Reverse Engineering a Life:
The Seeds of
An unsure young man of colour who emigrated from the Caribbean more than 62 years ago to Oshawa, Ontario left Jamaica with few markers of identity. He had moved from rural Clarendon to live with his paternal family at 6 years of age and lived with his aunt who agreed to care for him after the death of his father.
After the second great war which featured fanatical patriotism, bigotry, jingoism and genocide, pro social idealism seemed the obvious starting point for renewal for a frightened world, weary from war. In 1945 the United Nations, the embodiment of the ideals of global cooperation was formed to work towards avoiding another generalized conflict.
The spirit of the post war years, the zeitgeist, emphasized responsibility of even the smaller parts of the world, towards fostering conditions that promoted global harmony and development. Parochialism and narrow regional or local interests were given somewhat lesser value by the educated, right-thinking middle classes. This Globalist outlook would last until 2016 when geopolitical instability caused by civil war, terrorism and growing economic inequality created the conditions that led to the reversal of policies of openness and inclusivity and a return to nationalism and isolation.
One uncle’s work in agriculture and rural community development in Jamaica found the attention of the U.N. Thom Girvan was seconded to the U.N. to work in Chile and in Ecuador in the decade of the 1950s. This uncle left a Jamaican and returned a Jamaican as well as a citizen of the world.
Seven years before Jamaica’s independence, the young immigrant to Canada in 1955 carried a passport as a British subject along with pride in his uncle and this ideal of citizen of the world with him to his new home.
My Shifting Identities
Seemingly Durable/Consequential Identities:
- In the Caribbean I was: male, Jamaican, coloured light skinned, heterosexual, Christian Evangelical
- In North America I was: male, Jamaican, coloured, light skin and I became: Immigrant, student, teacher, black, Canadian, heterosexual and I exchanged Christian Evangelical for agnostic.
- In late life: I gave up Jamaican (see post scriptum below) in exchange for Caribbean, retained Canadian, exchanged agnostic for spiritual humanist a la Deepak Chopra, and since everything is subject to change with a few gestures or interventions, my previously assumed unalterable gender identity of male is being altered by hormone replacement therapy for metastatic prostate cancer, I am being transgendered, emptied of testosterone, morphing chemically and voluntarily becoming my own sister. Ah, the plenitude of life!
- Notable constants over a life time: musical identity, the American songbook and Jazz, Crooners of the 20th century, American sports, NFL, NBA and MLB
(Confrerie) Transitory/Temporary Markers/Inconsequential Identities:
- Athlete, Cricketer, Soccer player, Sport fan, Toronto Maple Leafs, Argonauts, Ottawa Roughriders, BC Lions, New York Giants, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Seahawks, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors
- I find that I can characterize my identities as reflecting the notion of a mosaic in which I am a part of a buffet which has unfolded in front of me. I have a curious relationship with the U.S.A consuming voraciously popular culture and sports of the 20th century. The hold that the U.S. exercises and has exercised on my attention excludes political America which, in my estimation still seems to harbour dark tendencies transmitted from unresolved divisions from the past. Consequently I do not trust Uncle Sam and his agenda of exceptionalism.
Post Scriptum: After emigrating from Jamaica in 1955 I have long realized that I was no longer a practicing, participating Jamaican, except in some nostalgic parts of my aged brain. I do become periodically, magically transformed especially every 4 years when the Summer Olympics stimulate my athletic hormones and reawakens the Jamaica in me. Otherwise when I go back to Jamaica I am treated as a guest or as a tourist, as it should be 63 years after emigrating.