For the last several months I have been in the eastern Caribbean, which is populated largely by the descendants of enslaved Africans. It was interesting, and heartening, to observe that from those awful beginnings, those descendants now own the culture. It was good to see how they now collect on this from people of the same color as those who enslaved them, who come to enjoy the lifestyle they have created. It is their music, their speech patterns, their way of doing things that rules.They reflect the beauty of Bob Marley’s line, “we forward in this generation, triumphantly.”
It is indeed a story of victory over a brutal past, but the economic truth, of course, is far more complex. The story of wealth has not paralleled the story of freedom. I asked a couple of the crew on snorkel expeditions who actually owned the boats, and it was not anyone with skin their color. I asked if it would be possible to reach a point where they owned a boat like the one we were on and could operate it independently, and they said it was not impossible but it was very hard to see the path to that. But still, there is something wonderful about the fact that they live in a world so unlike that of their enslaved ancestors, and that the end result of slavery was to deliver to Africans some pretty fantastic real estate in the New World, and a lifestyle that has far more joy.
And now I am in the Mexican Yucatan, and the peoplescape has changed. Yesterday in Cozumel it was so wonderful to be surrounded by people speaking Spanish. I didn’t realize how much I had missed that. Mariachis, not steel drums, entertained people in the tourist shops near the pier, and the bars were serving tequila rather than rum. Of course, that is a far cry from authenticity, but it brought for me all the associations with Mexican culture I have from living for decades on the Mexican border, in San Diego.
My shore excursion was particularly fun, labeled as a day of taco appreciation. And indeed it was. We went to a place where we made tortillas by hand and on a press, prepared our own guacamole and a salsa with ground pumpkin seeds that was new to me, both in the traditional way with mortar and pestle. This was followed by three kinds of tacos from various parts of Mexico, accompanied by however much tequila we wanted. Me, not much—I love the smell but am not crazy about the taste.
It’s good to roam the world, and it is good to stay put for a while in new places, but there is always going to be something utterly special about the familiar things one grew up with. My first soft, fresh, fragrant corn tortilla in who knows how long. My first taste of salsa spiced with habanero chiles in months! Welcome home.