Just over ten years ago I was at home (in St. Kitts) and I saw a mixed race looking womon standing in some residential area that I was driving through with my mother. I asked her who she was*, my mother said, she was probably Dominicana and that St. Kitts was now having some milk added to its coffee.
In the last ten-fifteen years this has changed significantly.
- Children and grandchildren of Kittitians who left in the 1930s to work in the Dominican Republic in the sugar can industry are returning, some would say seemingly in droves. Of course like most places we claim that “these” people are here illegally completely ignoring their rights as citizens. Though many are dark-skinned and blend in until they speak revealing a Dominicana quite a few are “light skinned with nice hair”. They like all immigrants are being blamed for: stealing jobs from Kittitians by charging less than a Kittitian would
- eating up resources meant for locals e.g. education and health
- and specifically for the women
- “stealing” men from their wives
- introduction of sex work (gigantic laugh)
- Though this predates the fifteen years, there was a long history for Guyanese, most noticeably of Indian descent working on the sugar cane industry in St. Kitts. Their arrival too is accompanied by a similar narrative as above.
- I remember the Chinese restaurant opening while I was still in secondary school. It was exciting. Now there are at least five restaurants and two supermarkets owned by Chinese nationals (whose numbers are increasing). Both of which are always packed with Kittitian people.
- The opening of Port Zante (shopping complex on reclaimed land) has brought the opening of jewellery stores owned by Indians.
- The university tourism which has increased dramatically with three at least off-shore US university setting up shot on the island sees an influx of European-Americans, Indian-Americans and a few African-Americans and Africans who stay far longer than any other tourist would typically stay.
The selling of our country to meet international debt has brought what was for at least me and unexpected; an uglier side to our people which reeks of our lack of love for ourselves and our fear of losing what little we have. For islands that claim to be melting pots the addition, appearance of people of who do not blend in to the predominant group may not be apparent. The implications however are grand. There are two grand ones I want us to consider. Racism and stereotyping are becoming increasingly common place in less theoretical ways. Discrimination against locals in favour of people who are perceived to have more money (read white) is rampant on a level we’ve never seen before. Our already warped sense of self as a result of the history of colonialism and now neo-colonialism is getting worse as what is attractive is now concretely and attainably light skinned with “nice” hair.
Immigration is challenging both for the newcomers and the people of the host country. For people of the host country, I implore you to deal with it. The same narratives that you employ for them- job stealing etc. are the same narrative others employ for the many of us that do leave to live and work elsewhere. These narratives erase personal histories, motivations and complex reasons for departure and arrival and instead only focus on privilege. I am in no way negating the privilege that many are exercising in being able to/having left their home countries but we cannot discount the challenges they face in moving to a completely new country.
Though we should not focus solely on the privilege we must acknowledge the advantage in being able to apply for economic citizenship, set up a business and move entire families. The seeming dogged work ethic which we envy (/use when it’s to our advantage e.g. construction) often puts as at a disadvantage to compete economically. Let’s not show our resentment to the people but lobby for our government to alter policies that privilege new nationals over locals. I know this is shaky ground but here I am talking about things like loans for local entrepreneurship and innovation versus caps on the number of non-nationals who can get citizenship.
I am doing my best not to read an anti-immigrant and instead as someone who recognises the need to support both local and immigrant communities. So for now I struggle with finding ways for thinking and acting through the increased milk in the coffee that aren’t hurtful to those who are there or those who have come/are coming/will come.
*For context, St. Kitts’s population is somewhere around 40 000 97% of which is of African descent, it’s the sort of place where people don’t necessarily know everyone but you know of people, and know mutual people and where not being a person of African descent, or even a light-skinned person makes you stand out.