Before Hurricane Sandy cut short the Canadian visit of Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, two York professors had the chance to meet her at a reception in Toronto to help mark 50 years of bilateral relations between the two countries.
Not only did the pair meet Jamaica’s Prime Minister Simpson Miller, but a copy of their new book, Jamaica in the Canadian Experience: A Multiculturalizing Presence (Fernwood Publishing), was presented to her and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the reception.
From left, Sheila Sealy Monteith, Jamaica’s high commissioner to Canada, Carl James, Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Andrea Davis. Photo courtesy of inrphotograpy.com
The book, which will now grace the shelves of two prime ministers, was co-edited by Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean (CERLAC) Fellow Carl James, a professor in the Faculty of Education and director of the York Centre for Education & Community, and CERLAC Director Andrea Davis of the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.
“The visit of Jamaican Prime Minister Simpson Miller, in a year that marks both 50 years of independence from Britain and 50 years of bilateral relations between Canada and Jamaica, was timely and symbolic. For thousands of Jamaicans who have made Canada home, it was a symbolic moment registering their pride in their dual national connections and long contributions to Canadian society,” says Davis.
The reception was one of several events planned as part of a week-long official visit to Canada by Simpson Miller at the invitation of Harper and was the first state visit since her re-election in December 2011. Harper acknowledged the contributions of close to 300,000 Jamaican immigrants in Canada, and both prime ministers confirmed their commitment to continue building political and economic relationships between the two countries.
“The fact that Prime Minister Simpson Miller was first invited on an official visit to Canada and not England or the United States in this groundbreaking year would have been particularly meaningful for these immigrants, since Jamaican diasporic communities in Canada are often overshadowed in research and the global media by larger communities in New York, Florida and London, England,” says Davis. “It is my hope that the meaning of this visit, and indeed this year, will move beyond the symbolic to realize more tangible results, such as a positive revaluation of Jamaican youth identities in Toronto.”
In Jamaica in the Canadian Experience, which was published in August, Davis and James commemorate Jamaica’s independence by acknowledging the immense and widespread contributions of Jamaica and Jamaicans to Canadian society.
“The book is our attempt to intervene into, or interrupt/disrupt, the seemingly prevailing uncomplimentary discourse of Jamaican Canadians. The contributors, representing the diversity of Canadians of Jamaican heritage, including many second generation, signify the many voices, expertise and perspectives of individuals who, in fundamental ways and for centuries, have helped to shape Canada as we know it today,” says James.
“We hope the essays provide new understandings of us as Canadians who are fully engaged in the economic, cultural, educational and social existence of the country rather than marginal to it. That prime ministers Stephen Harper and Portia Simpson Miller now have copies means for us that they too will be similarly informed like the rest of Canadians and Jamaicans.”
In addition, Davis was interviewed on Radio Canada International about Canada-Jamaica relations and the reality of Jamaican Canadians.