March 16, 2006

Flip Flops and T-shirts

I admire the Miami Dade College Chess Club, and it’s not just because I work at the North Campus. These students represent what’s best about our college. We take cast-offs (or if you prefer balseros) and build castles.

I also like their (what they call in my neighborhood) chutzpah. They are taking on colleges and universities whose players wear penny loafers and blazers with colors and emblems that go back to when Jose Marti was a boy, and they are kicking ass and taking names while wearing T-shirts and flip-flops* .

But don’t let them fool you. They also come with a sense of pride and history. They all know about Capablanca, and based on their study of past masters, they know the strategic and tactical value of each move on the board even though they are playing a new game. (Chess as Buddhist practice?)

I am also writing this with a lot of envy. This team of primarily young Cubans has really turned the chess world on its head in a game that is noted for its abstract strategy.

So, while we continue to play dominoes (a game that is defined as game of chance with yes, some strategy, but not the level of multiple intelligences you need to play chess). young Cubans are playing chess and dominoes in Havana and Hialeah. And their ability to play chess well is honored within the culture. It’s expected.

We (Jamaicans), however, are still expected to excel in the physical arena and (to use Professor Nettleford’s term) as minstrels. Sure, we can run fast (prerequisite for any fowl tief), sing, and have a bobsled team of which we are proud, but do we really expect our children to excel in intellectual and/or artistic arenas? Honestly?

Yes, there are within the diaspora intellectual and artistic way showers, but they are always viewed as “the ones who made it despite the odds.” And there you have it. Their intellectual/artistic excellence wasn’t expected. They must be different from the rest.

We’re not. In my own case, even when I was playing the prodigal son, I still knew what the expectations (Jamaica College was, after all, my alma mater. But what about those of whom nothing or nothing good was expected?). When I was finally given or created my own opportunities, I jumped in feet first. Expectation meets opportunity. It’s not a coincidence that Miami Dade College’s motto is “Opportunity Changes Everything!” The Miami Dade Chess Team exemplifies this.

*The flip-flop and t-shirt image (also a part of their psychological strategy) illustrates the Caribbean spirit that does not rely on external trappings to prove our genius--“we wear our garments loosely.". We can jump up to Calypso and read Camus, for we have grown up in the shadow of Eleggua or if you prefer Papa Legba or Anancy. Thus, we are forever (to use a Dubyaism) misunderestimated.

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