Kamille D. Whittaker
Notes on "Going Home"
I grew up between parched Southern Cali suburbs and maternal and paternal immediate and extended family in Jamaica. I was exposed to rural/city dynamic from early on. Even in Jamaica, the stratification was apparent: my maternal grandparents set roots in the bush of central Jamaica in ostensibly the poorest of conditions -- no running water, outdoor toilets and baths -- but with a wealth of resources to flourish and generate. My grandfather, a farmer, worked the land/his farm of every crop and livestock you could think of in order to feed the family and surrounding township. In my mother’s words, they were “never hungry.” [Contrast with Richard Wright’s lifelong autobiographical hunger theme in “Black Boy.”] My grandmother, a seamstress, teacher and preacher, met the township’s clothing and spiritual needs. On my dad’s side -- their suburban living placed them in closer proximity to the hotbed of politics and worldliness in nearby Kingston -- whereby degrees of exposure to "Babylon" was certain and frequent.
The purchase of our house and land in Jamaica’s north coast parish of St. Mary by some members of my family -- a cohort of four of my grandparent’s 13 offspring whom had emigrated to the United States, first to the midwest, and then Southern California -- was equal parts an act of self-determination and clarity. It was very much so a guarantee -- an intentional statement to themselves and to their progeny -- that the foray into the American experiment could and would ultimately be temporary. The communique: Jamaica is home.
Trips to Jamaica growing up served several purposes. There was frequently an urgency around going. Mom always referred to it as “going home.” A majority of family was still there so it was a time to nurture roots and maintain connection, ie. Participate in funeral/homegoing rituals, weddings, graduations … build a cultural haul, that is, stock up on the seasonings, spices and foods, books, that we couldn’t get in the States. Thus, I never experienced it as “retreat” or “vacation” in the way that I looked at the other islands I would eventually frequent. In many ways and in many times, perhaps because of values alignment and the length of time that I was able to stay, Jamaica felt more like home than California; solidly an additional, equally familiar one.
The articulated connections to the Diaspora were implicit. For example, family narratives and Anancy stories and folklore -– where myth, and make-believe collide with tradition and virtue -- were fertile ground for the transmission of knowledge across space, time and generations; and served an almost epistemic function. The stories of Jamaica’s national heroes from the constant evoking of Bogle, Garvey, Queen Nanny et al in all politico-socio-cultural spheres (Burning Spear “Marcus Garvey Word Come to Pass”) … to the necessary maneuverings of the Maroons toward liberation, for example, served as a constant tapping into a Diasporan undercurrent which, once you transcend the narrative veneers of “supernationalism,” hyperpolitics, tourism, and colonial residue, reveal the limitless possibilities of Jamaica as a key midway point on the path to recovery.
Once upon a time, these were all primary markers for me.
But, now, it's when my daughters say that they yearn to go back, that I feel it in my bones.
Tags: #jumpatthesuns #homeeverywhere #jamaica #caribbean #islandlife