Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Captive in the Concrete Jungle

Also known as how being in North America changes West Indian folk.

Where do I start? Ok straight to the point. I honestly don't know many West Indian folk who came to North America on their own and don't have some horror story about dealing with their family already settled here.

Teenagers, small children, young adults, older adults almost everyone who came here from the islands alone and were told before they came that 'oh such and such cousin or uncle or auntie will take care of you and look out for you' only to end up way over their heads in drama with said relative. Why is that?

When I first came here I thought it was just bajans but talking to persons from other islands I've realized that it happens amongst all of the other Caribbean nationalities as well.

When one comes to a new country leaving the familiar to embark on a new life one does not need unnecessary issues to deal with. The average West Indian will go to a country or city where he knows someone or has family already living in order to make the transition a bit more bearable. (Lets call the person newly arriving the new immigrant and the person who was here for a longer period the prior immigrant.) Its already a trial for the new immigrant dealing with the racism, cold, strange manners and antics of the new country without having to deal with family drama. They expect that the camaraderie that they are accustomed to in the Caribbean will be the same here in North America. The prior immigrants here will look out for you and get you settled and on the path towards that adjustment to big city life in the cold or not so cold of North America depending on where you're going to reside.

So why is it that this ideal never seems to reach realization because of some unforeseen drama. That cousin, auntie, uncle, friend isn't how the new immigrant remembers them from at home, they've changed or they made promises to the new immigrant when he/she was considering where to go to study, immigrate, work that they now are not keeping. They were so easy going when you met them whilst they were on vacation back home now they are so mean. They said 'yea doan worry 'bout it man, I got everything sort out, you can stay wid me and I will look out fa ya. All you got to do is worry 'bout getting the plane fare to come afta dat ya covered.' That and other likely assurances are given so what happens?

When the new immigrant got to the country he/she found a completely different story. The prior immigrant/relative nit-picks, cusses, even abuses the immigrant over some issue real or imagined until a wedge is driven in their relationship. On top of dealing with the culture shock of being in most cases a minority in North America, the poor immigrant has to deal with family drama. He/she is suddenly a burden to the prior immigrant. How did that happen? What happened to the sense of community , the feeling of family, of looking out for each other? It suddenly evaporated didn't it.

Why? Here is where I introduce the concept of captive in the concrete jungle. I cant take credit for the phrasing, one a me sistren gave me that term today, but it basically means that the environment of North America erases the small town, small country behavior where one looked out for one another. Family and friends once tightknit are now in the concrete jungle and take on the mannerisms of its captives. Individualism overwhelms the family and community mindset. The new immigrant comes here expecting their family to be as nice to them as they remembered or as their other family told them they would be or as they pretended to be on the phone. Sorry! You were hoodwinked,....bamboozled.....Led astray.....Run amok to paraphrase Malcolm!

Your parents may have raised their siblings or your uncle may have paid the school fees of his nieces and nephews back home or this person may have shared a pair of pants with your brother growing up and ate at your table every day but don't expect that sort of family togetherness here.

North American life stresses individualism (not a bad thing if you were always a really individualistic person like me) so suddenly you are a burden on that relative. They can't wait to get rid of you, put you out of their home, get you to return home, stop you from calling them all the time, just get you out of their hair someway by hook or crook. Here its every man-jack for himself.

I was going to make a point about the unfamiliarity of distant relatives but it doesn't reinforce this blog so fill in the gaps yourself. Actually I will make that point regardless of its impact on my thesis. The point is that its impossible to actually know how these things will go because usually their has been limited interaction between the parties prior to the new immigrant arriving. Lets face it just cause its your mother's sister or father's cousin you are going to be interacting with in this new setting doesn't mean that they are going to be like your mother or father as the case may be. We are all individuals. Also even if there was a lot of interaction in the Caribbean setting the North American setting is completely different and influences the interaction once the new immigrant arrives.

Does this mean that the North American environment is responsible for bringing out selfishness in the individual? Was that selfishness always evident in the person's behavior but never really noted or did it never emerge until they reached this country?

I'm not sure but I do know that many of us West Indians come here with hopes and dreams but aware that there is a struggle to fulfill them. The only thing is we didn't really expect that part of the struggle was going to be dealing with our own kinfolk.

Of course some folk come here and they don't know what to expect or they expect that its going to be a lot easier than it actually is. In this case, the prior immigrant may be upset with the behavior of the new immigrant and strike out at them in an attempt to make them realize that they aren't back in the Caribbean anymore. In most cases though regardless of the mindset of the new immigrant the interaction with the prior immigrant is tense and filled with awkward situations.

Maybe it helps. Maybe it toughens us up for survival in the concrete jungle but maybe it also turns us into captives who will one day repeat the same cycle. Whatever it does one thing is for certain it destroys a part of our upbringing; our community spirit. Its every man for himself and survival of the fittest I guess.


Abeni said...

Good post and so true.I have always wondered what it is that makes North American relatives act like that.It is all good when you show up for a holiday but the moment its long term they start showing a difference face.Most times they conveniently forget that they were the ones who urged you to move out to so called greener pastures.Then immediately they start pushing you to adapt lifestyles that you have not been accustommed to and then get frustrated because you are not moving as fast as they would like you to.Added to that there is always some threat hanging over your head like you going to get put out etc etc.North American society is just not my cup of tea at all.

Campfyah said...

Look, I like reading yuh post, ,but ah can't tek on dees long post yuh...I too old fuh dis....

Anyhow, my 2 bolivars..... I was fortunate enough not to have encountered this type of behavior from prior immigrants, as my prior immigrants was my mother and grandmother and I was too glad to leave the wicked aunties and cousins behind...but that is another story.

However, I can relate on a new immigrant that came to visit us and decided that they wanted to stay( yuh know dem extended 2-3yr vacations) anyhow, knowing the situation in small island home. our family decided, that it wasn't a bad idea. Treat the new immigrant well, feed, clothe and take care of them to the best of our limited abilities. Encourage them in the ways to further themselves and try to mek do in the new concrete jungle. All is well, that ends well right???? Wrong....in less than a yr, new immigrant meets up with some friends and decides that they know all about the concrete jungle and don't need family anymore. Then the reverse happens... new immigrant do as they plase, moveof of family surroundings and go bunk at lovers and friends...next thing there is a child involve, neither parents (both new immigrants) have a job or home and the story goes from there. Family still trys to play a role, but decides that new immigrant is an adult and leaves it be. So now after 6 or more yrs, new immigrant is in no better position than if they were still in small island.

Jdid said...

well camp you was lucky you went to ya mudda na grannie, that is different. is when ya go to the aunties and uncles and cousins that you get the drama.

I also understand what ya saying bout the new immigrant that you took in but that is a different case since you guys didnt invite him to leave his home and come to north america. some fellas duz come up here and feel that everything will be given to them on a gold spoon and that they shouldnt work for it. the person you talking bout soun like dat

an anudda thing what wrong wid the blog size? i is a bajan we got nuff tak, brief aint in we vocabulary :-) i cant rush the important topics