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The Jamaican Wanna-Be’s

November 28, 2008 by · 2 comments

Joan Gumbs

Photo: laurenmanning

I see them everyday – the Jamaican wanna-be’s. They walk around dressed in dreads, they smoke ganja (calling it marijuana), they play dancehall music (at ear-bursting decibels), and they’re “close friends” with Bob Marley.

A few months ago I was walking in Manhattan when I was approached by one of these wanna-be’s. After a brief conversation he exclaimed, “you’re from Jamaica, aren’t you?” So what if I am, I asked him. “I’ve always wanted to go to Jamaica,” he continued, “but I don’t have that kind of money.

Perhaps you could take me to Jamaica with you!” Yeah right! What do you take me for? A traveling recruiter seeking misfits for the army, maybe? Better yet, what does he take Jamaicans for? Of course, anyone raised in Jamaica will tell you: You never ask people these questions to their faces.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a “wanna-be.” I too have played the role many times. There was a time when I was a Caymanian wanna be, a pianist wanna be, a soccer player wanna be, a wanna-be soldier, even a wanna be housewife! Usually for someone to wanna be anything there has to be an attraction – something fascinating about the culture; the game; the company; the lifestyle.

When I was twenty-five I wanted to be a housewife. I saw myself married with four children. I imagined living in this huge house with a big backyard and a gorgeous husband my friends would die for. I wanted so badly to be a housewife that I actually made it happen a few years later. The difference between fantasy and reality is that reality sucks!

When I was in the Cayman Islands in the early 90’s I wanted to be a Caymanian. Back in those days I would visit the Cayman Islands two or three times for the year. I envied the lifestyle of the Caymanians and so I wanted to appear Caymanian. They had the perfect weather, the fancy cars, the idle lifestyle and the beach…you would have to see it to believe it! Pre-Hurricane, the closest beach I’ve seen that compares to the beach in the Cayman Islands is the Negril Beach in Jamaica!

The fascination I think was the fact that these people were not highly educated (they’ll resent me for saying this!), but they drove the best cars and lived well. Why? Because they were in top paying jobs that would have required a higher education in places like the United States. For that reason many Americans can be found living “the life of the idle rich” in the Cayman Islands.

Mind you, the Caymanians don’t have much of a culture; or perhaps I should explain. Cayman is one of those islands that was once totally uninhabited. Therefore, everyone with the exception of modern-day Caymanians, are immigrants, so they brought their own culture. There were so many Americans, Jamaicans, British and Europeans that you could count the number of native-born Caymanians on one hand (gross exaggeration). Another thing I was fascinated with was the myth (or reality) that Cayman was a drug haven – you know, lots of money laundering! I think I only got over wanting to be a Caymanian when I fell out of love with a Caymanian I used to date!

Then I was a pianist wanna-be. When I was a pianist wanna-be I would go by my grandmother’s, more often than usual, to play the keyboard. My grandmother had one of those Casio that you buy at Sam’s Music store for a hundred bucks. I was awful. My grandmother tried to teach me but my expertise went only as far as “Jesus Loves Me This I know.” My grandmother said I didn’t have an “ear” for music. I realized that being a pianist was not as easy as I had imagined it to be.

Of course, the Jamaican wanna-be’s don’t usually go through my drama. Rarely do you find someone marrying into the culture to be a Jamaican – although I have heard stories! A few weeks ago one of my colleagues (another Jamaican wanna-be) was leaving a note for our manager when he decided to “spice it up” with a few Jamaican “bad words.” Of course, the manager had no idea what it meant, and I was not amused when I was called upon to translate. He too, however, is a Jamaican wanna be – always singing Bob Marley songs, and trying to speak patois.

Now that’s the worst – the Hollywood Jamaican wanna-be’s trying to speak patois. It is hilarious to watch these reruns of Steven Seagal movies and other movies, in which these actors are trying to speak patois and act “Jamaican.” Cool Runnings, the story about the Jamaican Bobsled team, comes to mind. There are so many talented Jamaican actors – just watch he DVD for Passa Passa, Rude Boy, Third World Cop and the classic, The Harder They Come, starring the legendary Jimmy Cliff.

Couldn’t they have gotten one of these “real” Jamaicans to portray the Jamaican bobsled team? Mind you, I loved the movie, but watching Leon trying to speak patois was such a painful experience, it made me wanna be a movie star – just to show them!

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