Saturday, September 3, 2011
One of the things I enjoyed about writing Island Princess in Brooklyn is that Princess represents us all. She is our flag bearer. Her life is our lives, her experiences could be ours. Her main challenge is adjusting to life in Brooklyn with her mother, and at her new school. Princess does not want to be perceived as a ‘needy migrant’ and this attitude makes it hard for her to make friends. She soon discovers that her classmates expect her to be able to run like our athletes. After all, all Jamaicans can run! But Princess is not remotely athletic. As she says, ‘the only running she has ever done is running to catch the bus’. So her classmates ‘have discovered a Jamaican that cannot run’. She cannot shine where they expect her to shine.
Therefore when their teacher gives them an essay to write about something that they miss from their previous school/country, Princess knows that every one expects her to write about Jamaicans racing at the Olympics. She does not want to fall into 'a trap', that of appearing to boast about her little country, which will make her even more unpopular. But how can she not write about one of the experiences that she misses most – Jamaicans racing? So Princess decides to write about this experience from the point of view of how people behave as they watch a race. She expects this essay to be marked by her teacher and returned in class. However, to her shock, the teacher asks her to read it aloud. Here is part of what she says:
…And then it is time for the race to start. The men having drinks put the glasses down. People are sitting forward in their seats as if they would jump into the TV. Some can’t bear to sit. And just before the race is to start, plenty of people suddenly remember who they didn’t think to call before. So cell phones come out and people say, “You watching?” “You watching?” Just these two words over and over again into the cellphones. And you know, you just know, that in the whole island everybody is watching TV…
…Then the race starts. Silence! Nobody moves. Cousin Esther and I are holding hands tight, tight. Granny has her hands on her head. Miss Annie, Granny’s friend, has her hand on her heart as if she has to do that to keep it in her body. Everybody is holding their breath.
Slowly the one breath begins to let go as Jamaica is in the lead. Some people begin to scream softly and this becomes louder and louder. “Run! Run! Run!" we scream. People are jumping up and down.
Then we win. “Gold medal!” One shout starts in our house, in the neighbour’s house, echoing all around, and all around the whole island breathes again and the breath turns into a shout. “Gold medal!” …
I hope that you get a chance to read this book and not only find out how this essay about Jamaicans racing is received by the class, but also to join Princess on her other adventures.