Embracing My Caribbean in America

‘It’s hard to embrace the Caribbean culture in American society.’

Someone tweeted this yesterday and I felt all my fingers tingle and my radars go up because that was me. Growing up, I had no clue how I was going to make my momma proud for claiming my culture. I should be loving up some saltfish and fig but I really wanted a burger with cheese fries. I snuck around to practice my new accent at home and I avoided the Caribbean community. not because I was ashamed but it was the price for fitting in. 

Why’d I do it?

I. Don’t. Know.

I asked a friend how she felt about being Jamaican growing up in America and I learned that she never had to pick a side. At home, her parents lived, cooked, spoke, celebrated and embraced the Jamaican culture. It was as though she was living in Jamaica, just in a different physical space. She admitted that she noticed how our other friends (me included) struggle to find the balance between Caribbean and American cultures; we were ‘Americanized’ but with Caribbean roots. 

It wasn’t as though we didn’t celebrate our roots at home. The weekends were saltfish, fig and bakes. The cocoa tea came from my grandmother's garden and our creole never strayed far enough to be forgotten. We embraced it. But that was the weekend. During the week, all of our schedules ran late so my dinner was usually spent hanging with friends at a fast food joint or in front the TV out of a brown paper bag. 

My mom had once told me “Don’t forget where you’re from. You can have friends from all over but don’t forget St. Lucia.” And regardless if she denies it or not, I never did. 

American society can be harsh - especially if you’re a new student at a Brooklyn high school with an accent that was hard to understand. Teenagers are rough- American teens were mean and from freshman year, it was a horrible lesson learned. I needed to fit in and lose the "just come" fit that can burn the bridges to popularity forever. It became a challenge to just enjoy my roots while enjoying new friends.

As an adult, I have never denied my culture, nor have I gone out of my way to proclaim it. It has become the silent part of me that just lives. Throughout my life, I have lived, learned and experienced the cultures from the melting pot that is New York and I am proud to be St. Lucian. With age, we tend to digress to where we come from and what we know- I started to express my Lucian pride again. It gave me the opportunity to embrace my experiences and meet the wonderful people I have met.

I will always be St.Lucian.

I am the unique daughter to my Caribbean mother and grandmother. I was born with culture in my blood and calypso in my heritage. I ate mangoes from the tree and sat in guava trees as a pastime. I bathed, washed and played in the river until my fingers grew wrinkles then I would race my cousin home. I picked bananas from my grandmother’s garden and worked side by side with her when she packed them up for exportation. I walked bare-feet to the store and the scars on my knees can tell a story by itself. I am St. Lucian.

Have you felt as though you had to pick a culture? What are some of the struggles you faced concerning embracing your Caribbean roots in American society?

Originally Posted on Stella's blog. 


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