This is part 2 of “Coming to America.”
Moving to Toledo, OH was a major adjustment. The first time I saw snow I thought the sky was dying. This was offset when I realized that candy canes were delicious.
But the biggest adjustment was the blatant way people were divided by their ethnicities. The Jamaican motto is “Out of many, one people.” Say what you will about the poverty and housing conditions there, but Jamaicans really cling to this motto.
The Jamaican demographic breaks down to 92.1 percent Black, 6.1 percent Mixed, 0.8 East Indian, and 0.4 other and 0.7 unspecified. So racism was next to non-existent when you’re in the majority.
The first time I ever witnessed true racism was when my mom was called a nasty slur because the women believed she had cut in front of her. This was not the case, of course, but my mother just smiled and allowed the lady to purchase her groceries before us and leave.
Later on I asked my mother what that word meant and my mom explained it was a term used to inspire fear, hate and sadness. She said the only way to beat people that use those kinds of words were with love and kindness.
I soon found out that was easier said than done when a year later a middle schooler called me the same derogatory word and was met with a swift punch to his private region from my tiny fists of justice. My mom was called and I was disciplined but not too harshly.
Going to school in Ohio was also a new experience. Even though I thought I spoke English, I was ridiculed and asked to repeat myself all the time due to my accent. We didn’t enunciate our e’s and r’s.
This happened so much that I was put into speech therapy class every Tuesday and Thursday where I was trained to lose my island accent.
It wasn’t until high school that I learned my classmates not only missed my accent but also thought it was cool. They said that the taunts and constant insults/jokes were just juvenile good-natured fun. I wasn’t amused.
On the other hand, America has been incredibly good for my family. I have had the chance to attend schools with curriculum you would never find in Jamaica.
My sisters have both attended charter and private schools through a scholarship and loved it. One of them is in nursing school at a top rated university and the other has her eyes set on attending M.I.T in the fall of 2019.
My mom was even able to get into a job that provided citizenship with a social work group called Women Infant Care. She now has a degree in social work and has been with that department for nearly over three decades.
So in conclusion I guess the common saying shouldn’t be “Only in America,” but more truly; “America, you take the good with the bad!”
Justin A. Baker