Memories of a Jamaican Child
This is the true story of one immigrant child growing up in two very different cultures. She is loved and disrespected; protected and vulnerable; happy and sad – and is posed with the problem of figuring out who she is in all this divergence.
Rarely do we get an inside look at the effects of immigration on a child. We follow her journey within the covers of Bat Mitzvah Girl, we see through a child’s eyes as she is reunited with her strong-willed mother and charming father, and becomes the beloved child of four loving Jewish aunties in London’s East End.
Migration calls for lots of adjustments and, once they are made, a whole new set appears as Beverley is once again living in Jamaica with her dominant grandmother and a host of colorful relatives.
Customs are challenging; school is terrorizing. She doesn’t know what to believe, but she is surrounded by loving (if contradictory!) viewpoints in both England and Jamaica. Beverley’s coming of age story deals with delicate issues of race, separation and longing and a whole heap of family love.
Walk with Beverley through this jumble of relationships and experiences. Know her confusion, feel her love of justice, see her shrink and grow within the loving embrace of different folks from different cultures, and see how they all work things out. These patchwork of experiences mould her to be the woman she is today.
Press and Praise for Bat Mitzvah Girl
Interview with CaribNation
“Bev East’s charismatic personality and expansive humanity illuminate this tie-dyed sunburst reminiscence of a wide-eyed childhood spent in Jamaica and the UK. As much personal recollection as a travelogue – Bat Mitzvah Girl brings together two of the world’s most tragic Diasporas in one Love.”
— Colin Channer, Author of Waiting In Vain, and The Girl With the Golden Shoes
“This is a literary turning of Art Speigelman’s image of the Hasidic and the Black kiss. Be prepared to have what you know about West Indian and Jews together even if you are those things – turned on its head.”
— Catherine McKinley, Author of The Book of Sarahs and Indigo
There is an African Proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
I had such a village. However, my village was not in Africa or in Jamaica, it was right there in the East End of London in the house in front of me. Those who are lucky are fortunate to have a mother and father who love them. I was blessed tenfold with a mother, a father and four childless sisters who absolutely adored me. When I was 18 months old, my mother left me. She took a slow boat named the Auriga to the Motherland. Like so many other West Indian men and women of that time, after twenty-eight days at sea, she began her quest for a new life. She arrived in England on 21st August, 1955. I was left in Jamaica in the loving heart of my grandmother, the watchful eye of an older sister and a doting father. I was four when I saw her again. I thought I would remember her face, her voice, her smell but I didn’t. When she rushed to welcome me, hugging and kissing me, all she received in return was a blank stare. I remembered my sister and father, who had arrived earlier. So I followed them around the house like a lost puppy, skirting the edges of the walls, avoiding any contact with the woman who claimed she was my mother. She was ‘nice’ to me, this lady, although I kept telling her, “My mummy is coming to get me soon.”
“But I am your mummy,” she said as she fought back the tears.
“No, no” I said firmly shaking my head. “My mummy is in England.”
“But you are here now in England, my darling.”
Nothing could convince me that this ‘nice’ lady living with my daddy and my sister was my mother.
The ‘nice’ lady took two weeks off work to reacquaint herself with me but to no avail. Every day while Daddy was at work and my sister at school, she took me somewhere interesting. We walked to the underground tube at Mile End station and took the train to Westminster. There we looked at the big clock, called Big Ben, then along the Mall to look at the Beefeaters, who were not eating any beef, but standing as stiff as statutes. We then progressed towards Buckingham Palace where the Queen of England lived.
Another day we took a bus to Tower Bridge. We always went upstairs as the ‘nice’ lady realized that we could see much more from the upper deck. This was so much fun. At Tower Bridge we watched the bridge open, as the tugs pushed through below on the River Thames. Another day to the zoo. On the rainy days we just stayed on the bus on the upper deck observing the busyness of London street life. The ‘nice’ lady bought me boxes of toys and two lovely dolls, one with brown hair and one with blond hair. I got both because I could not decide on either. She suggested that I call one Margaret and one Elizabeth, (after the queen and her sister). I parted their blond and brown hair like mine and tied red ribbons in them. Two days later a big walkie-talkie doll was delivered to the house. When she wound it up it scared the living daylights out of me. Without moving her lips a recorded voice kept saying, “Hello, Hello,” while walking towards me like a robot. Like a scared cat, I ran in the other direction.
“I don’t like this dolly, I don’t like this dolly,” I screamed.
The ‘nice’ lady wrapped the doll in tissue paper and put it back in the box and there it stayed for several weeks. The next day she bought me a doll house. As soon as we returned from our visits she allowed me to sit on the doorstep and play with my new toys, with the promise that I would never move away from the step. In my tiny four year old mind I thought that if I sat on the outside of the house my ‘real’ mother would find me easier and take me home. I was so sure when I saw her again I would know her, would recognize her smell, her voice, her face. The ‘nice’ lady was so obliging of my behavior, allowing me to spend my days sitting on the front door step waiting for what she thought was my sister or my daddy to come home…
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