Growing up in the Caribbean Pt 1.
How was it like to grow up in the Caribbean.....well, every morning I woke up to the sound of exotic birds chirping outside my beach house, I opened my windows to feel the ocean breeze hit my face. For breakfast I had pineapples and coconuts because that is all we eat. Did I mention I'm Jamaican?!
Obviously I am being totally sarcastic right now....but actually these are REAL thoughts that people had when I moved to the US and told people I was from the Caribbean. For those who don't know better, their view of West Indian life is far from the truth. So today I thought it would be fun to go over what it was really like to grow up in the Caribbean, specifically on the beautiful island St. Maarten.
So for the first part of this blog- I wanted to address 5 of the most frequently asked questions I got when I moved from St. Maarten to the United States:
1. "Oh, so you're from Jamaica."
If I had a dollar for every time someone jumped to the conclusion that I was from Jamaica simply because I mentioned the Caribbean....I would be rich.
This has really happened to me countless times because Jamaica is probably the most known Caribbean country. Truthfully, I wouldn't expect people to know all the Caribbean islands but I think it's important not to jump to conclusions because there really are a lot of other islands such as Anguilla, St. Barths, Saba, St. Lucia, Dominica....just to name a few.
St. Maarten/St. Martin is a lovely example of another island. We are so small most globes don't include us or we appear as a tiny tiny spot. It's actually the smallest land in the world to be divided into two nations. Nevertheless, the island is full of culture, beautiful beaches, and friendly people. I wouldn't want to be from any where else.
2. "Wow, really, your english is so good"
My family and I have had this said to us when people learn that we are from the Caribbean. While some islands in the Caribbean have different languages such as creole or patwa others speak english! St. Maarten is unique by the fact that it is split into two sides, the French and Dutch side. These two languages are spoken but english is actually used the most throughout my island.
Caribbean people also have their own dialects, slang, and accents but a lot of us are able to dial those back in order to be understood when talking to non-island people. For example the main industry in St. Maarten is tourism so almost every local will be in contact with tourists, for these reasons we have to practice speaking english in the way that they will understand.
3. Where's your accent?
West Indians are known for their unique accents and lingo that is a part of our culture. I've never had a thick accent even before moving because...I simply didn't. I went to private school where my American teacher literally stopped me from saying "ting" to saying "thing". My mom thought it was important for us to speak grammatically correct, so between my American private school, talking to tourist at our family business, and speaking "properly"...I began to sound more "American" than Caribbean.
Literally kids on the playground would ask if I was from the states and my cousins would change their accents to play with me...which is hilarious looking back now.
When I'm back on my island or around my family my accent does come out more and sometimes people I meet can actually notice it. Again I've never had a thick one but I do have a slight one.... sometimes.
Since moving to the States I sound really really American now, I think this has to do with the fact that I stopped using a lot of phrases or words because people here don't say them. So when I'm around fellow West-Indians I love to hear our lingo again....we really have our own language like we could fill a dictionary! Haha someone needs to make one.
Not having a strong accent... truthfully it's actually something that I would feel really bad about because people would make me feel like I was somehow less West Indian than them because of my lack of accent, but over time I've learned to just ignore them.
The way I speak does not make me any less West Indian.
4. "Why did you move here from there"
I think I got asked this question more times than the Jamaican question. I totally understand why it was asked, trust me I ask myself this when its below freezing outside! Leaving paradise may seem like a strange move to some, but for our family it was the right decision. We moved for better education and opportunities, and I think we've surly got those. There aren't really any options for further education on the island, instead after high school students who want to go to college go to France (French side students) or Holland (dutch side students) or US/Canada (private school students). My mom really wanted us to have more opportunities and this move was something that was possible for my family.
It was a sacrifice, we left our home, our family, our friends, everything we have loved and known. I may sound dramatic...but it was dramatic. It was the most eventful thing to happen in my life, and it wasn't easy and it still isn't easy being away. But seeing where I am now just five short years later and seeing how proud I've made my family makes the homesickness totally worth it!
5. "Do you eat pineapples and coconuts?"
Another question I was asked...funny thing is I actually dislike both pineapples and coconuts. Pineapples don't even grow on my island, but we do have other great fruits. Genips (pictures below) are my favorite, my great grandma had a huge tree in her front yard, I couldn't wait till they were ripe so we could climb the tree and eat them all day.
We also have starfruit, mangos, soursop, sugarcane, tamarinds...omg I wish I could have some right now!
We all make assumptions about places that we don't know well- in fact I made a lot of assumptions about what life would be like in the US, a lot of those thoughts coming from what I saw on Disney channel and High School Musical but that's a topic for another day.
If you meet someone that's from the Caribbean you can use it as a opportunity to learn about the island that they're from, there are a lot of things that make us all alike but there are always differences and things to learn.
I hope that you enjoyed this humorous part one of "Growing up in the Caribbean". In part 2 I'll be getting more personal and describing how my childhood was on St. Maarten featuring lots of pictures.
Click on the picture below to read Part 2!