When Michael and I kicked off our first spring break weekend together we had no idea that there would be a Saint Patty’s celebration in town. But soon after checking into our room, our host explained that we should be prepared for loud music, lots of traffic, drunk drivers, and crowded streets.
Neither of us like crowds and Michael goes absolutely insane after ten minutes in traffic. So I wasn’t too excited about heading out into all that madness. Nevertheless, we decided to see the parade.
When we arrived on Tybee Island at around 11Am, people were already lined out on the streets in lawn chairs, and the traffic was bumper to bumper. It took us a half an hour of circling around before we were finally able to grab a parking spot out of sheer luck.
In spite of all that, it wasn’t nearly as crazy as the host described and we had a great time. It was intriguing to see all the Irish stereotypes my real Irish friends absolutely hate, come to life.
A Tacit Assumption
“Are you having a good time?” a lady asked me at the celebration while we moved along the crowded sidewalk. She was covered in green decorations and had a tiny leprechaun hat pinned to her hair.
“Yes, it’s great!” I told her.
She laughed and nodded enthusiastically as if to say she knew that would be my answer. “Well, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy yourself here, honey!” She then quoted her shirt, “If you aren’t Irish, fake it!”
I merely smiled. I grasped the assumption she had likely come to, but resolved to leave well enough alone. She was a sweet lady and only wanted me to feel welcome at the celebration.
In one of my very first posts on this blog – The Antics of Ancestors – I shared a little of my family’s mixed heritage and the scandal that that mixing caused. More specifically I shared how my great-great-great grandparents had come to Jamaica on a boat from Ireland in the 1800s, never suspecting that their blood line was about to be changed forever.
Our family arrived in Jamaica with a good deal of wealth, and a strong family name that lasted until my grandmother. They used that wealth to buy thousands of acres of land and built a plantation to reign supreme alongside other relatives of the same family name.
They had counted on the island’s beauty, an escape from the cold, and the opportunity to make a new life in the West Indies. But what they hadn’t prepared for was their son falling in love with one of the little servant girls, who was of African heritage. Together they created the family’s first interracial child: my great-grandmother.
The Interracial Scandal
The union created a scandal in the neighbourhood which ultimately led to the end of that romance, but the bloodline continued. As that son never loved or married another woman, and never fathered another child, my family has the very ironic (and I would say) privilege of being Mixed Black owners of plantation land, by inheriting it from the owners themselves. True story.
Since no one else in the family seemed particularly interested in the family land, my uncle and I have since taken most of it over. He can run his dirt bikes through acres of pineapple trees where the old Great House used to be, and I have 800 acres and no set plan.
The rest of the wealth disappeared a long time ago, before I was ever born. Much of it went up in flames when neighbours looted and set the Great House on fire during a prolonged absence from the property.
I have no idea what I will do with that much land at 26 years old, but stay tuned: in a few years you might be hearing about Alexis Chateau’s Jamaican hiking trail and retreat… or something like that. You never know.
The Lesson on Heritage
I share this story mostly because it’s Saint Patty’s day, but also partially because of one of my greatest personal mantras in life, which goes a little something like this:
The most dangerous possession a person may have is not a gun or a nuclear weapon, but an assumption.
I was always a little horrified every time someone asked me to identify with just one part of my heritage. What about the rest?
My Mulatto-Irish grandmother was one of the most amazing women I ever met. I was extremely close to her, perhaps more than any other relative on my mother’s side of the family. What favours do I do her, her father, and his parents by refusing to acknowledge their contributions to my heritage?
Likewise, my paternal grandmother is a woman of full slave-blooded African descent and was just as lovely. I owe my curves and long legs to her, and can only dream of inheriting any of her amazing skills in the kitchen. She is wrapped up in some of my best childhood memories. She fostered my love for the beach (and should probably take full blame for my insatiable sweet tooth!).
Unfortunately, both women passed away before I turned ten.
The point in all this is that all heritages should be celebrated – every last one. Celebrate being of African, Irish, German, Hispanic, or miscellaneous descent. But most importantly, celebrate being human.
At the end of the day that’s what we all are and all our different cultures and ethnic mixes only combine to create the many variations and spices of one human race in a big melting pot.
In fact, many of us can learn from Jamaica’s national motto, which states simply:
Out of many: one people.
Here are the shots we took of the hour-long parade on Tybee Island. Enjoy!