Friday, February 29, 2008

Feeling Chinese Jamaican

This is going to be my last post in my "Jamaica" series. There's still a lot I am processing, but I may just pull the "classic" academic move and save it for an article. Truthfully, I would like to write about my experiences in a more formal way--as well as write about the Chinese Jamaican diaspora, so whether I return to this topic on this blog, or not, I know it is a subject I'll continue to write about, in some form, later.

But I want to return to the question that my cousin asked of me (twice) and that I have been asking about myself, probably for as long as I can remember:

Am I Jamaican? Do I feel Jamaican?

Or perhaps more specificaly:

Am I Chinese I feel Chinese Jamaican?

Yes, when I was touring around Kingston with my family. For example, in the above photo, we went by the Catholic boy's school St. George (which is now co-ed) that my uncles (all 6 of them) attended. And seeing all these places and having my various relatives share their memories about living in Jamaica, made me feel very connected to this place.

And when we all climbed up Dunn's River Falls together, as touristy as this is, it is also wonderfully fun and is something that locals also do from time to time (in fact, there is a separate "locals" rate, which my Uncle "N" got for us, but the non-accented members of the family (including yours truly) were under strict instructions not to speak until we were past the checkpoint).

Perhaps most of all, it was the meals we shared that made me feel connected to my family and to being Chinese Jamaican. Food, and more specifically, the times that made us gather together as a family around food, is always what I associate with being Chinese Jamaican. The photo above is of a jerk place in Ocho Rios that we were taken to by a local friend (that's the back of my cousin "A's" head in the photo--"A" wanted me to mention him in my blog, and I told him that while I try to keep this pseudonymous and didn't want to include family photos, I figured only those nearest and dearest to "A" would recognize the back of his head, and he'll enjoy his very small moment of fame in this blog).

When "W" asked me in Montego Bay whether my ideas of being Chinese Jamaican had changed after a week in Jamaica--whether I felt any closer to being Chinese Jamaican, I told him that while I really didn't feel connected to the island in and of itself (for that I'd need to either go back in time or spend a lot more time living in Jamaica, preferably Kingston), the moments when I felt most strongly connected, when I feel Chinese Jamaican, are moments spent in the company of my family. And really, I didn't need to go to Jamaica to figure this out. This has always been the case. I felt it when I went to Toronto for my cousin's wedding. Or during my Uncle's memorial service in California. Or even just talking to family members on the phone. I may not completely identify as Chinese Jamaican, but the majority of my family does. And above race and gender and a host of other "identity" factors, there is that--there is my family connection and identification. And we are a very mixed bunch, living in various part of the Americas over the last century. And so, yes, at the end of the day, I feel like a part of my family, which means, I do feel and am Chinese Jamaican.


Tei Tetua said...

I just wandered in here for the first time.

This posting reminds me of something I heard on the radio years ago when I was on vacation in Canada. They had an interview with Mr Wong, who ran a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. But the twist was that Mr Wong was from Kingston, Jamaica, and his restaurant was in a section of Toronto where a lot of West Indians lived. Do West Indians like to go out for Chinese food? Yes they do, and when they do, they want Jamaican Chinese food--as I recall, it involves a lot of fruit, and spices that you don't get in more conventional Chinese cuisine.

What struck me was the minority-within-a-minority aspect of the situation, and how they're all getting along happily in Canada. Probably that last part is rather naive, but it would be nice if it's entirely true. Or perhaps one has positive bias toward Canadians. It never ends.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for leaving a comment Tei Tetua--the idea of being a minority within a minority is one I've often thought about with respect to my own family and my own inability to really identify with being Chinese American in a "pure" sense--as in, even if I spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, there's a way in which my experiences due to my mother's identification with Jamaica means I wouldn't ever be completely comfortable at CSA (Chinese Student Association) meetings.

And, like you, I sometimes idealize Canada as a more accepting multiracial melting pot than the U.S. (diversity of languages, diverse neighborhoods) but from what little I know about Canadian history, especially their policies regarding certain Asian communities (and here I'm thinking of Chinese Candadians and Japanese Candians in particular) well, things aren't as rosy as I'd like to believe they are. Although I still support bi-lingual signs and wish the U.S. did too.

cass said...

hi there iam chiness jamican person living in uk ilove to chat to mepeople on the net my granfathere had a bar in jamica st marys there still going
now cass

Camille said...

Thanks for talking about being Chinese-Jamaican. As a Chinese-Jamaican living in the United States, I sometimes forget the Chinese part but back in Jamaica I'm constantly reminded that I'm mixed and I had a Chinese grandfather. However, it wasn't a bad reminder because it made me feel closer to my family. My mother learnt to cook from her Chinese father and she taught me how to cook so I feel more natural cooking Chinese dishes. My cousins all use the Chinese names for food and that's all we eat when we're with the family. So for me, feeling Chinese-Jamaican is synonymous with eating at home with the family.