Google satellite image of Jamaica

Michael Nattoo

It’s been a while since we’ve settled in and simply had a conversation, and it seems you have the time now, so indulge me for a minute or two? Thanks. There’s a question that’s been on my mind – what does Jamaica mean to you? Does the word ‘Paradise’ still come to mind? Are we still a friendly people? That may not seem at all important to you right now, but I’ll make a case for why it should be. Truth is, I’m too young to remember when Jamaica was ‘paradise’. And if I’m to, against my better judgment, call it a paradise now, I’d need to drastically redefine what a paradise is. Do you understand? I’m sure others may share that sentiment too.

The point? If we aren’t who were, the path to forging a new identity to the benefit of all becomes our only way forward. Any step forward not in service of that objective is a waste of energy and time, and will only see us ultimately being left with nothing as a result of not having any clue of who we are. Identities are important, not merely because they distinguish us, but because they define and direct us.


Remember when we couldn’t escape the perception of Jamaica being an island of Rastas all selling ‘jelly’ by the roadside? Let’s not forget the signature ‘Ya mon!’ to go with that ‘Irie’ image. Well, do you think that image remains now that we’ve since added ‘Murder Capital of the Caribbean’ to our name? How about that multiple States of Emergency thing as well? That’s not very paradise-like one bit. The obvious conclusion then, in light of all that rambling, is that we are in need of a new identity, desperately so. We are in need of one that reflects who we truly are, just so that we can all march to the same beat, forever forward.

We are what we consistently do, so here’s how our actions have been subconsciously shaping who we are becoming – we no longer prioritize life as much as we do profits. Yes, I know I sound like an overplayed tune with that declaration, but evidence of this is almost everywhere. Remember how we came to declare St. James’ first State of Emergency? No? Well, crime came too close to our dollars – our tourism dollars to be specific. The impetus for that declaration was not primarily because of the over 300 people (locals mostly) we lost because of crime and violence, but because had decisive action not been taken at that point, we could have had a national crisis on our hands, effectively and permanently damaging our relationship with Uncle Sam, and thereby damaging our precious cash flow. We couldn’t have that now, could we? Fast forward to the State of Emergency being declared, and, sure enough, there came concerns about how we would be perceived on the global scene. That’s valid, but my position was that valid concerns surrounding our global image were thrown out the window when we allowed crime to wreak the havoc that it did on our people. I could go on, but I imagine you’ve already gotten the picture. Profits over people has become a part of who we are. I guess.


Here’s the other thing we’re doing – not caring enough about our tertiary education graduates. Again, I sound like a broken record, but I don’t care, to be honest. Each year, thousands of these tertiary level graduates are leaving these institutions, with ridiculous amounts of student debt, with not many options to sufficiently handle their new realities. Reasonable employment is not immediately available, and so the alternative then becomes the increasingly popular call centre jobs. Complain about not wanting to work there, and you are force fed with the one-shoe-fits-all response to being dissatisfied with government employment options – START YOUR OWN BUSINESS. There’s some merit to that, but let’s not ignore the existing hindrances to that process, despite attempts being made to solve them. Stuck between that rock and a hard place, our graduates turn their sights to either Canada, the US, or any other country that will have them. Sometimes that works, and then at other times, it doesn’t. Should we decide to stay here and ‘tough it out’, we are left to contend with the reality that ultimately, innovation is not incentivized, neither is it sufficiently rewarded. Welp.

There’s more to be said, but I think we’ve rambled on long enough. This is who are becoming. We are not yet there, which means there’s a chance to change, but that’s the path we’re on. We can change our future now, we can assume a new identity, we can redefine our success, but we have to do it now. Jamaica is a beautiful place, but until we fix what’s wrong with it, it will remain a far cry from the paradise we, the younger generation, were told it was.


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