Diaspora for Sale


(Taken from I Am Jamaican)

Jennifer M. Brinkerhoff, in her text Digital Diasporas: Identity and Transnational Engagement discusses the increasingly important phenomenon of digital diasporas. She examines how immigrants use the internet as a means of maintaining ties to their countries of origin, in that they create for themselves virtual spaces/communities (websites, social network communities, etc.). She argues that these digital diasporic communities can serve to ease security concerns in both the homeland and host country, improve the quality of life in the host countries and improve socioeconomic development in their country of origin.

She begins her treatment of this subject with an analysis of the question, what is a diaspora? She asserts that modern diasporas are minority groups of migrants residing in a host country while maintaining “strong sentiment and material” ties to their country of origin or homeland. Scholars have identified a range of features that must be present for a group to be considered a diaspora. In this modern understanding of the diaspora one feature has become problematic for groups seeking to assert their diaspora consciousness and self-awareness, is the  “development of return movement,” in that diasporic groups must a collectively maintain and interest in returning to their countries of origin.

Nonetheless, groups seeking to be considered as a diaspora are constantly shaping and reshaping the meaning of the term, taking it from a concrete concept to something that is loosely defined and applied by minority agents seeking to further political agendas, to supports activist missions, to foster group inclusion and for what I would like to include as furthering business prospects. In her redefinition of the term diaspora, Brinkerhoff speaks to the loose application of this term. In her definition the collective need to return to the country of origin is not a prerequisite. This need can be metaphorically applied, while highlightinge specific emphasis of the concept of collective memory and the maintenance of a myth of the homeland along with the commitment to keeping the homeland alive through symbolic and purposive expressions in the host country.

The Facebook “digital community” I Am Jamaican is very intriguing when thinking of Brinkerhoffs definition of what constitutes a digital diasporic community. The first thing I noticed upon viewing is this page is that the name of the page “I am Jamaican” has been copy written and in the description sections they state that, “I am a Jamaican® is the most powerful, highly engaging, influential, Caribbean brand and movement on Social Media.” A Brand, what does this mean? Next I started browsing through their post of varies subjects. There exist nothing truly concrete in terms of any political ideology, or conversations based on the maintenance of a specific Jamaican identity. This site reminds me very much of the “One Love” Jamaican Tourism Board Commercial. In this commercial we see the production of a Jamaican cultural identity as, to borrow a term from my colleague Naia, solely for the voyeuristic gaze of white tourist. Like this commercial the Facebook community seems quiet sterilized and homogenized. We see scenes of Michael Bolt racing, Bob Marley smoking, happy smiling babies and one strange video titled, “How to Tell You’re in a Jamaican Home”. On further investigation this page seems to be devoted to selling I am Jamaican merchandise, selling a Jamaican as an experience, selling Jamaican as a brand and selling Jamaican pride. So, then does this site constitute a digital diaspora community?


  1. Dwight, I like that you went way further than my very shallow reading of the Facebook page as voyeuristic. While there are a lot of people reminiscing and talking about memories and feelings they have with their time growing up in Jamaica, it also paints a very, very clean version of the island, maybe a sidestep from the tourist, “come to Jamaica” version of Jamaica, only skewed through a lens that makes it feel like it’s coming more from an insider. Maybe if there were spaces to have serious discussions, it could be better. However, we all know that discussions on Facebook have the ability to go horribly wrong, so perhaps the “clean” image was on purpose…

  2. Before reading Brinkerhoff, I had no idea that immigrants use the internet as a means to promote change in their home land. This is an increasingly important phenomenon that should be taken very seriously. After doing a bit of research, I found some many different immigrant groups who use social media to promote change in their homeland.

  3. Your question: “So, then does this site constitute a digital diaspora community?” really made me reconsider my categorization of I Am Jamaican as such. Though I am still convinced that it is, you make a very valid point. I would argue that I Am Jamaican achieves a lot of things all at once; one of them being a virtual space through which Jamaican immigrants can maintain strong sentiment and material ties to Jamaican. Just like the meaning of Diaspora seems to be shaping and re-shaping, I feel as though the online Diasporic communities also reflect this.

  4. You make a very interesting point here about the blog being made with a white voyeuristic eye in mind. But i wonder, might this have been done deliberately to change any negative connotations whites may have of Jamaicans of color? Could this be a conscious attempt to promote tourism to benefit Jamaica as a whole? Maybe this does speak to a larger issue of the dependency on tourism for many island in Caribbean to survive. So on a subconcious level, this could be part of a discussion on socioeconomic status on a global scale.

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