Raven Lemon’s Interview as Told by Chelsea Batista
Kicking it in Kingston
I was born in Kingston. And I lived in Saint Catherine. I lived with my aunt, because my mom worked all the time and my dad already lived in the US. My aunts were very religious. I lived in a two bedroom house. It was very nice considering what bad parts of Jamaica were like. It was roomy and clean and I was the only child that lived there. My aunts had kids, but I’m literally the baby of everyone in the family. I have a cousin that’s one year older than me, but she lived with her dad. So, she was not around a lot unless she was visiting my aunt. And my other cousins’ children would come over on some weekends, but I basically lived alone with the adults. It was quiet sometimes, but it was nice.
I left Jamaica for a better life, I guess. In Jamaica you have to pay for everything. Elementary school, high school. College is like a hundred thousand dollars a semester. Every form of education you have to pay for.
I was twelve. I came to the US by myself, but my dad and my grandmother were already here. I moved in with my grandmother. They already lived in NY which is why I came here. But, I’ve been to NY before, and it was alright. So my expectations were realistic. I mean, it was a nice place to visit but I didn’t really want to live here. I basically moved because my parents said to. When I first moved here, I was sad because everyone I knew was back home in Kingston.
I’ve lived in the same apartment since I first moved here. I still live with my grandmother. She’s been living in that apartment since 1995.
The culture shock? Yeah, it was hard in the beginning. Especially because of the accent thing. Everybody would always say “you have an accent, oh that’s so cool” and I would get confused and say “No, this is how I’ve always talked.”
It’s not a big difference in diversity though. They have diversity in Jamaica too. People are actually surprised when I tell them that I knew plenty of white Jamaicans back in Kingston.
Connections: You Make Some. You Lose Some.
When I started school, I had one friend. Her name was Norjean. She was Haitian. I actually had a couple friends. There was Norjean and Jennifer. Then there was Carlos, this Ecuadorian guy. He was pretty cute, too.
Outside of my grandmother and my father, were my junior high school friends
I didn’t have too many friends. Actually, even in high school I was kind of a loner until I joined the lacrosse team. Then I made some friends. But, in the beginning, I was too busy missing my friends back in Kingston to think about making new friends. I got over that eventually and I’m all the better for it. Now, I don’t just have friends, I have an extended family, a huge flock of sisters from my sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi.
Struggles: Americans and Their Weird English
It wasn’t so hard adapting to life here, or school.
Everything that I learned in 8th grade, I learned in Jamaica before. Usually when you move here from another country, they put you back a grade, so I just stayed in the same grade I was in, so I was fine.
There was no language barrier. I spoke, read, and wrote English back in Jamaica. But, I grew up learning British English. So the transition from British English to American English was hard. Like, when I would write assignments for class, they would always say things like “this doesn’t make sense” or “that’s not a word” when it was. Like “learnt”, the past tense of “learn” is a word in British English. But American English it ends with “-ed” so they say “learned.” So I had to readjust my writing and speaking a little bit, but not by much. By the time I got to high school I was good. By the end of my first year of school I was pretty much okay actually.
I miss my family back in Jamaica. My mom is still there. I went to see her last summer; I usually go to see her in the summertime. I miss my friends, my high school friends in Kingston—high school starts in 7th grade in Jamaica—and I miss high over there, although it’s really just my friends that I miss.
I do sometimes think about moving back to Jamaica. But I don’t think I will. I don’t know, life is just so hard there. When I first moved here, I missed it and I wanted to go back. But now I have a life here, I’ve made roots here, and there are just a lot of little things that are keeping me from going back.
But let’s clarify this right now: I have all the pride in the world for Jamaica. Without question.
Jamaica Hasn’t Changed, But I Have.
When I go back, they treat me like a tourist. They always try to feed me and fatten me up. And they always make a big deal of me coming around. They get so happy. My aunts and uncles and my mom.
I talk to my mom twice a week. It’s hard living far from her. I miss her. On holidays especially. Like Mother’s Day is coming up and I won’t be able to see her and that makes me sad.
I don’t think I have changed much since I’ve come here. My family has always been very religious and I am still very religious. I go to church every Sunday and I enjoy it. I am Pentecostal.
But, when I go back to Kingston they always say I sound like a Yankee from living in the US so long and speaking American English. That is probably the only thing I’ve lost of my culture from Jamaica.
Things are a little different in Jamaica. They celebrate Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. When I first saw this holiday I was just curious why I had no school and why my grandmother was cooking so much. Now it’s something I celebrate every year. Easter is still a big deal. In Jamaica, Easter is a really, really, really big deal. It’s probably the one day of the year that when the whole entire nation goes to church.
Word to the Wise
If I was talking to a prospective immigrant, I would say it’s a good place, New York. You just have to not get caught up. A lot of kids come here and forget their roots. They get all mixed up in what everybody else is doing and they try so hard to fit in. They change how they act, they forget their culture. Just be you, don’t change for anybody else. Just be you and don’t forget where you came from.