Photo: Adrian Araya

I’VE SPENT MOST OF MY LIFE around my Jamaican family and a good part (okay, all) of my formative years practicing the art of pissing them off. I consider myself somewhat of an expert in riling up a Jamaican, but I’m not a Jamaican. I’m Canadian-Jamaican, which brings with it different scenarios that result in being pissed off.

Ask where we’re really from.

I remember reading this in my tenth grade Civics textbook: Canada is a “cultural mosaic” — Canadians retain their unique ethnic identity while contributing to the nation as a whole.

We’re pretty damn proud of it, too, if only because it stands in contrast to the American “melting pot” assimilationist culture. For that reason, people think it’s okay to open a conversation thus:

    “Where are you from?”

    “Canada.”

If you want to get even more of a reaction, put a confused look on your face and throw in a “really” for good measure.

    “No, where are you really from?”

    “Toronto.”

    “Yeah, but where were your parents born?”

    “Jamaica.”

To really get us going, follow it up with this:

“You’re Jamaican? Awesome — I love Bob Marley!”

You and pretty much the entire world. Seriously. We enjoy Bob Marley’s music, too, but we did grow up in Canada. We liked Nelly Furtado and Celine Dion just as much as the next guy.

In a way, we’re just glad you didn’t say Sean Paul or someone embarrassing like that, but if you really want a pat on the back, say you love Beres Hammond or Tarrus Riley. Then we can talk — as long as you don’t ask this:

“Do you know how to speak ‘Jamaican’?”

You mean English? Because that’s the country’s official language. Our parents speak English, our grandparents speak English, and so on, albeit with an accent. Now, if you’re referring to Jamaican Patois, which we suspect you are, then the answer will always be “no” if we think you’re going to try and make us say something. Once we do, it either results in laughter or squeals about how cool it is.

For those of Jamaican descent who didn’t live in Jamaica at all, we don’t always have the most positive attachment with Patois — we generally only heard it growing up when we were in trouble with our parents. If we were lucky enough to have other Jamaican classmates, we may have used it to make fun of you for asking such an annoying question, though.

Quote Cool Runnings to us.

“Sanka, ya dead?” The number of times we’ve heard that line butchered is enough to make our blood boil. The original line was butchered in the first place. Cool Runnings was actually based on a great story that could have been an interesting study of racism in sport and beating the odds. Instead, it has become a punchline.

Most of the actors playing Jamaicans in the film were not Jamaican, their accents were terrible, and it played up stereotypes about Jamaicans. The fact that you’re quoting it only perpetuates this caricaturization of Jamaicans in film, so think for a second before you do that after saying how much you love it.

This also applies to saying “No problem, mon.” We will wish excruciating pain upon you.

Assume that all the men in our family have dreadlocks and are Rastafarian.

Only 3% of Jamaicans practice Rastafari. From what I know about Rastafari (Note: Don’t add the -ism — that’s part of the “Babylon culture” they are critical of), they don’t practice in traditional churches and Jamaica actually has the most churches per square mile in the world. Most Jamaicans are Christians, and that generally applies to our families as well.

Insist that wine is a drink.

Rum and Red Stripe are drinks. Wine is a dance. Maybe you want to call it “twerking” and bring up Miley Cyrus, but Jamaicans were doing it long before the teen queen was even born.

Assume all we ate growing up was jerk chicken.

Only for dinner, actually. For breakfast we had Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish, with fried plantains and fried dumplings. For lunch, oxtail stew over rice and peas with breadfruit. As a snack, we would have a Jamaican patty with cocoa bread. Then, and only then, did we have jerk chicken served up with steamed callaloo, boiled green bananas, Irish potatoes, and yams, a side of freshly pressed sugarcane juice and pineapple and rum upside down cake, made with pineapples shipped straight from the motherland, for dessert.

Or we had pasta. It was a tossup.

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