Sometimes I feel so fed up of wondering what box to tick that I think I should just leave it blank, just for the hell of it. I mean, I was born here in England but if I had a pound for each time I have been asked ” And where do you come from?” I’d be a millionaire by now. Jamaican English says a lot more than Black British,which sounds like we are all lumped together with no cultural identity. African Caribbean is slightly better as this refers to ancestral links with a continent and a range of islands. Jamaican English defines my heritage and where I was born and is a term I have chosen for myself, not one that has been forced on me. And don’t even mention Afro-Caribbean, Afro is a hairstyle and as you can see, I do not have an Afro. In fact I have never had one even when it was fashionable, my hair then was too short.
My parents left Jamaica, well , Dad came first and then sent for Mum, with the thought of only staying for a few years. They were young people, full of hope and ambition and with no intention of growing old in a foreign land. And let’s get another thing straight, people from the Caribbean in those times did not come here on a whim, this was in response to a recruitment drive from England. They came prepared to work and boy, did they work AND face unwanted emotions whilst enduring different living conditions.
We Will Do Our Best…….
Large tropical flowers full of rainbow hope
Adorn bodies of treacle chocolate caramel
and forests of black head silk escape from
soft petal bands
snow crisp shirts with razor pleated trousers
compliment defiant felt feathered crowns
eager to show they were ready
Smiling with no fear,
Radiating a perfume of island remembrance
With an aura of excitement
With their youth and passion
Strong backs and sun blessed hearts
They came in their height of fashion
In garments meant for Sunday Best
They left behind
A life well known
They left behind
Miniature versions of themselves
And came with
Communal aspirations of success
To work, to learn, to save
To achieve all this in five years
And then return home again
And we left
We didn’t stay no time
The messages they were given
Were not relayed to the host community
The recruiting officers
Should have been more truthful
Should have been more open
From a small island in the sun
To a larger island in the grey
Only countless chimney stacks
spewing dust to darken ancestral kissed skin
so many houses, so little space
We Will Do Our Best…..
Imani c 2011
My parents left four children behind to pursue this dream and as a result, when they had me, my sister and my brother, we were and still are referred to as ‘The English Ones’.
Even now I can feel the coldness of that day. I know I don’t look too happy but I was cold and couldn’t see my mum amongst all the other people, I wanted to cry. I loved this dress, so pretty with tiny embroidered roses and stiff with petesheen petticoats. I didn’t like the cardigan Mum made me put on to hide all this loveliness. I had on a pair of silvery, sparkly shoes that made me feel magical, they were so beautiful. I remember teasing my baby sister the night before the wedding, saying something along the lines of ” I’ve got these and you haven’t” and gloating that she was not a bridesmaid. Mind you, when she was a bridesmaid at another cousin’s wedding a few years later, she didn’t crow like I did, just went about with a large smile on her face. On the big day, she looked really pretty in a golden silk-like full length dress with a large bow at the back, ah…
We lived in a large house in Kennington, that I seem to remember as being full of people all the time. There were several families living there, each family had one room and the staircase seemed to go on forever. I can still see the yellow table that we had in our room which was by a window.We moved to Lewisham after a while, where my parents had bought a house.It seemed so huge and empty, all this space, all these rooms just for us. And before anyone gets out of their pram to ask how could they afford it, please note that this was due to the Jamaican community saving scheme called Pardnah. For some people saving money in a mattress is fine, but a group of people saving together with regular distribution is even better.
I could never understand why we were called ‘ Coloured’ back then. To my child’s mind, this meant stripes and swirls of all the colours of the rainbow, not various tones and shades of brown. It Just didn’t make any sense to me. But it wasn’t something I worried about, I was too busy trying to have a good time despite having to do chores and keep an eye on my sister and brother.