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Antigua & the Home Within Me




Maya Angelou once said, "If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going. I have respect for the past, but I'm a person of the moment. I'm here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I'm at, then I go forward to the next place."


Let me tell you that I was confused as a girl and I didn't think it was important to look for the information at the time, I grew into a slightly confused adult. No one really explained to me who I was. Therefore, I wanted to be the good parts of certain things that I thought were important in life. Some examples of that are being well read, being just smart enough, just wealthy enough and able to give of myself in a way that comforts the ones I care about and those in need.


It should be said that I was heavily immersed in Antiguan culture D A I L Y from the very start. My parents were strong people separately. Unfortunately, they didn't stay together. They were proud people though. They didn't take handouts and barely ever a hand up. They had solid values, but they were unalike in every way possible. They weren't American. They were Antiguan. It was in the way we spoke, the way we cooked our food, how we dressed, the friends we had and where we chose to live... All of those things were made fun of by just about everyone. They both moved to New York in their early teens and although they loved it here, they brought a healthy helping of the island with them. I don't know how better to say that the culture wasn't presented to me in a way that I could be proud of.


I remember one of the only glorified things in the city was the West Indian Day Parade. It was the only thing that I can think of, once a year, that would make me feel pride in being that kind of different. The kicker was, that I didn't want to hold the Antiguan flag. I wanted to hold the Jamaican flag, because it was the more popular Caribbean island. Plus, their flag seemed more simple, not so many colors. It was acceptable. They were accepted. That's where Bob Marley & the Wailers were from and everyone loved Bob Marley, including my dad. People always tried to speak with a Jamaican accent. No one seemed to know Antigua then and no one thought it was cool. To Americans and everyone else, we were all Jamaican, because that's all they knew. The only reason I wanted to hold that flag was because it was accepted and there was no explanation needed.


On one side of my family, most of the people had very strong personalities and weren't extremely kind to children or each other. They left the island in search of a new life in the U.S., Canada or the U.K. There were rough hands, rough words and everyone shamed you. It seemed like the older family members who were born there had pride and maybe some of the cousins who had a good home life, loved being from our island. But not me. The other side of my family was more nurturing. They were also Antiguan through and through. Some of them left temporarily and they did so with intentions of returning permanently. I realized a long while later that this happened in a lot of cultures and with a lot of families, but certain people are more visibly divergent and easier to pick apart.


Everyone wants to be the best culture always. As I grew, I realized that being African American wasn't the best that you could be either. Whenever I traveled my ears would always pick up, "They're American" with disgust. Yet, it was all I wanted to be, but I felt like a fraud saying that I was African American and too, I felt the same when I claimed to be Antiguan. They called me a "Yankee". The song, Yankee Doodle Dandy always played in my head when it was said and I would frown, because I wasn't that.


When anyone asked me where I was from, I would launch into a full explanation which sounded something like this, "I was born and raised in New York City until the age of 11, then we moved to California where I lived until 18. I'm Black and I'm a native New Yorker. But my parents are both from Antigua."


I sounded silly to myself. I remember being a little exhausted after saying all of that. It was troubling.


Why couldn't I just say that I was Antiguan?!


I used to hate when people even asked me. Until I realized that there was a little bit of nobility in being slightly different here. Being Caribbean meant being mostly exotic. Being African American meant being a warrior in my mind. I wanted that for myself even if that meant taking the burden. I was already suffering.


By the time we moved to California, I was a preteen and I never felt more ashamed of being my regular self. My skin was too brown. My hair was too nappy, even though it felt soft like cotton (not like steel wool or crunchy like Cheetos, which is how some people tried to play me). It was the wrong color, not orange at all, but not the most appealing shade of brown. The wrong length. Honestly, my hair is still a cause for contention in certain circles. Fuck em. A kid on my school bus used to make fun of my big toe! I couldn't change a thing like that and I wouldn't bother trying. My eyes were too grown, my nose was becoming too big. My butt too high, my titties were lopsided. Definitely didn't dress right. Too damn skinny. Head too big. Teeth too big. Lips bigger than that. People made fun of the way that I spoke. I still didn't speak quite right, even though I tried my best. I remember the term "proper English". It was one of my mother's duties to get us to speak "proper English". It was about the way the tongue hit the teeth. It was exhausting. I used to think people wouldn't be satisfied until we sounded British and then they'd really hate us. No one made me feel comfortable about being who I was. If by chance, the kids at school heard my mother speak, they were shocked by her accent and would laugh or try to mimic things she said repeatedly. Keep in mind, my mom was then an officer in the U.S. Navy and went on to be a commanding officer before retiring. She dressed impeccably in and outside of her uniform. She took life very seriously and it S T I L L wasn't enough. So, a great part of me stopped worrying about how other people felt about me all together, because why even bother.


I know that there is a distinct difference between who you are and what role you are currently playing. People will always try to stymie you into the latter. Don't let them.


After high school I ran away from it all. However, you never get away completely. I settled myself in a relationship with a boy from the projects in Harlem and his family thought I was a bit bougie. That kinda sucked. I felt like I fit nowhere. When we broke up, no one cared who I was really. It was the most freeing time. I would finally say, "I'm Antiguan" and others would smile and say, "I knew you weren't from here." I wanted to tell them that I was though. By then, I spoke very well, but I still didn't feel like I should have. I was still unsure. Still felt like I was pretending. I just wanted to be Black and Beautiful and I wasn't yet. It wasn't allowed.


In my twenties, I ended up falling for and marrying Sir (by 30). His world was fast and wild. He was accepted everywhere because of his fair skin and light eyes. He'd often call himself an equal opportunity offender. He'd also say that he was white half of the week and black the other half. Of course it was a joke, because he is biracial, but it never sat well with me. As our son grew, I realized that he was extremely confused about who he was. To me, he was a little black boy. In his father's eyes, he was what he was, biracial. Back then our child was still referring to people in crayola shades. He, daddy and Nana were peach (Nana is white). I was brown or chocolate. We all lived together under the same roof and all the colors collided, but no one wanted to trade places with me for many reasons. Honestly, I didn't want to trade with them either.


One day, I was at a friend's house and my son and her nephew were playing a new video game, Xbox Kinect, I think. It scanned your body and made an avatar on the screen. My son came up as a brown skinned child, just a few shades darker than he was. He kept yelling for her nephew to move over and finally I had to point and say, "this one is you, baby" (the brown skinned boy) and he had a F I T! In that moment, I knew I had to change what he was hearing and what he was seeing. Mainly, what he thought about himself and others. My initial reaction was to laugh, but then I was deeply saddened as I held him crying like that. I had to excuse us and have a quick chat with him in private. He eventually got over it and continued playing, but I knew that I had to alter the world for him and I tried my very best from then on.


Over time and past separation (which was excruciating on everyone in my family) it was just he and I. I loved up on him solely even while my heart was broken. All the time. It wasn't all roses, but I had to get him to love himself no matter what. I realized too, that I had to teach myself the same lesson at the same time. I liked myself, but I didn't really L O V E myself yet.


Guess what...? My gorgeous, charismatic boy still got made fun of at school and lots of other places, even within our family. He spoke well, his parents did too - we showed up everywhere together nicely dressed even during the tough times. He was a much lighter shade of brown, had cool clothes and two cool parents and it S T I L L wasn't enough. What can you do?


You can love yourself and do what makes you happy. So, that's the message that I push for him. His father is more structured than that, but somewhere along the way we are all in a space to learn lessons from each other and try to show up to make sure that the other is happy enough together and apart. It works for us.


Our son is not the strongest, but he's the warrior I wished I was when I was his age and that makes both of his parents so proud.


Over the past two years, I've been going below the surface of being from a place where everyone just likes to vacation. I'm researching Antigua. I'm doing the work. It wasn't ever really my home, but it's deep within me. It's who I am. I'm finding out about the history and about my family. It's shaping me into someone I adore.


We are all from somewhere. If we are fortunate, we know where that somewhere is. No matter who you are, be authentic to yourself. You are a representation of the versatility of that particular culture. Try less to shame anyone about who you think they may be, what they look like or where they come from. You don't know and you never will. You know yourself, work on that.

Talk your talk.

Walk your walk and do it with pride. Then give a little of that joy to someone close to you. Be diligent about giving it, especially with your kids. Do it with love and watch how it grows.



Here is my List:


WATCH


PASSING






I loved reading this book more than once, but watching Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga act beside each other was glorious for me. There was charm and a little excitement of an old New York/ Harlem and two women dancing in between the hidden danger of one's life and the open complacency/ safety of the other. Identity is such a hard grapple when trying to fit into a world that doesn't really accept you while wanting the absolute best for yourself. And that ending is just as shocking as it was in writing.



The Harder They Fall





It's been said before and it will be said many times again, this movie is pure black excellence. Eloquent actors, great wardrobe, and set design, the music... the cinematography. (Kiss) Stellar. What good is a western without vendettas, bank robberies, dramatic deaths, settling scores and riding off into the sunset? If you haven't caught it yet, go ahead and do it. If you have, do it again.



Adele One Night Only





I'm sure the entire special is available somewhere and no doubt you all are capable of finding it if you'd like. I found you a nice little well rounded clip from Entertainment Tonight.


Not only is she gorgeous at the Griffith Observatory, nestled at the top of the Hollywood Hills, but she's even more stunning in an exquisite garden while being interviewed by Oprah. I mostly like Adele, because she plays by no ones rules, but her own. She also wears her heart on her sleeve and creates beautiful music about the tough and resilient times in her life.



INSECURE





This is the final season of Insecure and I am a little sad. I want to see Issa all the time, but I guess I can go back and watch everything from Season 1. I'm also slightly jealous that Issa and Molly were able to get that old best friendship back. I wish it was that simple in real life. Le sigh. Also, I do not like seeing Lawrence move on. I'm a total hater.



LISTEN




Still Over It by Summer Walker


Summer had all of us up in our feelings and we finally got to hear Ciara's prayer in its totality. Makes plenty of sense now how she pulled Russell with the rest of the recipe that is she. Get in your emotional bag and listen to this album once a day or as directed. lol



Back of My Mind by H.E.R.


If there's one thing that this cute little shaded lady is going to do, it's give us a beautiful album from start to finish. This one came out in June, but I just got around to giving it some attention and I'm glad, because it's gonna get me through the rest of the fall.



Donda by Kanye West


I wanted to listen to Kanye's album at the end of the summer, but when I saw a whopping 32 tracks, I resigned before I started. I listened to 4 songs incorrectly and decided to come back to it. This week I did just that and by the end of "Life Of the Party" I was in tears. This album is heartache in sound and now I'm stuck on it. I do not co-sign Kanye's antics nor his political views, but if Jay could put his nonsense aside and give Ye another shot, so can I. Especially over some good music. It's perfectly fine if you all don't agree. Andre 3000 bodied the track and then we got classic Kanye (think The College Dropout, Late Registration and 808s combined). It prickled every emotion in me and then he added Biggie's "Uh" and DMX's voice encouraging his daughter to be brave on an amusement park ride! R.I.P. X ("Daddy's here! Daddy's right here! I'm not gonna let you go.")


Needless to say, Mr. West knocked it out the park with this slightly gospel album dedicated to his late mother Dr. Donda West (a professor and chairwoman of CSU's department of English) and I love it.



30 by Adele


I'm going to start with the last track on this album, "Love Is A Game". It's my favorite song on the album. If you know me , you probably guessed that "My Little Love" is my second favorite, because people don't realize that you, your ex and your child(ren) go through it too. The feelings are so accurate it's scary and satisfying all at the same time. I'm not alone. This album is such a beautiful tribute to divorce. Makes you want to go on a long drive alone so you can sing, cry and feel every word of it. If you love 19, 21 and 25 then you more than likely will love 30 as well.




READ


The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones


I have to gather the right words and still, I don't think I have them in the proper sequence. I needed these books when I was a child. I needed them even more in high school for validation and sense of self. Certain things just didn't make much sense then and it's because a major part of the history was missing and or downplayed. With all the different dates and events that you were forced to learn and remember in school, 1619 wasn't among them. It was the year that the very first ship carrying enslaved Africans were brought to Point Comfort, VA. The 1619 Project shines a light on factual events that happened from that point in time until present day. It is amazing to me (also, not really) that this book is already banned from being added to a school curriculum in about 15 states. The enormity that I feel behind this project is overwhelming and has sent me down a path of research and I can't believe all that I'm finding along the way.


I wrote about Nikole Hannah-Jones' editorial in the New York Times back in 2019 and I also posted about the podcast that came out that same August. This woman is a wealth of information and what's more than that, she is in a position with so many of her colleagues to pull this storytelling of American History like you've never heard it before. It is visually and poetically stunning, extremely sad, all while being triumphant. Do yourself a favor and gift yourself or someone else this book. There's also a children's book titled, The 1619 Project: Born On the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones & Renee Watson, Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith.



PASSING by Nella Larsen


I may have posted this once before, it's such a good quick read and since I watched the movie, I had to go back and read the book again. I feel like I keep missing why Irene seems to feel ill and lethargic throughout the film. Someone please tell me. I think I keep missing that message.






On Monday evening I went with my two sisters, Tory and Chelsea to Brooklyn to kick off the book tour of The 1619 Project. To my surprise, Chelsea had tickets and invited us both to view a discussion between Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, both journalists, authors and geniuses in their own right. We made a night of it by having dinner at Loreto Kitchen & Bar, then we walked over to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music). The crowd was a buzz and there was great guidance inside by the staff. A signed first edition copy of the book was in a large, long, organized mound to the right in the lobby; free with the purchase of a ticket. I had already pre-ordered two copies of the book since July, but who could pass up a signed copy? Surely not a girl like me. Everyone was courteous and wore a mask while inside. Only the performers, speakers and guest of honor went without. Nikole Hannah-Jones made her way to her seat and the crowd filled the air with rushed applause. In pure Brooklyn fashion, the theater was filled with an eclectic mix of smart everyday people. The energy was a amazing and that was BAM's first show since the pandemic. The discussion was wonderful and I'm better for having been there to hear it with my sisters.


Thank you Chels and thank you Tors for a wonderful evening, until we do it again.



A F T E R

T H O U G H T...


This morning I had a dream about home and work colliding. The office people were celebrating in a small room with a DJ. Our families were all there. Things started getting crazy due to the crowd and all of my aunties from both sides politely excused themselves to the kitchen. To still support, but to show a clear distinction that whatever it was that I'd gotten myself into, we weren't a part of it. I wasn't raised that way. Yet, here we are in this moment and this too shall pass. I was intrigued by both. My nieces and nephews were too, but they were a little scared. They needed my guidance. I took turns scooping them up one at a time. Said a little thing to in their ear and used the flat of my thin, warm palm to guide their small head to my shoulder. With one little leg on my left hip and one on my right, tiny bottom resting on my crossed wrists, i rocked them slowly and gave them comfort. Their legs relaxed and swung with ease. I held them one by one for a long time in the semi crazy atmosphere, until it all died down. Each one waited at my legs until it was their turn to be held. They twisted the soft thin pleats of my midi chiffon skirt between their little fingers and that made me happy too.


I woke up smiling and decided to share it with all of you.



Know, Trust and Love yourselves.



L O V E,


Jas







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