Heritage and Vision
September 11, 2009

Our Heritage: A Better Life – Part Two

I was pregnant, trembling and standing before a judge. As he called my name again I struggled to separate my identity from the bitter struggles of the years behind me. I had been chewed up and spat out by a system that like most other human inventions was perfect in its intent but flawed in its execution. In my pursuit of a better life I had found myself homeless and destitute.{{more}}

Records indicate that in 2006 at least 50,000 Vincentians left the island, many of them in search of a better life. An exodus of people searching for a land flowing with milk and honey and streets paved with gold. There are those of us who are so resolute in our pursuit of greener pastures that when we are hampered by ‘red seas’ we do not await any divine intervention, we just start swimming.

There are Vincentians who leave the security of their country to become part of the sometimes dangerous underworld community of illegal immigrants; Vincentians who have felt forced to do things they never imagined they would do, just to keep a roof over their heads; Vincentians who enter into bogus marriages to secure their stay in another man’s country and the list goes on.

As an immigrant I have experienced the constant struggle to obtain and secure the legal right to remain in a foreign country. I have heard, first hand, the accounts of men and women who left our country, in the pursuit of a better life – including those who joined the armed forces and ended up embroiled in a battle they could not understand and fighting the very system that they defend and protect with their lives.

Yet many will say that our experiences and struggles pale in comparison to the earlier immigrants who were invited to the UK in the late forties and during the fifties. Those who walked into chants of racist insults and strolled along streets paved with nothing but grey pitch and lined with houses that said “no dogs, no Jews, no Blacks”. Some became mental casualties of their pursuit.

Actually, there may be a tiny bit of truth in the notion that “when people go to England dem does come back crazy”. A number of studies have been conducted on mental illness amongst Caribbean people in the UK – including a recent fact sheet by leading mental health specialist ‘Mind’, which “provides much evidence to indicate that African-Caribbean people face disproportionate discrimination and disadvantage. These have a significant impact on their life chances and a detrimental effect on their mental health.”

I was standing before a judge and I had to ask myself what was so terrible about the land of my birth that I would barter my inheritance of security and personal peace, for this tribulation. So many of us have endured so much! For what? A better life?

In the UK the present government has struggled to convince its population of the benefits of having a migrant population and the issue of immigration has always been a thorn in its flesh; especially with pressure groups like Migration Watch UK constantly pointing out that if the current rate of migrant intake (which they claim to be one arrival per minute) were to continue, the population will expand beyond the boundaries of its resources of land and services. They say this despite the fact that the 2001 census represented all ethnic minorities at just about 8.3% of the total UK population.

The point is though that many UK citizens – especially in the wake of the global economic crises – fail to see the benefits of immigration. However, for some immigrants, both legal and illegal, there are educational, economic and perhaps certain social benefits which could probably not be obtained in our small island. Whether or not these benefits add up to a better life is another matter.

The fact is, many Vincentians migrate and go on to great achievements. The contribution of immigrant remittances is perhaps crucial to our economy. The issue is whether as Vincentians we feel that our ‘life’ or lifestyle is inferior and that what exists out there is always better.

I would just like to point out that crime, economic challenges and social problems exist everywhere today and that as an immigrant you could also find yourself having to face additional issues like social displacement and racism. It is also a fact that many Vincentians who remain in the country or who return after educating themselves achieve equally or greater than those who migrate.

I was standing before a judge and I heard him declare that I had won my right to remain in the country. I had poured all my resources, financial and otherwise into the battle and I thought it was over there but it was just the beginning of a journey. Today as I sit here writing to you I sigh and close my eyes to a vision…. A view of heavenly sunshine illuminating majestic, emerald mountains, crystal rivers and azure seas; I feel the gentle embrace of my community as I walk through a village and greet the many faces I know; I experience the joy of a spontaneous beach lime… things that I can never experience up here… and I know that no matter where God leads me I will never forget my birthright, my heritage of a sweet Vincy life…. The better life!

Ava Browne is a Vincentian freelance journalist and creative writer based in the United Kingdom.