The content of a recent post on my “Bajan accent” prompted a number of comments from my friends, and forced a confession out of me – I wasn’t actually born in Barbados, nor did I spend the first few years of my life here. I moved to Barbados when I was a few years old, and did primary and secondary education here before moving onto England for tertiary and postgrad, as well as some work. Ironically, this prompted a question that I was discussing with someone else a few months ago, and then again last week – am I REALLY a Bajan? And what exactly defines what a person “IS” in terms of how they identify, both with a country (ie whether or not I am Bajan) and within that country what group they identify with?
So to go along with full disclosure, here is my confession. I was born in Curacao, and my mum was from Aruba, while my dad was from Barbados. I then moved to Canada, where I lived for a few years before our family returned to Barbados, and so my Bajan life began. In reality, I don’t remember anything other than growing up in Barbados, but there is definite photographic evidence of me in Canada. Growing up here, we moved to a few different places, before settling in the Ivy in St Michael, and I completed primary school while living there, as well being there for my time in secondary school, and a year of work, before heading to England for university. Confused yet?
While living in the UK, I met a number of persons who originated from different places, and ended up in the UK. Some of them were born outside the UK and moved there for secondary school, and a couple of them didn’t even speak English until they were in their teens, and sometimes there is almost no trace of their foreign accent, while other times it is overwhelming, and affects their pronunciation of letters that may not exist in their native tongue. I thought that would depend on what their first language was, but it seemed not to matter, it seemed to be more dependent on how strongly they related to "home". In addition, I found that while some of them identified strongly with the place they were born, no matter how little time they had spent there, others embraced their new country without any hesitation. Even on returning to Barbados, I met persons who strongly identified with the culture of a country that a parent was from, even if they had never lived there, or spent very little time there.
And then there is the issue of sub culture within the country. My sister loves to say – “there are two Barbadoses” (although in my opinion there are more than two) and this is something I was discussing with a friend the other day when we took the conversation a step further, to ask the question – what does a person even mean when they identify with a particular background or nationality. Are there specific cultural norms or behaviours that everyone from that place feels they have in common? Is there anything that ties people together other than name, passport or place of origin? What does it even mean when I say “I am a Bajan”?
When I started to think about this, I realized that I could not even answer the question for myself! On the one hand, I love giving people at immigration (anywhere) my passport. They always smile, and ask about the beaches (or more recently if I know Rihanna) and it gives me a surge of pride. On the other hand, there are traits and behaviours that I sometimes associate with “being Bajan” that I feel completely out of touch with, and have little interest in cultivating, and I am sure that everyone feels that way, no matter where they come from. While in discussion with a friend of mine from a mixed background, she said to me that she likes to think that there should be a place for anyone who identifies with being Bajan to feel as if they fit in, and that being Bajan may not mean the same to everyone who identifies with it, and I definitely agree with that. As far as subcultures go – it may be your school where you really feel a part of the group there, or a neighbourhood or district.
As for me, when I really think about a sense of identity or belonging, as confidently as I can say I feel Bajan, I can also say that so much moving around also often has left me feeling nomadic, homeless, and as if I don’t belong anywhere. While I identify with many traits that I think of as Bajan, I also identify with many English-isms – having spent so many years in England. And indeed, I have often found that the persons I have the most in common with are those persons who have mixed backgrounds and lived in numerous places over their lifetime, regardless of where those places might have been.
I also know that some persons hold their identity strongly both with a home country as well as part of a larger group. I remember meeting a young lady when I was at university who was surprised that I didn’t recognize her as being Jewish, and she said to me that while she was most definitely Jewish, she also was definitely not religious, out of principle. Similarly, when I worked in Tanzania, I met many locals who told me that they could tell me exactly where in Africa I was from, as my features resembled a particular Tanzanian tribe. They couldn’t understand why I said I was from Barbados. They felt that while I might have grown up there, deep inside I am African, and I thought that was interesting – that was my second visit to Africa by that point, but it wasn’t a place that I felt tied to. Equally, I have never been back to Curacao, and while I was born there, I don’t feel any ties there at all, while there are some Bajans and persons from the Caribbean, who strongly feel their African ties. I suppose that for each person it is a matter of personal feeling.
On that note, to those who have left their birthplaces and lived elsewhere – where do you identify with? What about those who have parents from elsewhere but never actually lived there? Or persons who may identify culturally and by birth with the Caribbean – do you feel ties to Africa? I look forward to your responses.
In the meantime, I bring you big love from a small island.
PS Above is a photo I took when I was in Scotland several years ago. Beautiful place!