Hello, I’m Chinese Jamaican.
What does that mean?
It means that I was born to Chinese-Jamaican parents who raised me with Jamaican traditions and culture. I grew up eating ackee and saltfish for breakfast on Sunday mornings after church. I listened to Bob Marley and Willy Williams before I listened to Britney Spears. And I understood Patois since I was a young ‘Pickney’.
At the start of this internship, I knew I wasn’t going to see Jamaican culture from a fresh new lens. I knew I wasn’t going to experience things for the first time alongside my fellow interns, so I felt like I had to push myself beyond the novelty of the first few weeks. When I think about what I’ve struggled with through my experience, the socioeconomic divide is what comes to mind. Although I work as a sexual and gender-based violence Intern with EVE for Life (an organization whose goal is to break the norm of sexual abuse in Jamaica while tending to victims on a psychological level), I also interact with my family members who reside in Jamaica. Their realities are quite privileged, and so, I’ve struggled with finding a balance between the two. Understanding that the issues our girls face at EVE are an extension of the socioeconomic conditions in Jamaica, I often feel like an overstretched rubber band being pulled and tugged in opposite directions, when I know that many of my family members’ businesses have a stake in the socioeconomic outcome. Witnessing and experiencing two Jamaican perspectives confuses my identity and makes me feel forced to pick a side - my family vs. the issues I care about.
When I feel overwhelmed about my identity crisis, I think about stories my parents have told me about their childhood here. When my mom was 6, she was in charge of the cash register at her family’s candy shop. On her ‘break’ she would take a nap in the nearest cardboard box. My dad used to climb trees and collect mangoes for his family. At home there is a picture of him hanging from a tree and I hope to replicate his actions in the near future. (Like father like daughter, after all.)
These stories remind me of my privilege, which is rooted in their modest beginnings before immigrating to Canada. Their lives also directly affect the work I do. Although it is important for me to use my privilege as a tool to help others, it is also meaningful to use my privilege to invest in a country that affected the way my family grew up.
There are times when my physical appearance speaks louder than the way I feel or think about things. Many ask me, “Miss Chin, you going to open up a new shop here?” To which, I chuckle and shake my head. It’s hard to explain to others who I am or why I’m here, amongst the variety of assumptions I receive every day. Therefore, it’s difficult for me to communicate my intentions and create connections. Ah, but I persist. The workings of social justice and international development are like climbing Blue Mountain. It’s long, agonizing and when you think you’ve reached the top; you’re really only half way there. And it isn’t too long before you have to continue upwards, one step in front of the other, wondering if the goal is near.
Zoe Chung is working as a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Specialist with Eve for Life in Kingston, Jamaica.