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What it Means to Be Indo-Jamaican

Written by: Chyrel Williams

What I've learnt over the years is that it's not enough just being a brown woman, someone will always ask me where I am from.

The curiosity is probably triggered when people hear how I speak; I have a South London/Jamaican Patois accent. I think it's funny because in London, UK, many young people, black, white, brown, purple etc, tend to cling to the Jamaican culture when they have no links to Jamaican heritage. For them it's often excepted, but for this brown girl, it causes confusion to most.

People always have shocked and amazed expression on their face, when I answer the "where are your parents from question."

I use the hashtag 'don't call me coolie' (#dontcallmecoolie) because it sparks conversations. It's a platform for me to share dialog about what, how and why Indians are in the Caribbean. In school, I was called coolie a lot and I thought it was what I was, until I went home and told my dad that I'm coolie. My dad is a quiet man, not much bothers him, but the day I told him that was the first time I understood that the word was not cool at all. I remember one girl stroking my hair and saying she’s so coolie.

After my Dad educated me, it changed my whole perspective on my identity and who I am. I began a journey to learn more about my history. 

The next phase/experience was fitting in. I never quite fitted in with groups. I met brown girls like me at school, one from Trinidad and one from Guyana. We chatted a few times and hung out but for some reason we were still very different.

This one time, I went on a coach trip to the seaside with my friend and her family—I think it was with other family from Trinidad living in the UK. It was fun, like we all brown, init. Then an uncle came over to me and my friend and asked where I was from; my friend's dad jumped in and said she is from Trinidad. I was like "huh?" My friend laughed and gave me eyes, like don't say nothing. I sat back, and thought why can't I say where I'm from.

Till this day, I didn't bother asking what that was about, in fact we don't talk anymore.

At work they have a Black Workers group so I joined the forum as I thought it would support and help me network in the work place. One day, I was sitting with my manager who is a Black woman of African/Caribbean descent and the Black Workers group comes over selling raffle tickets for Christmas. They offer to sell to my manager and then don't offer me, my manager calls them back so they can offer me but by then I was not invested.

I thought my brown skin isn't black enough so left the forum and this lone brown worker had to network on her own.

On holiday in Saint Lucia, where I know many Trinidadian's pop over for a break too, I was in the sea enjoying myself and ting. I could see a brown woman with her daughter bathing in the sun. They caught my eye because we looked like each other. She was looking, I was looking. We smiled and nodded. Like we knew each other, we brown, we family, one love. Anyway, she joins me in the sea and ask me where I'm from. As soon as I said my parents are Jamaican, she was in disbelief, she insisted that I go to Trinidad as it's beautiful. I said I would. I said Jamaica is beautiful too, I miss it. She shook her head and said come to Trinidad "you'll love it." I was like cool, yes, one day.

We parted with smiles but I thought I'm brown and Jamaican, Jamaica is beautiful too. I love Jamaica.

The brown shopkeeper asks me where I'm from, so we play the where are you from game. I probably shouldn’t have as it was bordering on flirting. I say London, he says no, where you from? I say South London. He says no, where are your parents from? I tell him and think here we go. He was not surprised. He said I'm Afghan but born in Pakistan, all my family live in Pakistan.  He then began to say I look different and he knew I was from somewhere.  I said everyone is from somewhere, he said I looked at you and knew were different. I wasn't sure what he meant or if he was chatting me up but no numbers were exchanged.

In the airport, rushing around duty free, a Sikh guy who worked there stopped me and asked me where I was from, so now I didn’t know if I he was profiling me or what. I had my money and was ready to spend. Our conversation quickly moved onto identity. We both brown, he had his story and I had mine. He was very interested to know that Indians are in Jamaica, he said he meets so many brown people in the airport and always asks them where they are from.

He said I was the first he has met that has Jamaican heritage. He fully understood that Indians were in Jamaica, when I said how did you think the curry met the goat.

I was at a Literary festival in London and there were many Indians from all around the world in attendance. I attended because I wanted to see an author who was from Lluidas Vale, Jamaica— that’s where my mother is from. There was a question to panel section and an Indian man from Fiji asked the author to talk more about the Indians in Jamaica. He did not know that Indians were also taken to Jamaica.

I almost jumped out of chair because I wanted to scream out "Yes, yes! We deh yeh!" But I didn't feel that the crowd would have received that well.

So in my experience, people seem to be real curious about my identity. I have many more stories of discussions that I’ve had about my identity, but what does it feel like to be Indo-Jamaican? I'm proud. I will wear my colours, fly my flag and speak how I’ve grown to speak.

Below are common conversations that I have with people that are curious about my identity.

"Oh, I thought you were Mauritian or from Trinidad"

"Nah, my parents are from Jamaica"

"So you're coolie?"

"Nope, I'm not, you shouldn't call people that"


"Do you know what it means?"

"It means you have nice coolie hair"

"No, it doesn't mean that, it can be offensive, it means unskilled labourer from India or China"

"Oh, didn't know"

"Do you cook Jamaican food?"

"Yhy do you speak like that?

"Like what?"

"Like you're Jamaican"

"Because I am, my parents are Jamaican"

"Oh, I didn't know, why is your hair is straight"

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