I work at the biggest hotel (as of this post) in Austin, Texas. The Hilton Austin, downtown is a good place with a lot of great people and I’ve really enjoyed my time there. One of the cooler aspects of working in a place like that, is that the community is multicultural. At Finn & Porter, I work with a man from Taiwan. One of the people who trained me is both Hispanic and Korean. And many culinary students work in the kitchen who are from other countries. I recently started to get to know a couple of young men from Jamaica. Three of them who work directly “on-the-line” with me, and I think one other one who is a steward. But let me speak on the three I work with directly.
The three Jamaicans were from different parts of Jamaica, but still shared a strong bond while living in a foreign place. They have all been strongly influenced by Western culture, and as we spoke about pop culture, there was very rarely (if not ever) a time when we weren’t on the same page with what was going on. We spoke on music and movies, fashion and food; but then the conversation turned to something a little more personal for us.
We have had, and continue to have various colorful conversations surrounding our ideals when it comes to these things, and the reason I thought it so intriguing was learning the perception of our generation (the younger one) to people outside the country of similar age. Without question, the men I spoke too believe that the standards set for dating, love, or even sex have been set to such a low level; that they did not even feel as if being genuine with women in America was worth it. To be clear, they weren’t blaming the issues of promiscuity on women alone, and they definitely made an indictment on the men in America. The amount of people who speak on cheating as if it was simply a part of being in a relationship–or “having a woman on the side” or being a “side nigga”. The idea that another cook in the kitchen expressed concern over her boyfriend being upset that she discussed their relationship with her “side nigga” i.e. a guy she’d meet up for sex with little to no strings attached. The rate of divorce was brought up. Then one of the men began to speak on the violence and discord in Jamaica, specifically the Garrison–an area of the country that is notorious for it’s brutal, bloody political acts of terror. He talked about how the colors–Green and Yellow–could get you killed quickly, much like Red or Blue can here in some parts of the country. How he’d seen a man shot in the face, and had to quickly turn around as if he hadn’t heard or seen the grisly act in order to preserve his own life. If the shooter believed you saw too much of the violent act committed, you’re life was also forfeit. He then showed me pictures. Things that haunted his nightmares. Things he prayed would never be a part of his life again. He wanted to cook. He had no interest in gangs or fighting in some political war. He was a chef. They all were. One, the oldest of the three, was raised in the more tourist heavy part of the country. Another was raised in a part that saw it’s fair share of murder and corruption, but still managed to carve himself out a semi-normal existence.
And then there was the last one, who survived his childhood. Let that marinate for a second.
How many of you had to ‘survive’ your childhood?
As I stood there listening to these men speak and give testimony, I felt something in me sink. My heart. I felt so much for these other men–their struggle, their resolve, and the people along the way in Jamaica who saw fit to bestow wisdom in all three. All three are fantastic chefs. All three are incredibly insightful young men. And all three have tremendously bright futures, in whatever it is they pursue in life. I could not be any more proud of my friends then I was for that series of conversations.