Mek Patwa Ofishal: A dat Ms. Lou wuda waahn
I still remember quite vividly my first day going to class to teach JC1000 - Intro. to Jamaican Creole at York University in Toronto. It was a cool Monday in that first week in September 2008 and I had been preparing for that first class for weeks now, having arrived in Canada the July of that year. I walked into the packed classroom - about 28 students in total - connected my laptop to the projector, opened my presentation, turned to the class, and uttered the first word for that class -- "Waagwaan." I remember seeing shoulders perking up in their seats and shy smiles directed back at me, and what sounded like a faint sigh of relief from some. It was only months after that I discovered what that sigh was about. Students told me that about 10 minutes before I entered the classroom, someone had come in to set up the projector - a white middle-aged man; the usual picture of the university professor. They thought he was the professor and how cliche it would be for yet another foreign "expert" to lecture them on their culture. Thankfully he left as soon as the projector was set up, and gave way to, as it were, a real "yardie."
The story of a course on Jamaican Creole coming to York University, in many ways, is a story about Diaspora activism. Students at York who were pursuing a major in Caribbean Studies had to fulfill a language requirement; the main caveat being the language had to be spoken in the Caribbean and couldn't be English. Pre-2008, the only languages spoken in the Caribbean which were taught at York were French, Spanish, and Portuguese. A group of students in the programme, perhaps channeling the spirit of Anansi, felt that it was time that an indigenous Caribbean language was taught at York. Through their lobbying, Jamaican Creole came to York in 2008 and has been there ever since. They would have made Ms. Lou, who spent the last decade of her life in the Diaspora, exceedingly proud.
It's time for the Diaspora to once again make Ms. Lou proud. Right now, on the Office of the Prime Minister Jamaica website, is a petition to make Jamaican Creole (Patwa/Patois) official alongside English. Note in place of English, but alongside it. Just as Ms. Lou would've wanted -- both languages being used in official contexts without one overtaking the other or one being disregarded while the other elevated. Those of us now transplanted in parts of North America, Western Europe, East Asia, continental Africa, the Caribbean, and, who knows, maybe even up at the North Pole, have a responsibility to make our voices count in this petition. And this is not a foreign imposition to lecture us on the best role for our language, but a grassroots movement by the ordinary Jamaican whose language and self-identity have for too long been denied the vindication of official status recognition. So, like my first set of students in that class, breathe a sigh of relief. This is strictly a yardie ting! If you are a Jamaican citizen, anywhere in the world, sign the petition before December 14th to make the Jamaican language official. It's not too late to give Ms. Lou a belated birthday gift, in this year of her centenary. Indeed, in many ways it is also a gift we owe to ourselves; one to signal to the world that we don't intend to wallow indefinitely in linguistic insecurity while the rest of the world enjoys AND benefits from our language. No sa! Sign the petition today and let your voice be heard.