We Have No Jobs
At a busy intersection in Kingston, Jamaica, I purchase a newspaper from one of the hard working "ghetto youths" who dodge in and out of speeding traffic every day to wash car windows or peddle peanuts rolled in stiff brown paper. The front page has big bold headlines that scream of war, death, and inflation.
But even though public sentiment in Jamaica is mostly critical of U.S. foriegn policy -- some of the headlines in The Gleaner were, "The Rise of American Totalitarianism," and "Manifest Destiny and the Iraqi War" -- many young Jamaicans still dream of living and working in the land of opportunity."
"Your country has done much damage to our country and other countries in the world, you know?" said one newspaper boy. "But there are no jobs here and many jobs there."
Although the U.S. media has focused on how the economies of large industrialized nations will hurt after the war, small "third world" countries like Jamaica have felt the immediate effects of U.S. actions since the day the war began. When I arrived in Jamaica March 17 -- the same day that President Bush announced his 48-hour countdown -- the exchange rate was almost $50 (for each $1 U.S. you get $50 Jamaican). When I left March 27, the newspapers reported the rate at $55.43.
Jamaica is already billions of dollars in debt due to unfair loan agreements made with the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund in the 1970's. Today, many of Jamaica's skilled and educated workers remain unemployed as U.S. and European products flood the market. And with the ongoing war and subsequent fears of traveling, Jamaica's largest industry, tourism, is suffering.
Although almost everyone I spoke to during my visit rejoiced at the sight of my "Let Iraq Live" button, one unemployed Jamaican in August Town expressed support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Shaking his head at one member of out tour group's insistence that the U.S. is a brutal bully, he replied, "What can Iraq do for me?"
"Look at us," he said, pointing at the four youth standing behind him, "we're all skilled, you know, but we have no jobs. You see me? I want America to win always. It needs to be all right so we can go there to work."
But even before September 11th, only Jamaicans who owned homes and had steady, well-paying jobs were eligible to apply for visas, and even then the U.S. often denied qualified applicants . Some Jamaican community groups are in the process of organizing exchange programs, but until then, some innovative young Jamaican males take matters into their own hands by charming American tourists into marriage to get visas.
"They see tourist girls as a ticket to go out to the States or even Canada," said Jason Henzell, owner of Jake's Restaurant and Hotel in Treasure Beach. "It's a soft-core form of male prostitution."
Jamaica's economic crisis -- which began shortly after British colonial rule ended (August 6, 1962) and has been intensified by greedy international corporate interests like U.S. companies -- has left many of its young people searching for a way out. One young Jamaican, who is a practicing Ethiopian Orthodox, told me she believes the U.S. will soon suffer the wrath of divine retribution for its actions, but in the same breath shared dreams of living in "my country" one day.
Carleen Samuels, a film and music producer who is in her 30's, said, "Everybody wants to be Jay-Z. The worst thing that happened to Jamaica was cable. The new generation doesn't know Jamaica. The culture is dead. American culture is it."
And while television sells American dreams, the U.S.'s tight grip on the country's market has ensured that people cannot purchase anything but American imports.
Although some angry citizens boycott U.S. products, the U.S. has made it too expensive for the everyday Jamaican consumer.
"If I want to buy only Jamaican products, what can I buy?" asked Shani, 14. "For many things there is only the American ones."
There is almost no way to avoid the influence of U.S. culture in Jamaica. Standing near a drink stand on one of my last days of my trip, I bobbed my head as 50 Cent's "In da Club" blasted out of a car filled with young people. A youth standing next to me -- holding a Ting (a soft drink made in Jamaica by Pepsi) and wearing Sean John jeans and a red bandana under a fuzzy white Kangol hat -- asked what I thought about the war as an American.
I told him I was against it. He smiled and nodded. "Yeah mon, I don't like your president and what's going on with the war, he said. "But I wan' go to your country still you know."
Shadi Ramni, 22, is a writer, photographer, as well as a contributing editor for YO!