The Miami Herald recently featured an interview with Audrey P. Marks, Jamaica ambassador to the U.S. World desk editor John Yearwood asked her questions about her mandates, and her perceptions of the Jamaican diaspora and its enviable level of organization. Based in Washington, DC, Ambassador Marks’ trip to Florida is one of many trips. This visit to South and Central Florida was her eighth 8th state visit; underlining that there are 20 states that have a significant representation of Jamaicans, she said that she intends to visit all of them.
Marks listed three of her obligations: a political mandate to enhance good relations between the U.S. and Jamaica, to encourage trade investments, and to reach out to the Jamaican diaspora and continue to build on the connections between the island and the many generations of Jamaicans living in the U.S. One of her main activities in these visits is to listen to Jamaicans’ expression of support for the development process as well as their concerns.
Yearwood pointed out several times in the conversation that the Jamaican diaspora in U.S. is extremely well-organized and sometimes the envy of many groups. Marks responded that, in part, this is due to the fact that Jamaican immigration is not recent. She cites the example of Jamaican John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851) who went to Quebec with his father in 1807 and then settled in Maine in 1812 (an abolitionist, who founded Freedom’s Journal, he graduated from Bowdoin College and became a governor in Liberia). Marks then offers a brief history of migrations mentioning several waves of thousands of Jamaicans who traveled to the U.S., for example, the thousands who arrived in the early 1900s to work on the Panama Canal and decided to settle in the U.S.; those who became farm workers in the 1940s during WW II; many in 1955, who were attracted by new laws encouraging migration from Latin America and the Caribbean; and many others since 1975, who traveled to seek new opportunities. In total, she says, there are about 3 million Jamaicans of several generations living in the U.S.
There are also several organizations in place, such as the Diaspora Organization, which, since 2004 is working towards a productive interconnection between Jamaicans in Canada, the UK, and the U.S., and whose annual Diaspora Conference discusses issues of security, economics, trade and investment, as well as a common vision.
Asked why so Jamaicans are successful in the U.S. (contrary to the stereotypes relating Jamaicans to the world of drugs) Marks points out that those living in the underworld of drug trafficking are a small minority, while Jamaicans are better known for their strong work ethic. In conclusion, she attributes Jamaicans’ success to their emphasis on education.