Real benefits from creating a trans-national community of Jamaicans in view of effectively incorporating the Diaspora into prospects for Jamaica’s development demands an altered approach to networking.
Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Trans-national Community of Jamaicans need Home-town Associations

Real benefits from creating a trans-national community of Jamaicans in view of effectively incorporating the Diaspora into prospects for Jamaica’s development demands an altered approach to networking. Since 2003, the ‘culture of camaraderie’ exhumed by Jamaicans at home and abroad gained tremendous recognition and rightly so. The contributions made by Jamaicans living abroad to ‘the rock’ – as Jamaica is affectionately called – are well noted and has played a role in the country’s development as far back as Jamaicans migrated in noticeable numbers. Now that these contributions are being formally incorporated on several levels into Jamaican development, the growing awareness of the Diaspora’s viability raises some large questions. For one, the Jamaican Diaspora Conferences highlighted the need for an official yet flexible framework of exchange in expertise. Policy makers, however, can not think of the trans-national community as a generic entity. The challenge is not so much harnessing a borderless community of Jamaicans but to identify the type of network that best suits Jamaica and Jamaicans. Policy makers should consider Hometown Associations (HTAs) as a good starting point for establishing the right network of Jamaicans.

The phrase ‘Jamaican Diaspora’ is inherently collaborative and communal as the term Diaspora does not single out persons who migrate to other countries and maintain meaningful ties with the home country but specifically refers to a collective. Therefore, if the Diaspora is the social groupings that are formed by Jamaican migrants, which maintain a meaningful link with the home country then the HTA is the quintessence of ‘diasporization’. HTAs are organizations of immigrants that, using identity and/ or affiliations, have some program geared towards helping another group, community or institution in the home-country. While there is no definite idea of how many HTAs are a part of the Jamaican Diaspora, there is no doubt that they are numerous and active. Jamaica boasts HTAs ranging from those which are established by past students of some high schools (such as St. Georges Old Boys Association and St. Jago Past Students Association) to those which are organized around a specific cause (such as Project for the Advancement of Childhood Education -PACE) or a specific community (the Friends of Trelawny Association – FOTA).

The capacity of the Diaspora to channel expertise or other contributions towards the development of Jamaica is unquestioned but the technique of maximizing the benefits is still undeveloped. The work of historians shows that West Indian emigrants were always key players in the movements for change in their countries, dating back to the first major waves of West Indian migrations since emancipation. It is no co-incidence that some of the most renowned nationalist leaders of West Indian nations were at some point members of the Diaspora. As labour migrants were instrumental to the decolonization process so is the present Diaspora to overcoming legacies of colonisation. A partnership between Jamaicans at home and abroad that is to accomplish any sustained measure of development must have at its base a functional set of connections – an aptly tailored trans-national community of Jamaicans. The trans-national network must take into account the nature of the Diaspora’s attention to ‘the rock’ to identify a suitable networking process. In order to understand the nature of the networking process for Jamaicans, the Jamaican government and other policy makers must pay much more attention to HTAs.

If the Diaspora is to play a part in development initiatives, the approach to networking and ideas of national identity embedded in HTAs are vital guidelines to a tailored trans-national community. Having a recognizable Diaspora is not a blanket of unwavering ties since the attention and devotion of Jamaican emigrants vary. Smadar Lavie and Ted Swedenburg argued that a degree of de-territorilization occurs among migrants because identities are not fixed to geography. If there is any degree of de-territorialization among Jamaican immigrants then HTAs are symbols of a re-territorialization since they indicate a more sustainable relationship between immigrants and the home-country. In 2004, the Jamaica Association of North Carolina (JANC), for example, launched a ‘calling of Jamaica’ project which doubled their Roster to 800 people and increased thier mailing list by 300 percent. These were the amazing results of a community building effort within a single HTA. While organizations like JANC call, Jamaicans in the Diaspora answer by enrolling. It is the very nature of HTAs to retain strong links with the home country that should inform the characteristics of a Jamaican trans-national community. HTAs provide a theoretical and practical base for a tailored trans-national community of Jamaicans.

It makes sense to approach HTAs as the heart of any movement towards establishing a trans-national community. While the Diaspora’s financial contributions are vital, the idea of a trans-national community places fiscal gains secondary to the value of HTAs as socio-political networks. Jay Mandle, in a study of underdevelopment in the Caribbean, argued that developing countries in the region failed to achieve significant economic transformation throughout the 20th century because the social institutions limited technological change. For Mandle, a country like Jamaica is not developed because scientific and technical knowledge was not applied to production to effectively stimulate innovation even throughout what is known as a decolonization phase. With that knowledge of what went wrong or what ought to have happened in the decolonization process, there is still the question of how to get the changes needed. A viable approach to getting a trans-national community to stimulate innovation in Jamaica is developing an appropriate model based on lessons from HTAs.

As HTAs swell in membership, policy makers need to give meaningful attention to HTAs. They should think of how these rapidly increasing groups approach the process of networking and examine how they identify with Jamaica; lessons for the trans-national community itself lay in the HTAs’ approach to Jamaica. HTAs are therefore valuable for the insight they may add to understanding and adapting the networking process. HTAs are pillars upon which a trans-national community of Jamaicans must rest.

About the author

MeikaMurphy