My parents are Jamaican and although I love, love, love so many aspects of my Caribbean culture, if you asked me where I’m from, the answer would be unapologetically Brooklyn, New York. I first attended school on the island of Jamaica until the age of 13 and share many memories with life-long friends from our small city. However, the first 13 years of my life is no match for the thirty I have lived in Brooklyn.
So what is it about Brooklyn, that makes my heart literally skip a beat every time my plane prepares to land in JFK airport? As I look over my entire kingdom 5000 feet in the sky, the lights are the first to get me. I never tire of imagining all of the homes and lives being lived within such close proximity of each other. The kinetic energy that I feel walking down most streets and the extraordinary diversity in cultural landscapes which changes with every few blocks.
How is all of this difference contained in the same place?
My husband and I own a modest home in the East Flatbush neighborhood which boasts a substantial percentage of Caribbean home owners. This was the characteristic which was most attractive to us. I never have to walk too far to hear voices speaking in the Patios or Haitian Creole which is so familiar to us both. A quick trip to the fruit shop on Glenwood Avenue conjures up all kinds of nostalgia within me. it is a reminder of accompanying my grandmother to the “bend down” market on Thursdays or picking up a loaf of hardo bread, Saturday evening for Sunday morning breakfast. My husband has made several quick “pate runs” in our neighborhood to Nostrand Avenue, a few blocks away and don’t get me started on Church Avenue, one of the busiest commercial strips still in Brooklyn.
As I look around, it is obvious that Brooklyn is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts. This aggressive transformation of our borough’s cityscape is sometimes alarming. We have realized however, that this love affair with Brooklyn, has to include trying to understand, appreciate and even participate in this makeover. So we have decided to patronize not just the Jamaican beef patty shops but also the burgeoning list of coffee shops. Our palettes have been tempted and most times satisfied by “something old, something new to us” cuisine which represents I am sure over 50 nations from around the world.
Our once small village has become a kaleidoscope of colors and flavors and quite honestly as a native, this change is sometimes concerning. We struggle profoundly with feelings of being displaced and replaced. There is a gigantic fear that all I remember and love about my Brooklyn will soon be replaced by another scaffolding erecting a monument of economic progress. So I continue to fight to save remnants of those memories while embracing the opportunity to make new ones. This may not be exactly the Brooklyn I know, but I will learn to love the Brooklyn where I live.