I suspect that the content of what is to follow will not be particularly well received by many of your readers. But as a recently removed, 12 year resident of Frederiksted, I thought my reflections and perspective might be of use to some of your readers, both native born and transplants.
As stated, I lived and worked in F'sted for 12 years, landing on the shores in 1994 and leaving February of 2006. And like the book says, "It was the best of times and the worst of times."
I, along with my wife and small son, came to St. Croix to listen to, and participate in, the international jazz festival, and decided right away to stay. We sold our home in the states and invested the money, our life savings, in developing a small business in F'sted.
For the first year or two the business did well and grew in the community. But, as happened to so many, the gradual decline of the F'sted economy finally took its toll, and after 4 years of hard work, and surviving several hurricanes, our investment money was gone, and we had to close.
We did not, however, leave with out tails between our legs, but rather got jobs and continued to try to build a life for our son and ourselves.
We became students of the history and culture of the islands. I learned to play Calypso and other musical forms. We never missed a holiday celebration; Emancipation Day, Festival, you name it and we were there.
I was fortunate to go to work for a social service agency, caring for disabled Virgin Islanders right in F'sted. It was a great feeling knowing I was contributing back to the community, and I continued to do that work until the very day I left.
Which brings me to why we left.
The short answer is, that after 12 years living and working in the community, investing our savings and caring for native born disabled folks, who in many cases had family on the island who had no involvement in their care, my family and I were still reminded on an almost daily basis that we were not full members of the St. Croix community, nor would we ever be.
These reminders came in the form of both words and deeds, some subtle and some blatant, but all hurtful, and intended to show us that there were lines we could not cross, and rights as citizens that we should not expect to have. A couple of examples might prove helpful.
"You people come down here…." This was the instant line of defense in any dispute with a native Crucian. Whether it be an overcharge for a product, or no service when paid for, a problem with a government agency or whatever, as a white continental, I was not allowed to argue my case on the facts or the merit of the argument, because, if I was right, the other party would retreat behind the "you people blah blah blah" line, end of discussion. This happened so often that it became a family joke, but that made it no less frustrating.
"Go back where you came from." This was often used to justify rudeness toward us. For instance, my family returned home one evening to find someone had parked their car across our driveway, blocking our entrance. A quick search around town turned up the person, a native St. Croix man, and we asked him if he would please move his car so that we could drive into our driveway. At this point he became enraged, refused to move his car because "he had the right to park there," and told us if we didn't like it, we should go "back where we came from."
To make matters worse, when the police came, (yes we called for help), the officer told us that we must have "disrespected the man" and caused the problem. Sometime later, the man did move his car 6 feet to clear our driveway, cursing us, "white people come down here" etc., the whole time.
Finally, and I think this was the last straw, our across the street neighbor, with whom we thought we had a good relationship became upset with us for complaining about the loud music coming from the bar on our street at 3 or 4 o'clock every morning. The owners were her friends and she became enraged that we would complain, screaming, cursing and threatening us, concluding with this statement, "Well you need to move because only black people should live on this block." Oh. After twelve years I'm not welcome on the block.
I could sight hundreds of examples but I think you get the idea.
The reason I am writing this now is because it was clear that these were things I could not say and continue to live on St. Croix. In fact I would venture a guess that if you talked to any white continental they would have many similar stories to tell but keep them to themselves. This is because the rules are clear, we were to keep our heads down and our mouths shut or risk being labeled a bigot, a racist, or worse. Better to give up your place in line at the store than deal with that.
And that's the real shame here, this goes on every day; good people are driven out of the community and it cannot be talked about. In my case, you lost a productive tax-paying citizen who loved the islands as home and worked in a much-needed care-giving field. And who knows how many others are turned away every day, who could also be contributing members of the community.
As I said in the beginning, our stay was good and bad. We met many wonderful people and had many great experiences, but on balance, it was a cold, unfriendly and unwelcoming environment. To move there means you will always be on the outside looking in.
So to those who read this and nod their heads, I urge you to speak up, dangerous as that might be. To those who practice these behaviors, or who know about it and say nothing, (and that is just about everyone) take a look at what you are doing to your home and your children. Your young people will grow up to act in the same hateful manor towards others and this will guaranty that the poor economy, the lousy government, the endless arguments about who is or is not a "Virgin Islander" and all the rest will continue, because to change things you need committed people, and commitment is a two-way street.
David J. McKean
Formerly of Frederiksted
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