I was born in the greatest part of the greatest city in the world: Jamaica, Brooklyn. Okay, not exactly, but when you’re born into a strong Jamaican family based in a neighbourhood where everyone seems to identify with each other culturally, it seems like that's your entire world.
I remember my early years of elementary school thinking everyone had the same upbringing I did. Take breakfast for example: I was raised in an ackee and saltfish, porridge, dumpling, provisions, hard dough bread, bun and cheese house. Thinking everyone had this for breakfast, it wasn’t until a day in second grade when I made my first Haitian friend, Joanne, who told me she’d never had any of the food I’d regularly eaten for breakfast. This was my first experience with culture shock. I was so confused as to what it was she ate instead and it didn't end there. I didn't understand what it meant to be African-American, as both of my parents are of Jamaican background, so when another friend told me she ate grits and sausage, I was floored.
That morning, I learned that the world was so much bigger than I had known it to be. I mean, I knew I had to board an airplane thing to get to the “actual” Jamaica where there were tall palm trees and it was never cold. I knew the difference just based on how the air smelled, but I don't think it sunk in that this wasn't the same place as home. So many things were the same but so many more things were different! How?! Cultural differences didn't make sense to me because I thought my norm was the same as everyone else’s but boy was I mistaken.
As I got older I understood the difference between East Flatbush, my neighbourhood; Brooklyn, my borough within the city of New York in the U.S, and that Jamaica was its own country. At that point I was back and forth between both places pretty frequently but it still blew my mind how one place could be so similar to the other, despite their distance. In East Flatbush you could find relatively the same things you would in the market in Jamaica. I can recall my great grandmother—who was born in Cuba but moved to Jamaica once she started a family—teaching me Spanish and the difference between the flags that represented who she was.
One of the most beautiful parts of growing up in Brooklyn as a child of the diaspora is carnival, commonly known as the West Indian Day Parade on Labour Day. Ever since I was five years old, Labour Day was my favourite holiday. There was a huge party on every street, with so much food, music and floats. I usually sat on the shoulders of older family members, but I remember there were flags everywhere and the infamous abundance of Western Union bandanas.
Jamaicans are the largest group of American immigrants from the English-speaking Caribbean and it isn't a secret. There are very few places in New York City that you can visit that do not have even a small Jamaican presence. There are communities and cultural representation from Long Island, Queens, to The Bronx, where hip-hop’s father, DJ Kool Herc, migrated to from Jamaica with his family right before creating the most important musical genre of all time.
If I were to say that my love affair with Brooklyn wasn't mainly rooted in the representation of my Jamaican culture, I’d be lying. I’ve lived in other places, but it was never the same. There simply isn't anywhere else in this country that you could take a ten minute walk (tops!) to find a bottle of D&G, Ting, Grace ketchup, tin ackee, varieties of saltfish, fresh hard dough bread, bun and cheese, mixed CD’s, dollar vans or a heated argument laced in Patwa, at the same time as being able to appreciate other cultures around you. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Real bodmon deh ah Brooklyn.