“On the first day of school when the teachers were calling names, they don’t expect me to be a black kid with dreads. People always try and tell you what your identify needs to be. “No, you’re more this than that. Come on, everybody knows that. What are you talking about?” It’s frustrating. How do you deal with those dueling identities?”
My brother (Tony) and I were born in the Bronx, New York. We grew up in North Brunswick, New Jersey, which is Central Jersey. Now I live in Philadelphia and I’ve been out here for since about 2008. Both of my parents were born in Jamaica, and their family is kind of just a big mix of everything that kind of met in Jamaica. Our last name is Hu, so my dad’s side, that’s a Chinese last name. His family is a mixture of Jamaican and Chinese Jamaicans, which are pretty much Chinese that immigrated to Jamaica looking for work. I would say probably around the 1800’s, around that time, early 1900’s. My mom’s family is also a mixture of Scottish and Cuban and a little bit of Chinese, as well, that migrated to Jamaica. My mom and my dad are probably second generation Jamaicans, but their great-grandparents are most likely from elsewhere.
The Chinese on my dad’s side comes in from his great-grandfather, which is originally from China, migrated to Jamaica, settled there, and started a family. Then my dad’s father, which is now-half Jamaican, half-Chinese, migrated back to England, which is kind of like the rotation that they would make. It was pretty much China, Jamaica, England, and then they would circle through those three primarily. Then my mom’s family is where the Scottish comes from. It’s an old story that we grew up learning: there were three brothers, all of them originally from Scotland, and they sailed out because they owned a lot of, I can’t remember, wells in different countries. They owned land in Scotland, in Cuba, and in Jamaica. They stayed in Jamaica and had families there. That’s where she gets her maiden last name, Caulder, which is also her Scottish lineage. Then on her mom’s side, they’re Cubans that pretty much migrated to Jamaica for a better living and didn’t want to come to the U.S. Cuba and Jamaica are fairly close, so it was kind of the next best thing. It was leaving the country but also getting everything that resembled their homeland, as well.
We learned all of this through family stories. Listening to what our parents told us about our past and doing our own research, dabbling into our roots, and learning about where our names come from, mainly. We have a very unique name with the last name Hu. I always just wanted to know exactly how that came to be.
It’s not a typical name. Our friends would more or less poke fun at our names because it wasn’t your typical name, but then their parents would always be like, “Wait a minute, how did you get a last name Hu?” Or, when I was in high school, I ended up running into a classmate of mine who actually was Chinese, and had the same last name. For four years, we’re next to each other in the yearbook, and it’s kind of like, okay, we know how he got the last name, but how did you get the last name? Then because my parents grew up in Jamaica, they’re more tied to a Jamaican culture. My father, he has dreadlocks. Then it’s kind of like, wait a minute, your dad with the dreadlocks is where you got your Chinese last name from? How does this make sense? This doesn’t make sense at all. Then you bring my mother into the mix, and she’s a Caulder. “How did she have a Scottish last name? I thought you said she was Jamaican, too?” People ask a lot of questions and you got to find ways to answer it.
My parents definitely, culturally, identify with being Jamaican. Then, of course, if you sit down with them it’s something different. My mom, she’ll say, “But really, our family is more Cuban than anything.” My grandmother grew up in Jamaica, her mother grew up in Cuba. As far as my mom is concerned, they’re Jamaican. That’s the culture that they identify with, that’s where they grew up, that was their backyard.
Our house growing up was definitely more Jamaican than anything, but there would always be hints of something else. My mom was very, very good at drawing attention to our other identities, as well. Even though we grew up in a very much Jamaican household, they’d be like, “Okay, well you know this is Cuban.” We would poke fun at each other. My dad is a vegetarian and we would say, “Oh, this is probably more from your Chinese side than your Jamaican side.” We would always acknowledge it, but definitely a Jamaican-Caribbean household, for sure.
On the first day of school when the teachers were calling names, they don’t expect me to be a black kid with dreads. People always try and tell you what your identity needs to be. “No, you’re more this than that. Come on, everybody knows that. What are you talking about?” It’s frustrating. How do you deal with those dueling identities?
I’ve learned to kind of just be strong in what you identify with. If I say this is what I identify with, then that is it, and then I’ve also learned that identifying as being Jamaican does not come with one look. My mom used to share a quote with us that is very popular down there, “Out of one, come many.” There are so many different types of races and nationalities and cultures that identify as Jamaican. It’s not just this one set, one look, one person. I really tried to carry that with me, especially in my adulthood, where having an identity and a culture is really important. People want to know what you identify as, and I identify as being a Caribbean woman or someone who relates to Caribbean culture, and I feel that my Cuban identity falls under that, my Jamaican identity falls under that, and realistically, even my Chinese culture. If I went to Jamaica, there are groups of Chinese people that identify as having Jamaican-Caribbean culture.