A lot of perks come with understanding and being one with your family heritage. Those perks include a solid sense of self, a feeling of uniqueness in this huge sea of American pride, and even pressure. I was blessed with the opportunity to have lived with my family in Jamaica from ages four to seven after leaving my American birthplace, Miami.
In Jamaica, I remember learning Patois very quickly after being teased by classmates for my American accent. Everyone understood English, but I stood out for speaking it in a foreign way. I remember my great grandfather making kites completely by hand for my cousins and me every year for Festival. I remember on my first day at St. Ann’s Bay Primary School, my aunt knelt in front of me to say goodbye before she left to catch a plane to America where she would create a better life for us.
The time prior to that was in 2007 for my great grandfather’s funeral. This time, I explored my old stomping grounds a lot more than during the time of Grandpa’s funeral. For the first time, I got to see the very home where my late great grandmother resided on Garden Tennant Rd.
I was also able to visit my old home, where I grew up before my aunt left for America, which was my grandmother’s house. She built it before she left for America. Life in that house was great. I lived there with my aunt and my late great grandfather.
When I think about the ultimate carefree time in my life, I think about life in this house. Mentally, this is my happy place. From getting a codfish bone stuck in my throat one Sunday morning and eating as many boiled dumplings as I could to get it to pass (and failing), to throwing my teeth on the roof when they fell out (that’s our tradition, no toothfairy), I learned how to be Jamaican while living in this house.
Then, I visited the house I lived in with my cousins when my aunt left for America.
Looking at it from the street, it was amazing to realize it housed four whole families. We shared the bathroom with one family and the kitchen with another. My new school where my aunt kissed me goodbye, St. Ann’s Bay Primary, was right down the street within sight.
I remember having my foot outlined so my big cousin could go find me new shoes in the market with the tracing. I remember picking almost ripe mangoes off the tree just outside this frame to the right and eating them with salt. In this house, I learned that it really “takes a village.” The whole community looked out for each other’s children. Constantly being offered food and treats from neighbors, I was never ever hungry and I had plenty of friends.
In Atlanta, we started out in Longwood Apartments on North Druid Hills Rd. My aunt and I lived with one other woman, Marcia, who is still a big influence in my life today. We lived with her for my second grade year and then she moved out.
A proud moment in that apartment was when I was 8, I cooked my aunt breakfast in bed all on my own. I’m not sure what the whole meal was, but I definitely scrambled some eggs. This was also a carefree time of my life, but looking back on it, I recognize that my aunt did a lot to provide for me like her own child so that I could have a great childhood.
Because I moved before third grade ended, my homeroom teacher would pick me up from home in the mornings and take me with her to class so that I didn’t have to switch schools so close to the year ending. It was in this house that I got my first real room. In the apartments, my room was the sunroom so I didn’t have a door.
In this house, I had a bedroom door, my own bathroom that I had to keep clean, and my own TV that I couldn’t watch until my homework and chores were complete. In that house, I really started to develop my character traits of being responsible and respectful as I approached my teenage years.
Just in time for high school, we moved again to where we live now, near College Park in an even bigger house. In this house is where I experienced most of my growing pains as the coming-of-age phase of my life transpired.
I had the usual teenage angst: struggling to fit in with a new set of people at a new high school, trying to get boys to notice me without seeming like I’m trying too hard, suffering with depression, and learning how to meditate it away. Best of all, I remember running into my aunt’s room the morning I read I’d been accepted into my alma mater, The University of Georgia!
It’s also very easy to feel immense pressure to own a home that’s even bigger and symbolizes my contribution to the progress we have made as a family, especially being part of the first American-born generation of my lineage. These homes are all monuments of who I am today.
They provide evidence of love and support as well as motivation. I want to live a prosperous life striving to take care of the people who took care of me and to leave my mark on the people that I support: my existing and future family, my friends, and those I meet and influence on my career path to becoming a User Experience Researcher. Remember the name: Shanice S. Stewart.