By Dr. DHANPAUL NARINE
Jamaicans are among the most resourceful persons on the planet. They are hard-working, care for their families and celebrate good food, music and sports.
Jamaicans can be found in many countries contributing to the wider diaspora community. In May 2018, Bruce Golding, the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, visited New York. He met with the local community and spoke on a wide range of subjects.
Mr. Golding was the eighth Prime Minister of Jamaica. He resigned in 2011 amid controversy over his handling of the Christopher Coke case. Golding was succeeded by Andrew Holness. He is the current Prime Minister and comes from the Jamaica Labour Party. The turnout in Queens, New York, was good and the proceedings showed why Jamaica has one of the most robust diaspora policies for any developing country.
The Jamaican Consul-General to New York is Ms. Trudy Deans. In her remarks, she said that in 2015 the Jamaican diaspora remitted 2.2 billion dollars home. But it was not all about money, as Jamaicans got involved in funding many projects in their country. One of the success stories is the partnership between Western Union and Grace Kennedy Foods. This relationship is so strong that the prayers for their continued well-being came from the pulpit!
Senator Don Wehby spoke about the need for increased compliance and vigilance. He thanked the diaspora for their love for Jamaica. But he emphasized that if Jamaica is to progress two important policy prescriptions need to be implemented. The first is the diversification of the Jamaican economy to include the expansion in agriculture while the second has to do with the availability of greater educational opportunities in the country.
Education and agriculture, it was felt, make a strong combination for development. Senator Wehby said that from his experience ‘what was good for Jamaica is also good for Grace Kennedy.’ In 2000, according to Mr. Wehby’s social media reports, ‘the pretax profits at Grace Kennedy was $200 million. It rose to $1.417 billion in 2005, an increase of 406 percent.’ The two big customers in the Caribbean are Guyana and Trinidad.
Senator Wehby stated that Grace Kennedy Enterprises are sending 500 children to school as a way of giving back to the community. A great deal of time was spent on educating the public on the scams that are taking place when people send money.
One of the most common is the email that says relatives are stranded abroad and they need money urgently. There is the demand to send money immediately through Western Union and people are given certain information.
However, people should not part with their money and should call Western Union at 1-800-325-6000 when in doubt. One of the innovations that Western Union will implement soon is an ‘app’ that would allow Jamaicans at home to send money to their relatives overseas. It would be done securely to prevent fraud and scams.
Bruce Golding said that Grace Kennedy is a global company but it is Jamaican ‘to the bone.’ He emphasized that people should be wary of scamming as the criminals are getting more sophisticated.
Golding thanked Jamaicans in the diaspora for the tremendous role they are playing in the development of Jamaica. He said, ‘Jamaicans who live abroad are a source of immense pride to us at home. The Jamaican diaspora is exceptional to the extent in which it cherishes its identity and also how it exudes the strength of its culture. Jamaicans are seen as ambassadors of their country. They popularize the country’s music, the language, the culture, and food. There are so many people I have met who have never been to Jamaica but talk as if they know Jamaica well because of the interaction with Jamaicans in the diaspora.’
Golding said that around 17,000 Jamaicans arrive each year in the US legally and that there are over 500,000 persons that were born in the US of Jamaican parentage. He pointed out that under the Jamaican constitution these children are entitled to Jamaican citizenship. Many of them consider themselves to be Jamaican.
According to Golding, people tend to see the Jamaican diaspora as a brain drain. Only one third of the graduates remain in Jamaica. But Golding does not see this as a negative. He sees this as a foreign investment, ‘because those that migrated are contributing more to Jamaica’s development and economy than they would have been able to do had they stayed at home. The remittances that come back home are twice the amount of goods that we export.’
Golding also singled out the considerable charity work in which Jamaicans are involved. He spoke about Jamaicans that were elected to political office in the United States. They included Una Clarke, her daughter Congresswoman Yvette Clark, Nick Perry and Michael Blake. State Senator Leroy Comrie has Jamaican parents.
Golding said that we need similar persons to ensure that in the making of policy Jamaican interests are represented. He called on Jamaicans in the United States to get more involved in the political process. They should register to vote and should come out and vote on the day. This is the best way to create change, he said.
The inclusiveness that was once part of the United States is being rolled back. It was this inclusiveness that allowed Jamaicans, and other immigrants, to enter the United States and better themselves. Golding said that the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King is under threat as policies are taken to separate and divide families.
Racism has never fully been eradicated. But it seemed to Golding that, ‘America had reached a stage where it accepted that racism was wrong.’ What is emerging is a strong belief that people want to devalue the importance of immigrants. For example, the US Citizen and Immigration Services stated at one time that America is a nation of immigrants. This is no longer the case. The mission statement has changed and is reflective of the new thinking, Golding said.
At the beginning of the last century, immigration comprised 15 percent of the United States. Today, immigrants make up less than 14 percent so it cannot be argued that America is swamped with immigrants, according to Golding. But in the past 75 percent of the immigrants came from Europe. This has changed since and could help to explain racism. There is also a fallacy to think that immigrants are taking up local American jobs.
Jamaican immigrants are experiencing unemployment in the US but that does not stop them from being enterprising. The median income for Jamaican immigrants is $51,000 annually. More than half of Jamaican immigrants own their own homes. But politically they should do more, says Golding. He also commented on the ‘Windrush’ scandal in Britain and saw this as a pattern of racism that is affecting that country.
As a fitting tribute to the meeting Grace Kennedy served up delicacies from Jamaica.