It probably doesn’t take much to trigger the memories. That very first plane ride. The intense feeling of excitement tempered somewhat with the gut feeling of uncertainty. The dreams. The expectations. The promise of a better life. Dreams of new things, new friends, new experiences. That first ride “home” from the airport. Undoubtedly, many expatriates will remember the first time leaving Jamaica to take up residence in one of the many foreign countries where Jamaicans can be found en masse. Take for example the over 700,000 Jamaicans who live in the New York City Tri-State area. For many of them, the initial euphoria of all things American may have proven to be short-lived as reality set in and started to chomp on many of their fresh, delectable, new-Jamaican-immigrant backsides.
At some point in the first two years abroad (or after the first trip back to JA…whichever occurs first), many may have suddenly realized that they were nationals without a nation, a people in cultural transition. For some, this transition may have been gradual, for others painstaking, and in some cases perpetual. What do you do when Americans do not see you as American and the people in Jamaican do not see you as Jamaican? To the Americans you are an immigrant, to the Jamaicans on the island you are a Yankee…or at the very best a watered-down Jamaican! And to both you are considered to be a foreigner. This is the state we call cultural purgatory. Let’s examine this sociological phenomenon and see if we can make sense of it. We have to look at the metamorphosis of a freshly minted Jamaican immigrant to see what steps are involved in getting acclimated to a new country, a new life, and to being a new person.
By far the most telling way to distinguish people belonging to a particular geographic region is by speech patterns and oral modulation. Most people will agree that acclimation to the American way of life requires at the very least some dexterity with their phonetic habits such as the use of the American accent, understanding of American jargon and acceptance of its butchered brand of English. The younger you are the more traumatizing this experience can be, as school-aged kids (kindergarten through 12th grade) can be ruthless with a new classmate who speaks this unfamiliar Jamaican patois and startling broken English.
However, this has an upside, as the American school system is the best place to learn American speech patterns, slang, and jargon. If you are not so lucky, you may go straight to an American college where you will feel completely disillusioned upon hearing some of your classmate’s poor grasp of proper grammar and complete disregard for the rudiments of the English language. It is not uncommon to hear college students unabashedly uttering such zingers as “I brung some for you,” “what is you doing?” and, “I ain’t never going nowhere.” Many new Jamaican college students may feel completely uninspired to adapt because acceptance of this substandard way of speaking is like taking a step backwards. But be that as it may, college is also a place where the hip American speech patterns may be learned and adapted, as are much of the other cultural expressions and mannerisms that defines Americans and will prove useful to the new immigrant.
Not attending an American educational institution makes it a little more difficult to quickly grasp the speech patterns. This can cause some angst as oftentimes co-workers may have a difficult time understanding what you are saying. However with the proliferation of American entertainment all over the world (and most certainly in Jamaica) some people may grasp the nuances with little effort having attained at least some comfort level watching American movies and listening to American music. As mentioned earlier, however, in the first two years most immigrants will try possible to pick up the American speech patterns for use at the very least when they are talking to Americans.
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