I’m An Islander, but Not Jamaican or Haitian

That’s it. I’m renaming my staff editorials to “Things I Learned in Spanish class.” I was thinking about which aspect of being an international student to discuss today, when my professor’s words rang in my head again:

“Not everybody eats tacos.”

A couple of weeks ago, she was talking to a classmate who planned to travel to Spain and made a mistake about the currency, confusing the Mexican peso with the European Union Euro. She corrected him, joking that they are different places. Then I started thinking of something that comes up with me all the time – where I’m from. I was born and raised on St. Maarten, then part of the Netherlands Antilles. I’ve always been just me, but here I’m from “the islands.” Which? 

Usually, the one wrong one/group: Jamaica, USVI/The Bahamas. I laugh it off, play the three-islands guessing game and then usually talk a little about home. But that’s just me. Several friends complain about people mixing up their identities. It’s not just in America. Friends in Europe have the same issues. Someone even made a Facebook page, “No!! I’m not JAMAICAN OR HAITIAN!..there’s other Caribbean islands you know.” It has 11,102 fans by the way. 

In the Caribbean, identity is important and very much tied to your ancestry.

It’s also a great place for stereotypes. Growing up, nobody wanted to “be Haitian.”

People just believed immigrants from some islands were crooks or mean-spirited and so on. Don’t ask me where that started. You can understand why some people aren’t happy to be confused with others.

Just the other night at a potluck dinner, one guest, a proud Trinidadian, wore a “Trini to the Marrow” shirt, which though unique to her island, exemplifies that Caribbean pride. Barbados’ motto is “Pride and Industry.” You get the idea.

“The islands” are as individual as the people who live there. For instance, back home, 106-plus nationalities share the island peacefully, and crossing the ceremonial border takes you into a different country – all on 37 square miles. That’s one of our nuances. Other islands have their own: the Dominican “bush” and election season in St. Kitts. I actually recommend that everyone take a year off to island hop through every Carnival in the Caribbean/South America.

I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to – sometime after skydiving, which I’m doing either January or February.

Trust me, you do that, and you will realize once and for all that not everybody eats tacos. Saltfish, however, is universal.