“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
This week saw the birthday of my firstborn, and, as such things often do, sent my thoughts back to my early years in Miami, when big roads with wide lanes carried large gas-guzzling cars. It was the time of Jimmy Carter’s economic discontent and Iranian showdown. I was not long arrived from nursing school in England, and still adjusting to life in these United States. The birth itself was relatively uneventful. There was the usual discomfort of the nurse asking my (Black) husband if she could help him since he must have been in the wrong room, waiting to see his (White) wife.
I had never thought much about the significance of giving birth to ‘mixed-race’ kids. I was in love with my high-school sweetheart, we got married and had a family. You could say I was naïve. It didn’t take my daughter long to question her father. She cited all of our neighbors, Black husbands with Black wives. How come you married Mommy? He handled the question, but he had never shied away from controversy, and had long been drilling into his kids that regardless of their outward appearance (looking more Puerto Rican than anything) their roots were in Africa. Their ancestors had been trafficked to the West Indies and America, and that is how they should always see themselves.
It led to some difficult conversations. In elementary school, when they were to draw the Pilgrims arriving on Plymouth Rock for a Thanksgiving poster, he would insist that they include the Africans chained up in the hold. ‘But Daddy,’ they would protest, knowing that their teachers weren’t ready for confrontational wokeness. He did not define himself as Jamaican, despite being born there. No, he was an African (not African American either). He surrounded himself and them with books of African history, with a painting of Kwame Nkrumah, with friends who believed whole-heartedly in Garvey’s teachings; in Pan-African politics; in radical discussions. It was not always easy, but the children would grow up to be aware of their history, and not confused in any way about which side they aligned with in the struggle for equality.
Of course, they did not grow up in a vacuum. They had cousins with Jamaican roots and cousins with British/Welsh roots. They had Aunties and Uncles from both sides. They visited their grandfather in Jamaica who lived in the country with no hot water, no telephone, and no cable TV! Ask them about their icy cold, five minute ablutions if you wish! Their British grandparents visited them regularly, bringing gifts from the UK.
I am happy to report that they have turned out to be well-balanced, whether this is in spite of or because of all of the above. They move easily between all worlds, and are comfortable sitting down to (or preparing themselves) a plate of ox-tail and rice and peas Jamaican style, or hanging out with African American friends that they grew up with. They listen to classic reggae and hard-core rap. Somehow, they have navigated the tricky waters of colorism and being first generation Americans, in the melting pot of South Florida.
Those who choose to migrate away from immediate family often create new, non-blood relatives where they land. Friends become Aunties. Friends of my kids ran through my home calling me Mommy. You create a network, a support system of your own choosing. And although there are many times when you wonder what if, suppose you had chosen not to migrate, how would things have turned out? Last week I quoted from Gibran on love, this week it seems appropriate to use his advice on children: ‘You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts…’
Writing a blog is a bit like throwing a pebble into a lake but not seeing the ripples. You never know where your words will end up, or who they may touch. My first volume of Friday Morning Messages (because there will be more when my life settles down) was published not long before my mother died. She ordered several copies, and sent them to various of her friends and at least one cousin of mine. I met that cousin at my mother’s funeral, and she shared that it had comforted her as she reflected on her own journey. She had married a man of Chinese descent, and had raised their kids in Taiwan. She had often wondered whether their decision to raise them in Taiwan rather than the UK had been the right one. Reading my essays on growing up and absorbing the Jamaican culture, my ability to move between the two worlds made her feel that they had made the right choice.
I often admire those who live with passion and purpose, dedicating their life to a cause. I wonder if mine is to be a bridge, a connector. It is amusing to wonder this, as if I am still wondering what I will be when I grow up! This morning I would like to send out thanks to all of the women who have helped me along the way. As I was waking up from a dream this morning, I heard the quote ‘some people come into your life for a reason, some for a season, some for a lifetime’ and thought of all of the people who have contributed to the lives of my family. I give thanks for all.
On this cool Florida Friday morning, I remember with love those early days of family life and give thanks. I hope that our human race will evolve into one of acceptance and love for all of the varieties and diversities of backgrounds and cultures, with respect and justice for all. Or watch out for that great big melting pot that will eventually turn out ‘…coffee colored people by the score’ (shout out to Blue Mink, circa 1969!).
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!