthermore, are you familiar enough with the culture pertaining to those countries?

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