Old White Guy: So where are you from ?
Me: I’m American.
OWG: No but where are you really from.
Me: Well I was born in New York.
OWG: But you have some type of accent, where are you from?
Me: The suburbs of New York City?? Long Island and New Jersey.
OWG: You know what I mean, where are your parents from.
Me: They’re Jamaican.
OWG: So you were born in Jamaica, wow when did you come here?
Me: No I was born in New York. I’m American.
From my experience, being born in America does not mean you are American to some people. Personally, I am part of the first generation of my family to be born in the US. My parents are Jamaican. Before I was born in the 90s they both came here, my dad in the 60s and my mom in the 80s. By the time I came around my dad was a regular New Yorker, and my Mom was in the process of becoming Americanized. There were some things about Jamaican culture that still resonate with me — I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother and Aunts who still lived in Jamaica when I was a child — and I took frequent trips there, but in the end of the day I was an American child, an American Born Jamaican if you will.
Though a lot of people question my heritage when I say I am American I will still say it. My parents would not have changed their whole life to come here so that I could be a Jamaican. America is the greatest country in the world. No matter how bad we think our politics is or our economy is, or our distribution of wealth or lack of is, this country still has one of, if not the strongest economy in the world. Ups and Downs aside America still draws on people from other countries who want to succeed. The fact that in this country if you work hard, you have a better chance of making it than in most other countries, where you will surely need to come from some kind of money to make it, is what draws people to this country.
America has always been a refuge to people who need it, a place for a new opportunity, and a place in which no matter what type of familial background you were from, you can thrive and grow. However America has a history of not welcoming new people into the land. While Italians, Germans, and others of European descent let go of their language and much of their culture to become a new America, this seems harder for people of color and non-europeans to do. Even White Cubans, who are the majority in a city like Miami, tend to keep their Spanish language, and a lot of their culture, making Miami less like the traditional white America, and more like a more successful version of Cuba. Some representatives from non-white groups such as Asians have expressed feelings of never being really involved in the United States.
Of course the biggest story of racial immigration comes from Black America, people who are not immigrants at all of course, who came to the American South by force, and became refugees of slavery in the American north. With no ties to Africa during the slave trade, these people were forced to create their own American subculture. Though Black America may not be often tied to American culture, the history of Black America is one of the most important stories to tell that describes how the American culture was formed.
My culture combines that of the Black tradition and the immigrant tradition. My family has a mixture of races, and my Grandmother is not a black woman, though all her children are. The Caribbean has a strong history of slavery like the US, but slavery in the Caribbean was not a practice in Nation building. Those black people born to immigrant families in the US tend to feel like they need to make a distinction between themselves and Black Americans whose families had to struggle through Jim Crow and racial politics of the US. This makes many children of Jamaican parents feel more like brown people than black people, not only because of the immigrant experience, but because of the strong colonization techniques ingrained into our culture.
The easy and true answer to where I am from is easy. What people expect me to say is the difficult part. I cannot say that I am a Jamaican, because I have not had the experience of growing up there. I am an American, but many do not want to accept the reality of what being an American means. I am Black, which everyone can see, but often find it easier not to acknowledge based on their own experiences. The feeling of not belonging to any race or nation or creed can be difficult to cope with. Feeling alone is inevitable. But no matter what people want to say, I will always be proud to be an American.