There’s a simple logic behind many episodes of voluntary migration: a search for better opportunities. My parents sought the same when they left Jamaica for England just before Independence. Before that and since, Jamaicans have traveled far and wide; they and their offspring can now be found in many different places. Jamaica has lost much human capital through emigration, and it’s hard to see that drain of people and their intellectual and physical talent as being an overall positive for Jamaica’s development, even if in cash terms it could be shown that remittances have become the largest source of funds to the economy and provided immense support to families all over the island.I find myself in a location to which Jamaicans have flocked–south Florida. Here I am in Miami. I acknowledge openly that, after all the travel I have done through Miami International Airport over two decades, I had never set foot outside of those hallowed concourses. Today, that changed.
It does not take much to understand the attraction of this area for Caribbean people: sun, sand, sea, hot temperatures, jobs, jobs and more jobs, nice places to live and work, and more jobs. Don’t get me wrong: the place was not immune from the general downturn in the US economy, but by comparison with the Caribbean, things look very good for employment seekers most of the time. True, it’s America and its attitudes and ethos are different to those of the Caribbean, but it’s relatively laid back, in an industrialised way.
It is hard to verify the exact number of people of Jamaican descent living in the USA because most of them assimilate into the wider so-called ‘African-American’ communities. US census data suggest that documented Americans of Jamaican descent and (the high number of) Jamaican “illegal aliens” total close to 1 million ‘Jamaicans’ living in the United States.
Jamaicans refer colloquially to the Miami metropolitan area as “Kingston 21”.I haven’t seen enough of the Miami Beach area to support that title, but I won’t challenge it. Maybe, as I move around Dade County in coming days, that view will change.
The early morning flight from Kingston today was full–and I understand it’s almost always that way. Makes sense: you pay about US$300 to fly from Kingston to MoBay, but about US$600 to get to Miami. You can do a lot here, even in a day, and if you’ve shopping at affordable prices on your mind, then the US consumer is your friend by needing to change with the seasons, when Jamaicans don’t have the same reasons. Autumn fashions are coming out and the sales are on to move those summer clothes. Buy yuh tikit!
Jamaica’s loss of citizens to other countries has meant considerable gains to those countries. As I walked around this afternoon, I could hear a distinct Jamaican lilt, but not as often as I heard a trace of Haiti or some Spanish. Whatever the Jamaicans here are achieving, it’s on a crowded playground, and some parts Jamaicans just aren’t touching: I only heard Haitian creole amongst the corps of taxi drivers who were standing and hoping most of the day. I heard only Spanish in the shops I entered in a nearby retail area. For that matter, what is striking about Miami is that it feels and sounds like a non-English speaking part of the USA. So, I’m left pondering, after a few hours here, what it is that Jamaicans are faring and how they are maneuvering around this landscape.