The shame of the vocal minority

| 27/08/2008

The recent gibes and complaints about the native origins of the newly crowned Miss Cayman would be almost funny if the reaction was not such a horrible example of the worst kind of nationalistic, xenophobic jingoism I have witnessed in a civilised country since the British National Front raised its disgustingly nasty head in the 1970s.

It was the same kind of message from those people back then – go home, foreigners, we don’t want you, you’re stealing our jobs, marrying our women (taking our beauty crowns), and undermining our culture. It was horrible, and it is disturbing to see a small, shameful group of people whipping up a similar kind of nationalistic sentiment in 21st-century Cayman.

There is a vocal and persistent minority in the Cayman Islands that is trying to make a political point out of ethnicity. Their goal, one can only assume, is to make Cayman purely indigenously Caymanian. How this will be achieved is utterly beyond me, as I am not sure what really defines an ethnic Caymanian. Is it merely to be born here? If that is the case, then many children who are born here now are not allowed to be Caymanian by law because their parents are not necessarily Caymanian.

So perhaps this vocal minority would want to ensure that the parents are Caymanian. But does that mean that both parents must themselves be born Caymanians, or do “paper Caymanians” count too? How far back must we go with this — do grandparents and great-grandparents all have to have been born here? And is there a difference between where they came from – are people who can trace their family back to Cornwall more Caymanian then people who trace their ancestry back to Kingston?

The problem with ethnicity or nativism is that it is hard to define. Moreover it leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth. The world’s leading economies have long accepted that multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic communities are part and parcel of modern development, and the concept of nationality is becoming increasingly less important as nation states literally crumble in the face of globalisation.

As this writer has noted on numerous occasions, nationality is merely an accident — it is something imposed on us all. Some of us have come up trumps in the nationality stakes by winning British, US or Canadian passports. Merely by the fact that I was born in a working-class community in 1960s Britain (albeit far from affluent), I have had a privileged and incredible life. My mother received free health care when I was born; I received free education; there were lots of social safety nets along the way (we even used to get free glasses); and I was fortunate enough to seize the numerous opportunities that came my way all because of where and when I was born and the passport I won, which enables me to travel the world and to choose the Cayman Islands to be my home.

Birth is as arbitrary a thing as winning a lottery, and the world is beginning to realise that it is increasingly less meaningful. Rather like adopting children, those of us who adopt a country choose it, we seek it out, we make every effort to love it and often love it more than those who arbitrarily found themselves there by birth.

This unpleasant behaviour of some towards the young Miss Cayman is unforgivable. What exactly did this girl do to have people boo from the audience? If those protestations had been against the principle of beauty pageants, which objectify women and make young girls believe that they must be appealing to look at, then perhaps they were making a valid point. But we all know that the reaction to Nicosia Lawson was because she was born elsewhere and is, according to this vocal minority, not a “real Caymanian”.

Aside from the fact that this is a detestable position to take, why are these people so bothered? Its a beauty contest, it’s not about world peace. Across the globe babies starve, women are raped on a daily basis by the Janjaweed in Sudan, two-thirds of the world’s population has to survive on less than a dollar a day, Afghan families live in fear of the resurgence of the Taliban or the opium warlords, Haitians bounce from one natural or political disaster to another, the Congolese face pestilence and war at every turn, and these people are worked up because their latest beauty queen came from St. Lucia.

Oh dear.

The saving grace in all this is that most Caymanians, indigenous or paper, are not xenophobic fascists and they do care about world peaceand poverty. They also recognise the magnitude of the contribution made by people who have come to these islands from elsewhere and loved them as much if not more than the places where their mothers gave birth to them.

Sadly, the few who despise all that is different from them — degrading and humiliating Filipinos for eating different food, berating Jamaicans for being too loud or accusing Indians of being the wrong religion — are making the most noise. But I am convinced that these people are only a small number, and it is time for the real open-hearted warm Caymanians who are willing to embrace all that is good about a multiethnic community to raise their voices, for the song will be louder and far more beautiful than the dirge chanted by the xenophobes who will never be satisfied until they are sitting here alone.
 

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Comments (13)

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  1. Glynis Sullivan-Porteous says:

    This is possibly  the best article I have ever read.  I 100% agree with what the author is saying – well done for writing what many people are thinking. 

    • Anonymous says:

      I am a Caymanian.  Hope no one is offended so far!

      I thought the article was excellent as well as the posts and commentary.

      So why am i writing this?

      Because there is such a thing as Caymanian.  It might not be properly defined in law or even well understood or articulated – but it is a real thing.  Why do people call themselves african-american or italian-american even after their families have been living in the USA for generations?  Caymanians have come from a wide cross section of places and  we have mixed to a great extent.  Over the generations of hardship and isolation we have identified ourselves as Caymanian – its all we have as a nationality identity.

      I beleive it is important for Caymanians to continue to welcome people to our shores and we are all originally immigrants.  In the past the porportionately small number of newcomers integrated well within the community, possibly even married a local person and In time – they and their families became Caymanian as well. Today that level of intergration is just not naturally possible.

      We all need to better understand the underlying reasons for our emerging problems – which is the unsustainable level of development, rapid population growth and shrinking environmental resources that we are experiencing.  Caymanians understandably have a genuine fear that they are loosing control of their country as well as the  eroson of their identity because of the increasing and growing influences of the newer arrivals. But we have no one to blame but ourselves.

      Caymanians are feeling the effects of too much change too quickly. But i hope no one is suggesting that these feelings are somehow inhuman or not understandable – as they are quite natural considering the situation and the story of our rapid development over the last few decades.

      What can we do about this situation now – so we can all have a great future together? We have a great little place here – lets be proactive in charting the best course from where we are now. Lets not blame our history or the past – that would be shameful and cowardly.

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have no doubt that those who were expressing their xenophobia would have been in church the morning after the event.

    The CI Ministers’ Association has been deafening in its silence.

    Christian Cayman my foot!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. It is indeed frightening that the minority are so very loud that they drown out those of us who don’t hold the same beliefs. Nicosia won as she is the best candidate for the job & no other reason – she beat the competition fair & square. 

    My question is this ‘if those that boo’d felt so strongly that she wasn’t ‘true born’ why wait until the night of the event to say something?’  Surely raising a stink about the entrants prior to the event would have been a better way to get the point across? but perhaps that’s my problem – I’m expecting rational behaviour from those that are obviously ignorant.

    Imagine where we’d be if we hadn’t allowed ‘foreigners’ to live amongst and work alongside us. Yes, there are those that come here for the money, or can’t, don’t & won’t speak English but these are in the minority. We keep talking about ‘foreigners’ "taking our jobs" – I wonder if that includes those that work as cashiers, store keepers, helpers, garbagemen, gas station attendants, hospitality industry staff or only refers to those in the financial and legal fields??

    Get over it Cayman – it’s time to move forward.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Now that all has been said and done, at the end she still wears the crown.  She deserved it and unfortunately, none other could compare.  I was somewhat leaning on the crowd favourite that night but when i heard Miss Lawson’s response to the question I had a huge change of heart.  She was brilliant and graceful and beautiful.  I just hope she doesn’t let this little parade of slighted individuals get her down and she say something like "I am a Status Holder or I am orginally from St. Lucia" etc. when she goes to Miss Universe and Miss World………

  5. Anonymous says:

    from rollover rules,religious views, gay kissing and now this latest from of discrimination in the year 2008 …. we are no longer cavmen !!!

     

    Cayman Islands should be ashamed !!

  6. 345-Pride says:

    All very good points…I say we all treat each other equally – regardless of birth place, colour, nationality etc. Nicosia won Miss Cayman fair and square – and in speaking with her prior to her entering Miss Cayman I cannot express how much poise and grace she carries forth. This is not to say that the other ladies didn’t show the same qualities, but there can only be one winner. I am proud of all the ladies, and wish Nicosia the best in her reign as Miss Cayman Islands!

    I also hear people talking about Cydonie and how she shouldn’t have run for Cayman either – well if Cydonie was granted Caymanian status, considers herself one of us, prides herself in representing for Cayman, consents in running the race – then so be it! Cydonie has been working extremely hard and representing the Cayman Islands for many years and we should be proud of all her efforts!

    However in the same breath and while we are shedding light on the Caymanians that disagree with me – let us also ask those foreign to these islands to show some RESPECT for the country’s laws, heritage, culture, dialect and especially its people while we are at it. Caymanians are also ill-treated and bad-mouthed on their own turf on a daily basis. I experience this far too often and I cannot express to you how much it disgusts me to be regarded in some of the ways that I have heard spoken.

    I for one am so sick of walking into businesses and public places and hearing people talk loudly on and on about "them old stinking dutty Caymanians…" or "these locals are so dumb, if I were home…" and the list goes on and on. Fine, while I agree that we are all entitled to our own opinions – respect is still due. Let’s keep our negative comments to ourselves or to a quieter tone of voice when in public places, regardless of who is making what statement , and about whom – Ex-Pat & Caymanians alike.

    Not to sound cliched but – "Can’t we all just get along?"

    *SPREAD LOVE NOT HATE*

  7. Anonymous says:

     

     
     

    Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land.
    Leviticus 19.33,34

     

     
    Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself
  8. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. I agree with every word totally that has been expressed. Leave it alone! She won because it’s obviously not all about beauty but also intellect which Ms. Lawson also possess and I am sure she will do Cayman quite proud!

  9. Sonjia Kenya says:

    Couldn’t of said it better myself! We all know that Cayman Ataxia is a dangerous consequence that results when ‘pure’ Caymanians are isolated and only reproduce with other ‘pure’ Caymanians. This is nature’s way of confirming that strong, healthy cultures include diverse ethnic representatives, all of whom contribute to the overall mix of successful communities. In a country where half the population are ex-pats contributing to the continued growth of society, I think it is embarrassing that a small minority are vocalizing opinions not supported by most and may potentially limit to the future genetic combinations that currently make Cayman such an awesome place.

  10. jaygee says:

    A wonderful article – please keep it up, the Caymans need people who are not  afraid to speak the truth.

  11. Claudette Upton says:

    Excellent column. Those who think birthplace matters more than ability, grace, poise, and confidence have very limited vision. Let us hope they’re notrepresenting Cayman on the international stage.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well said.