What Does it Mean to be a Caribbean-American?: Chris Daley
A Journey from Cultural Schizophrenia to Winning Wholeness
Caribbean-American, the hyphenated identity may enlarge your title, but it can give one BCS (Borderline Cultural Schizophrenia). Sure, it is easy to enjoy the spicy foods, go to the cultural events, and wear the alluring fashions. These are wonderful external expressions. The more difficult, yet enduring quality is to possess a heart that thinks and a head that feels full with one’s personhood, shaped by our cultural influences. It is to journey into a growing comfort and inner confidence in which we are fully alive without being a prisoner to the expectation of others.
I have a favorite story of Far East origin that I will adapt to capture the essence of finding one’s true identity. As the story goes, an orphan lion cub was adopted by a herd of goats. He did all the normal goat stuff, eat grass, bleat their language, etc. Then one day, the king lion appeared on the scene. All the goats scattered, except the orphan cub. The cub was not certain what he should be feeling, fear or friendliness, so he kept his head down, and continued to nibble on the grass stubs.
The king lion barked at him asking about this ridiculous goat masquerade the cub was involved in. The cub did not know how to respond, so the king took him over to a nearby pool, and let him view both their reflections side by side. The cub still did not get it, so the king gave him a piece of meat. The cub initially spit it out in disgust. The king gave him another slab of meat and ordered that he give it a fair try. The cub gingerly complied and started to chew. His taste buds warmed to the new diet. Finally, he started digging his claws, and wagging his tail. The young cub finally raised his head and the jungle trembled with his thunderous roar.
As Caribbean-Americans we find ourselves somewhere along this lion-goat spectrum. Some choose to live with a surface identity, not really delving deeply into personhood, but merely surviving the life circumstances. The mantra is, live in the land of goats, be a goat.
Then there are those who nibble grass that neither nourishes nor satisfies, but know that there is a latent roar inside awaiting its liberating expression.
So how do you get to a place of wholeness? What developmental roadmap can be used for this journey?
It has been said that 80% of what we do is directed by our subconscious mind, so we need to begin with being purposeful about our operating system. We need to nurture our guiding system with a determination to be fully alive and leverage the strengths of our heritage.
The symbol of the coconut tree within our Caribbean consciousness gives me an object to emulate. The coconut tree possesses two aspiring characteristics: roots and reach. We may remember the song about coconut water being good for your daughter, but O the tree!
You will find this tree striving in an environment of sand, salt, and rocks, where most other trees are absent. When the fury of the hurricane comes, and all other living things scamper for the tall grass, there is the coconut tree, bending but not breaking under the storm’s battering force. Its lanky regal body, its flexibility while remaining rooted, its ability to minimize its exposure to the elements, and it’s craftiness in allowing the fury to pass through it which such championship qualities. When the calm and sunshine returns, it is the first to say welcome back!
We live in a world where category five storms pound our being in so many arenas of life. Our staying power will be determined by our ability to be like the coconut tree.
As a Caribbean American, I want to be fully embracing of the unique perspective my heritage has afforded me and to provide a compelling voice in a society seeking solutions to a chaotic world.
About the author:
Chris Daley is a Caribbean-American whose roots hail from Jamaica. He is a patent examiner at the US Patent office and provides small business marketing solutions with focus on internet marketing. He is a blogger at Jamaicans.com where he focuses on education, entrepreneurship, and profiling of individuals who are making a difference in community development both in Jamaica and in the Diaspora.