A Question of National Identity


Photo by Kyle James/Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Kyle James/Wikimedia Commons

The usual phrase “the children are our future” has increasing importance nowadays, based on the numerous challenges that our country faces on a daily basis. Natural born leaders will emerge, but my interest lies in the thoughts of the masses. Do they see themselves as Jamaicans, proud of who they are and of their history, culture and magnificent accomplishments? With the strong presence of  telecommunications and its advancement in the past 20 years through social media, the Internet  and cable, there are numerous avenues for other cultures to be viewed and appreciated.

One worthy undertaking was Jamaica 50 — On a Mission. The entire country — whether through the display of colours on buildings, along street posts, on pins or shirts, or at public events — engaged in a movement to “big up” their country. The collective pride was  overwhelming. It felt great. Then the year of Jubliee ended and all the excitement evaporated. I wondered if any of this generated a positive interest in our youth. Did it allow for at least one chest to be pushed out and thumped? I hope it did. As we continue to invest in our youth, we must all be mindful that they have competing interests.

I grew up with the benefit of watching JBC Nightly News reports on apartheid in South Africa and communism in Russia. Both international situations made me realize that, though I didn’t have a choice as to my nationality at birth, I was happy to have been free. I was proud to be Jamaican. In school, this was reinforced through the knowledge of the Jamaican symbols, the cursory history of our National Heroes, the reciting of the National Pledge and the singing of the National Anthem. Coupled with going to the Pantomime, reading Miss Lou’s poems and listening to the annual Festival Song  Competitions all shaped my outlook.

My identity was tested while I was visiting abroad; it become tiresome to count how frequently I was asked,“Where are you from?” with a look of fascination. It turns out my accent was the giveaway. Now it may seem like an ordinary thing, but be honest — how many people do you know whose accent shifts gear and takes on a new personality, even before they have left the airport? A most recent example is at the movie theatre at the singing of the national anthem: the chatter, the texting, the body movement or the blatant “I will not be standing” rebelliousness speak to how we react to cues in exhibiting national pride.

I know there is freedom of choice and the inalienable rights as a citizen. I like the feeling of belonging somewhere, having an identity and knowing my heritage. Maybe it is from the interest of Caribbean history or the shock of receiving a document identifying me as an “alien” for immigration purposes. But I feel a sense of pride to let my flag fly, representing my country and just knowing I come from a strong people who have struggled and persevered.

Photo by Jmex60/Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Jmex60/Wikimedia Commons


On a Mission

These small matters combine to form a bigger question – if a person cannot see themselves as part of the whole, would they respond to fight for the survival of this country? Survival in the sense of staying within the confines of Jamaica’s beautiful shores, or becoming a member of the Diaspora. In reference to the former, how willing and able will the youth be to play a proactive part in putting their stamp on Jamaica’s collective:

  • Responding to produce a society of creative, hardworking individuals, set with a purpose and the ability to think for themselves.
  • The drive to create sustained solutions in an impartial and transparent manner.
  • To understand that Government is not a set of individuals but that every citizen has a voice and rights.
  • To employ creative ways to make their country competitive in a global environment.

The list is endless, and I know this mandate has been chanted  since Independence. But one voice chanting begins one chorus, and one chorus becomes one song. To the youth, forward you must stride, for forward you must go.

— RushMORE