I conducted my interview with Vivenne Farquharson, a child care worker in Brooklyn New York, using video chat. Vivenne has been a legal temporary worker in the United States, on and off, for about a decade. She typically works or four months, then returns home for 6 to 12 weeks before returning again. She was born and raised in Jamaica, and she continues to return home in between work permits and positions, and her household in Jamaica is dependent on her. I asked Vivenne how the culture where she lives and works in Brooklyn, and in the United States generally, differs from that of Jamaica.
According to Vivenne, the main difference between America and Jamaica is diversity. In Jamaica they have the motto Out of Many One People, but most people are just varying mixtures of African, Chinese and Indian ancestry. Most, except for perhaps the Chinese community, simply thinks of themselves as Jamaican, and follows Jamaican cultural practices. While there are a few Muslims and even some mosques, the denominations of the Christian gospel church are recognized as the dominant religion. Dominant cultural practices include the food that is prepared for everyday meals, and things like that, so there is very little diversity. In Brooklyn, she described it as being very cosmopolitan. She could eat Greek, Lebanese, Italian or East Indian food and interact with someone who is a Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, or Hindu, or speaks any number of other languages, or follows practices dissimilar than her own. It took some time she stated to lose her expectation that everyone had the same understanding of the world and values that she has, but over time she has come to see this diversity as a very good thing. She thinks that Jamaicans would have an advantage if they embraced diversity, instead of entrenched ideas of conformity. Another one of the main differences is the perception of life in America, and the perception of Jamaica. Vivenne explained that in Jamaica, most of the foreigners that someone might meet are from the United States, and they tend to be people on vacation. This forms a sort of image of what foreigners are like, and what kind of lifestyle that they have. This leads many in Jamaica to have a kind of economic jealousy of Americans because the wages are much higher, even though the costs of many modern products is much lower in the United States. This is despite the fact that most Jamaicans would not be willing to work a forty hour week, as is normal in the United States. Vivenne also pointed out that far more Jamaicans are self-employed in small scale business, since entrepreneurship fills the gap when there are few jobs. Self-employed persons are not typically engaged the way someone is busy in a full-time job in America.
Something else that was different in Jamaican culture was mandatory modesty in government offices and public institutions. For example, Vivenne said that it was impossible to go into a post office or hospital in a tank top, or a shirt made of mesh, or shorts, even if it was an emergency. There was a dress code for such places that had to be followed, and this was practiced throughout the island nation. In America, on the other hand, children did not usually wear school uniforms, as long as a person was wearing a shirt and shoes they are unlikely to be denied service, and there is no need to dress up on Sundays as they do for going to church in Jamaica.
When I asked about what she missed about Jamaican culture, Vivenne described great differences with food. For example, there are many foods that Jamaicans are simply fearful of, but they are eaten every day in America. This is very true of mushrooms, for example. Maybe because most mushrooms that grow wild in Jamaica are poisonous there is little interest in eating anything that contains mushrooms. She described the foods that she grew up on as being simple foods cooked over on open fire or grill, including pumpkin, sweet potato, callaloo chicken, rice and peas, and a coconut sauce that she refers to as rundown. She said that it was very hard to find these kinds of foods in America unless she made them herself, and she found the American diet to be very greasy, with an emphasis on french fries. I also asked Vivenne what she wished Americans knew about Jamaican culture, and she sighed and said that there was an emphasis on marijuana, reggae and the Rastafarians that was not really representative of normal and everyday life in Jamaica.
I asked Vivenne if she wants to go back to Jamaica, and she says that she feels lucky that she spends so much time in both places. She has family in Florida that she is able to see regularly because of her travel to work, and she is able to enjoy the best of each culture. She thought that if she lived full-time in the United States she would feel very lonely, but she enjoys her current situation. She also said that where she retired would depend on her children. Currently she has a daughter who is living in the United States, and a son who is living in Jamaica, along with an assortment of grandchildren. She thinks it could be either America or Jamaica, or continued travel between them that she felt “keeps her whole world together”.
- Farquharson, Vivenne. “Personal Interview”. via Facebook video chat. September 23, 2018.