“We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice, owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human community.”~ Haile Selassie.
My grandmother was born in Patagonia, Argentina. Her parents had traveled there in the 1880’s or so, along with a boatload of other Welsh hopefuls, having been promised the opportunity to build a home in land that looked much like Wales. Unfortunately, it turned out that the only things that the land could support were sheep (with which they were well familiar), and it wasn’t until they bartered with the Tuhuelche people that they were able to irrigate the dry land and learn how to hunt and be able to survive and even thrive. There is still a strong connection between their descendants and the motherland, with Welsh tea shops selling the Welsh bread ‘bara brith’ and surnames like Jones and Llewellyn sprinkled among the Garcias.
I have never traveled to Argentina (although I must, one day), but my father followed on in the tradition by moving his family from the UK to Jamaica. Fortunately we didn’t have to barter or learn how to farm inhospitable land, but like his grandparents, we made the place our home. I will never forget the first time I returned to Jamaica after a gap of fourteen years. The sights, the sounds, the aromas all seemed to be turned up to highest volume. Colors were brighter and of far greater variety, whether it was the flowers, the fruit, the clothes, the buses, or the houses. Up in my friend’s home nestled in the Blue Mountains, I felt as if my soul reinflated after being flat for many years. The food! If you haven’t eaten a home-cooked Jamaican breakfast (by the way, every Jamaican is the best cook in the world – just ask them!), you have not lived. Ackee and saltfish seasoned to perfection; slices of breadfruit and gummy yam; a fried dumpling or two; all topped off with a steaming cup of Blue Mountain coffee. Sitting there you are carressed by a cool mountain breeze; and enchanted by the view of the doctor bird and other humming birds darting and hovering, dipping their long beaks into narrow openings to sup on the finest nectar. And always within sight, the folds, pockets and ridges of the mountains, wisps of clouds playing hide and seek.
The story of my own immigration was not as immediately pleasing. My memory of first impressions of Miami is of a loud, sprawling city, full of flash and glitter. Neon lights seemed to adorn even the simplest of establishments. Cars were huge, and roads were even wider to accommodate their gas guzzling size. It was years before I came to appreciate the areas of art deco architecture: geometric buildings over on Miami Beach that mimicked ocean liners; clean lines and interestingly shaped windows. That was before the ‘beautiful people’ took over, and revitalized the crumbling structures, turning The Beach from the place where senior citizens came to live out their last years to a bustling, thriving place of clubs and roller bladers.
When I discovered the Everglades I found a chunk of nature that was the antidote to the madness of the city, a calm, peaceful sanctuary where you could pause, spot herons, roseate spoonbills, egrets and of course an alligator or three. South Florida may not have mountains, but there were compensations. I was not a big beach fan, but wide open spaces could restore my soul.
Although I feel I have a right to call myself a citizen of the world, there is no embassy where you can go and apply for world citizenship. Yet. By accident of birth, many of us are trapped in one place, unable to move far. Others try to move far away from their place of origin, pushed by crime, poverty or war, and then meet up with bureaucracy. They may manage to overcome all of that, and then meet up with prejudice and cruelty.
Last week the midterm elections in the US gave hope for the first time that that people wanted a return to human decency; a validation that the nation should move forward, respecting the rights already established, and valuing the messy process of democracy. After watching politicians callously exploiting fear and bigotry for personal gain it was refreshing to see a majority of the electorate send a loud message. A lot of what has been missing has been the values we were taught by our parents: respect other people; show kindness to those who need help; think of others, not only our own selfish needs. Glimmers of hope.
What made my family able to move across the world and settle in foreign lands was a respect for the people they met there, a willingness to learn from them. It takes an attitude far different from those of the colonizers and opportunists of previous centuries, people who assumed superiority and rights over indigenous people. Humility, love of common humanity, and a desire to learn from others goes a long way in reversing the oppression of prior ages.
This Friday morning I give thanks for those of my ancestors who dared to move away from the known into the great unknown, to become a part of one community of world citizens. And if where you have moved to isn’t that pretty, be sure to seek out a national or state park to go and explore and restore. The world is still a very beautiful place.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!