Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Why we migrated from Jamaica

Published:Monday | June 13, 2022 | 12:12 AMLester Hinds/Gleaner Writer
Tony Gray
Tony Gray
Franklyn Dunn
Franklyn Dunn
Professor Clover Hall
Professor Clover Hall

As Jamaica prepares to host the 9th biennial Diaspora Conference from June 14-16, a wide cross section of Jamaicans roll back the curtains and disclose their reasons for migrating.

Whether because of failed personal relationships or for job and school opportunities, these Jamaicans were determined to improve their lives and livelihoods. Here are a few accounts.

Clover Hall, a retired professor with St John’s University who currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, left Jamaica in 1970 to attend Columbia University, intending to return at the completion of her studies. But she stayed, building out her life in the United States.

“After finishing my undergraduate work at The University of the West Indies, I was accepted by Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. And in typical immigrant fashion, I decided to work before returning to Jamaica,” she said.

But the return did not happen as planned.

“I kept postponing going back as the educational opportunities and job promotions kept coming. I also started a family, and I did not want to uproot them to return to Jamaica,” said Hall said in a Gleaner interview.

A desire for broader experience eventually morphed into 50 years abroad.

But the retired professor has no regrets about migrating to the US. And she still has strong ties to her homeland.

“But the United States is where I live, where I raised my family, and where I carved out my dreams,” she said.

Tony Gray, a retired IBM specialist who resides in Atlanta, also came to the US for educational opportunities. He, too, intended to return to Jamaica but ended up staying.

“When I graduated from Titchfield High School, I got a job with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Port Antonio, where I worked for one year. I was then transferred to Kingston, where I stayed another year and a half before the bank moved me to Cayman Islands,” he said.

Gray said that he was encouraged by his sister to come to the US to continue his studies, a move he made in 1970.

“I was not running away. I just wanted to grasp the educational opportunities that are available in the United States. In fact, my intentions were to go back to Jamaica and teach at Titchfield,” he said.

Gray pointed out that as conditions in the country took a turn for the worse in the turbulent 1970s, he decided to remain in the US.

“I love Jamaica and would have gone back if it had not been overtaken by different sets of circumstances, but I would love to go back and live in Jamaica some day,” he said.

Gray believes that the Government needs to implement policies that incentivise the return of expats.

Franklyn Dunn, a small business owner in Mount Vernon, a city 14 miles from Manhattan, said that he left Jamaica because his parents feared that the Michael Manley administration was lurching towards communism in the ‘70s. They wanted out!

When the family migrated in 1981, those fears lingered even with Edward Seaga unseating Manley the year before.

“I did not have a say in leaving Jamaica. I was 17, and my parents ushered all the kids out of the country. I did not leave because of economic opportunities because my parents both had good jobs,” he told The Gleaner.

“I attended private schools, and we have a very good lifestyle.”

Dunn said that he has no regrets about leaving Jamaica, but he admits that he sometimes wonders what life would have been like if he had remained.

“I have no doubt that I would have done very well. I look at my friends who remained in Jamaica and see their successes and feel that I would have had the same success,” he said.

Sophie Thorpe, a media specialist living in Florida, said she left Jamaica to start over.

“There were things in my life that did not work out, so I left, looking for a fresh start,” she said.

Thorpe is somewhat unique in that she left Jamaica twice.

She first departed in 1991 but returned in 2009, hoping to rebuild her life in the country of her birth.

But again, she left three years later as her ambitions did not materialise.

“I wanted a fresh start, and America afforded me that chance. I do regret leaving loved ones who still reside in Jamaica, but I do visit as often as I possibly can,” she said.

Sunvil Mitchell, who lives in the Bronx and works for Amazon, said he went to the US in 1990 in search of better economic offerings.

“The opportunities did not exist in Jamaica during the ‘80s, and so I decided to migrate,” he said.

Noting that he has a better standard of living here than in Jamaica, Mitchell said that the economic and educational opportunities in America outweigh any notion of returning to Jamaica to live.