Jamaicans abroad get love and acceptance from people all over the world. Our exuberance and patriotism are hard to ignore. The soft power we proudly exert with our culture drives people’s curiosity and interest in our country, attracting more than four million tourists annually. They come for Reggae and Dancehall, our beautiful white sand beaches, rich Blue Mountain Coffee, well-marinated jerk chicken and curry goat, and, of course the warmth and high-spiritedness of our people.
Yet, when visitors get here, they see something else. They can hardly find live reggae shows or authentic Jamaican cuisine. When they do the service is poor and people’s attitude unfriendly. Hotels lock the visitors behind walls to limit their contact with the average Jamaican. So often, their only engagement is with the few locals who try to give them the cultural experience that brought them here. Ironically, when that happens, hotel security is likely to intervene.
The stark realities Jamaicans face daily at home result in many being angry and even violent, a stark contrast to the cheerful personalities people meet abroad. This makes it hard for visitors to see a clear link between the people and their culture. They love the songs we sing about this being a paradise. But few hear the raunchy, abusive and violent lyrics of those played on many sound systems.
We can’t ignore these problems any longer because they are tearing the nation apart. We can and must address them together. We should embrace and be proud of who we are, internationally and locally. We must realize our value, and own, preserve, and celebrate our rich legacy. That’s the only way Jamaica will have a sustainable future.
Brand Jamaica is known globally for its roots and branches. It is our responsibility to ensure those roots are watered, and our branches are strong. As a gem in the beautiful Caribbean Sea, our attitude should be one of care and pride in our culture. For this island to thrive we have to be the Jamaica at home that we promote abroad.