My brother, Bill, who lives in London, Ontario, remarked recently that whenever an athlete from Britain or Canada wins anything, he or she turns out to be Jamaican born or the child of Jamaicans. He was exaggerating, of course. But there’s a lot of truth in his observation. Jamaicans have emigrated in droves and many achieve remarkable success in their adopted countries.
General Colin Powell is perhaps the most famous example. I’m sure you know his parents were from Jamaica, although he was born in the United States. But the most publicized successes are in sports.
In track and field, for example, Jamaicans have excelled as long as I can remember. “Little Jamaica Beats the World” the headline proclaimed when a Jamaican relay team won the men’s 4-by-400-meter event at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. And “little Jamaica’s” athletes have been beating the world ever since – even if they often wear some other country’s colors.
The island has produced too many cricket stars for me to count. And if you’re a boxing fan, you know Jamaica has given many champions to that sport. Former world heavyweight champion Lenox Lewis had Jamaican parents. But did you know that Patrick Ewing, acclaimed as one of America’s 50 best basketball players of all time, was born in Kingston? Even in baseball, which is rarely played in Jamaica, we can claim at least one star – Devon White, who was selected for three All Star teams. I could go on and on.
Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans now live in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The largest expatriate communities are in London, Miami-Dade, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.
This “Jamaican Diaspora” – as it has come to be called – has enriched the destination countries. And it has impoverished Jamaica. You can see the effects reflected in our recent performances at cricket. And even in track, it’s the Jamaican women who are left to carry the torch. But while sports may grab the headlines, the talent drain’s impact may be more hurtful in other fields. Just think of the nurses the island has given to the world – for free. Jamaican taxpayers helped train them, yet many of them have taken their skills to other countries. In almost every walk of life, you will find the same kind of talent drain.
There’s little that Jamaica can do to stop the drain. Jamaicans leave home because the grass is greener elsewhere. Even so, the island needs to do what little it can. Support for youth sports could be increased, for example. And attractive tax breaks could be provided for professions deemed vital to the island’s prosperity.
Other nations are not as generous as Jamaica. When the Boston Red Sox wanted to sign Japanese pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, they had to pay about $50 million just to talk to him. The total cost of acquiring the baseball player topped $90 million. Now, Major League teams are recruiting talent in China. And it is costing them plenty. Perhaps some form of compensation could be worked out for exploitation of Jamaican talent. How about asking the United States, Canada and Britain to pay us what it cost Jamaican taxpayers to train a nurse who goes to live in those countries?
Having said that, my complaint is not so much against Jamaica as against the developed nations.
These countries assume they are entitled to the riches of the world without argument. When the Statue of Liberty was erected, the proclamation inscribed on it called for other countries to send America their “poor, their huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now, a more accurate inscription would be: “Send us your computer engineers, your rocket scientists, your doctors and nurses…”
A furious debate rages in the United States over the influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Employers in several industries benefit from these people who are willing to work for substandard wages, and their representatives in government are eager to keep the flow of cheap labor coming. But many Americans resent the Mexican “invasion” and protest that American jobs are threatened.
In all of the thousands (millions?) of words produced in this debate, no one has challenged America’s right to accept only the cream of the world’s crop. Official U.S. policy bars prospective immigrants who lack skills that the country wants. The same is true in Canada, where immigration officials use a scorecard to weed out less qualified applicants. This attitude seems to prevail throughout the developed world.
But is this fair? What right does a rich country have to plunder the talent of a poor country while refusing to offer opportunity to that country’s needy?
The answer should be obvious. It is not fair. Indeed, it is downright immoral.
George Graham is a Jamaican-born journalist and author who has worked as a reporter in the Caribbean and North America for more than half a century. He lives in
Lakeland, Florida. His new book, “Hill-an’-Gully Rider,” is available at http://stores.lulu.com/georgeg.