Written by: Krishnaveni Bholanath
Indo-Jamaicans are Unicorns.
Yes, I know it sounds weird to say, but it's my first hand experience living as a real life Unicorn... ummm... I mean Indo-Jamaican.
What is a unicorn? Unbelievable, mystical, awe inspiring. However, the number one thing most people agree on is that Unicorns are not REAL.
Explaining my existence and origin for the past 4 decades is like living as a Unicorn.
What I mean is I've lived 40 years as a South Asian Indian Woman who is 3rd generation Jamaican due to the British systems of indentured slavery. Yes, South Asian Indigenous peoples are Jamaican Nationals too and have been for about 200 years with close to a 10% population. Yet, I feel like I have to get ready for fight every time I get asked about my culture, origin, ethnicity and my very South Asian Hindu last name.
When Brown Girl Diaries approached me to write about my experience as a South Asian Indian person from Jamaica my mind went wild with countless topics. I have been working on my Indo-Caribbean Studies for over a decade. The one fact I've found about the history, literature and even from the mouths of other Indo-Caribbean people—Very few people and very few historical documentarians even know that INDO JAMAICAN PEOPLE DO EXIST! TO RAAS CLAT.
My family immigrated to the United States in the early 80's and before I was a teen. We moved to Los Angeles and I grew up in a neighbourhood filled with Koreans and Latinx People. We were Jamaicans, not Indian but our "ancestors" were Indians. That is how most Indo-Jamaican people think, and thats all I knew growing up, (makes me sad but that's another topic for another time.) I had one other Caribbean friend growing up and she was Afro-Jamaican. I did not meet another Indian Jamaican person (who was not my blood family) until I was 13 years old.
Man, we Indo-Jamaican people are like the snow tiger. Very rare to encounter, even amongst our own kind.
Growing up I was so confused about my identity because I didn't fit in anywhere. All the Latinx kids thought I was Latina, all the black kids thought I was black and any South Asian kids were from mother India and hated me because of my high caste last name. They would pester me about how I got that name and what my tribe was. When the main land South Asians wanted to know if I was Punjabi, Tamal etc. I'd start to sweat.
I'd feel like I was lying. Was I lying and am lying? I am Indian, it's not a lie.
Once at the age of 16, I went to visit my aunt at her job in DTLA in a security guarded building where I needed to present my ID and sign for entry. The guard who was assisting me with my entry procedure, visually and via his distinctive accent, appeared to be of South Asian origins.... Meh Tell Yuh! Meh di a sweat when me hand over my Identification. Without any salutations, straight away he asks me, and I quote "Where did you get this name from?"
Where DID I get this name from and why was he so angry that it was my name? What does my name even mean?
I've lived 16 years and I did not even know what my name meant. With that said, I was closer to South Asian than most of my Indo-Jamaican kin as most of them have sugar plantation last names.
That was one of many encounters that have fuelled my ambition to know everything about being a Jamaican who is also South Asian.
I know numbers, statistics, history and more about all things Indo-Caribbean, Indo Jamaican, and the South Asian Indigenous people's history as a whole. Especially the trail of where all South Asian indentured were taken for European colonizing, land stealing, sugar addicts (Ironically since I've made my career for the past 20 years selling sugar as a pastry chef.)
I have no idea what its like to be Indo-Caribbean.
Most of my friends were Mexican and Korean. Growing up in Koreatown, Los Angeles with a Korean best friend for over 20 years, I know more about what it's like to be Korean-American, than being South Asian or Caribbean.
I had to teach my self the whole history of India just so I could and can to this day defend my existence as a real life Unicorn.