There are a number of ways to observe Canada Day,* such as drinking a two-four of Molson and then hitting the #TOpoli crack pipe, but surely one of the most fitting forms of observance is to reflect on the Jamaican experience in Canada. Contrary to popular belief, the typical Jamaican experience in Canada does not consist of donning the entire contents of one’s suitcase at the exit from baggage claim in Calgary and then engaging in a futile but heartwarming bobsledding competition against locals who’ve taken a few rides on that ice in their day. Look, no one beats the mayor’s team; homeboy’s got inertia, and your underfed ass isn’t keeping up with that rock-fueled heartland freight train once it leaves the station.
Don’t worry about the anachronisms, or the aerodynamics. Like most sports films, Cool Runnings is awful. That’s probably why it passed muster for screening on my Boy Scout troop’s bus ride from Philmont to Colorado Springs. The goobers who handled our overland entertainment (and came through with cabin drink service, which was refreshing but kind of disturbing) worked for the same organization whose camp directors in Pennsylvania thought it edifying to teach us a ditty about Chesterfield. Chesterfield who, you ask? Click this link to find out. Just don’t go there in search of good taste.
In addition to being sappy garbage, Cool Runnings grossly misrepresents the Jamaican experience in Canada. If you’re wondering why I suddenly give a shit about the Jamaican experience in Canada and whether I’m doing a trashy SEO milkshake to bring all the SWPL dingbats to the yard, the real reason I’m interested in this stuff is that a much more typical Jamaican experience in Canada is the polar opposite of sporting glory under a cruel Alberta Clipper. The plane lands in Toronto, not Calgary, and it’s summer, which according to the movies Canada doesn’t have, so maybe you’re a bit cool, eh, but nothing that a light work shirt can’t remedy, and you won’t have the energy to do any sort of runnings, hot, cold, or lukewarm, after work when you’re picking fruit all day everyday six days a week. As to the seventh day, the Lord’s Day Alliance would like to remind you that that-there’s for church (which perhaps calls into question what’s so awful about Rob Ford, a mayor who let citizens make their own decisions between the pews and the pipe), but you probably won’t have a lot of spare energy for an icy cool change then, either. Never mind that: you’ll probably be doing laundry and riding the company truck into town to get groceries. And don’t worry about bringing a parka; we’ll return you to sender before we go back to our wintering grounds in Florida.
That’s right. Jamaicans are Canada’s Mexicans. Actually, Mexicans can now be Canada’s Mexicans, too, which is just swell from a cultural and linguistic point of view. The thinking here is that since we still haven’t figured out how to communicate with the Quebeckers, let’s bring in a bunch of Spanish-speaking peasants so that they can talk past us in a third language. E pluribus loonum. Real fuckin’ smart, partner.
What’s embarrassing is that Canadians pride themselves on civic probity and equity and shit, but at the same time their government has spent half a century acting in concert with major agricultural concerns to use a number of noticeably less white and northerly foreign countries as pools of cheap, compliant labor. What it looks like–nay, what it is–is the recruitment of poor black and brown people to do heavy physical labor in Canada for a thousand or two hours a year in exchange for absolutely no civic stake in the country. One kind of gets the feeling that it’s super racist.
You may recall that we, the land of the free and home of the brave, had a similar program for a generation. The bracero program, established in 1942, was one of those emergency wartime programs that lasted through the Second World War, and then the Korean War, and the little Bay of Pigs/Cuban missile crisis/Curtis LeMay almost blew up the earth thing, and into the early years of the Vietnam War. Since it took until 1964 to be discontinued, it’s reasonable to ask whether it was part of the war effort or part of the blacklist uppity American fieldhands effort. Personally, I lean toward the latter. We had hella local boys and girls working in the fields during the Depression–white, black, Indian, Asian, Chicano, whatever–and, yes, some of that was because the native-born were desperate for work in hard times, or because the Chavez family got foreclosed from its farm in Arizona (maybe not the smartest long-term labor relations strategy for the planter class), but the federal authorities also clamped down on immigration from Mexico in that period (and from everywhere else, too), and the planters started getting ornery about what they considered the poor work ethic and excessive pay requests of their new help.
The bracero program gave the planters a new Mexican workforce, this time one that was willing to submit to nude group physical exams at the border. As a farm worker, I can assure you that there’s a difference between not wanting to work in the fields and not wanting to work at jobs where the bosses have access to a labor pool as desperate and debased as that. These jobs aren’t all wine and roses (I’m sore in the legs and hands right now, and I’m only doing about thirty hours of vineyard work a week) *(ed.: I started writing this piece in a timely fashion, on Canada Day, but then I got le tired; please to accept a slightly belated happy half-birthday to your country), but they don’t have to be aggressively crapified. Not treating recruits like prisoners is a good start.
One of the damning things about the bracero program was the unease that it inspired in the Mexican government. Mexico was an impoverished, dysfunctional country that had a lot to gain by sending young men abroad all summer, but its government barred farm owners in Texas from the bracero program until 1947 and threatened to abrogate the bracero treaty entirely in 1951. In each case, officials were alarmed by reports of serious workplace abuses. Their own country had some pretty awful work conditions of its own, so it’s safe to say that the bracero program enabled some really gnarly shit.
But Canada, Ted Cruz’s home and native land, picked up that torch where we left it, a torch that it less than proudly carries to this day, although to their credit, at least they don’t seem to sexually degrade their field hands. The genesis story about the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program is that a group of Canadian farmers who had been dealing with labor shortages were visiting Jamaica, where they noticed large numbers of unemployed men sitting around with nothing to do. This story is a bit too close for comfort to the ancient American meme of the indolent negro. But the poor farmers, so harried that they spent the winter traveling in Jamaica not a decade after the introduction of commercial jet aircraft: surely their labor shortage is one of the great Canadian hard knocks stories, right up there with St. Jean de Breboeuf and all the poor girls murdered by Robert Pickton.
Like any lobby of whiny fucks from the planter class, these growers went to their government with a sob story, a White Whine about being shorthanded in the Great White North. They prevailed upon it to enter into a bilateral treaty with Jamaica for the recruitment of seasonal farm workers. Over the years, SAWP treaties were signed with a number of other Caribbean countries and Mexico.
The first thing I noticed about this program was that I’m legally ineligible for it. By any reasonable standard, it’s bizarre to be at a disadvantage for work permitting in Canada on account of US citizenship. By the way, I speak decent French. This just doesn’t make any sense. Of course, it makes brilliant sense if the goal is to recruit desperate people who don’t have any other options. My countryman R. Allen Stanford would be eligible for this program if he weren’t criminally inadmissible to Canada on account of epic securities fraud, and the feds having seized his Antiguan passport too before shipping him off to Coleman, but no amount of stoop labor will qualify me for the SAWP. My only way in is through the agricultural stream for temporary foreign workers. These sound like the same thing, but they aren’t; the latter program isn’t nearly as old as the former, and apparently it’s more cumbersome.
If the SAWP is really about filling agricultural labor shortages, it should be enough to convince an immigration officer that one has relevant farm work experience and isn’t Charles Cullen. (I was a bit liberal there: drunk driving convictions aren’t kosher, either, unless ten years have passed and the supplicant has been granted official Canadian mercy by the governor-general or some shit. I have a friend from Calcutta who looked into this after getting a DUI in Pennsylvania; US CBP still admits him after half an hour of mild secondary screening, but he’s figured to hell with the Canucks.) But seriously, if they really need extra hands, they shouldn’t be preemptively disqualifying foreigners whose citizenship allows them to enter Canada without a visa, especially ones whose country is located next to theirs. A decent swath of Ontario farm country is within a long but manageable daily commute of Buffalo or Detroit, and a bigger swath of it is close enough for a larger pool of Americans to go home on weekends. I’m not saying that HRSDC should actively recruit Americans for these jobs; I’m saying that if it’s serious about filling seasonal farm jobs, it might want to allow us to apply for them. I’m just asking, yes or no, Brando, am I a contendah? Apparently not. But if your country is in the Global South and willing to be one of Canada’s official labor colonies, you are. Here’s lookin’ at you, Stanford.
If you’re trying to shake the feeling that the SAWP isn’t racist, don’t read this academic paper. It’s a beautiful self-parody. Remember all the shitty, daft prose in your middle school textbooks about how this cultural trend affects (maybe “was central to”) that other cultural trend, probably something about railroads and the cotton gin and the Civil War, maybe instructions to compare and contrast Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, and it only took three paragraphs to discuss labor relations in the Gilded Age, so maybe the authors missed some things? The link above is like that, but leavened with gut-wrenchingly stupid SWPL affectations about how food is such an important element of culture. I’ll grant that it’s an important element of cultures where there is none, like Ukraine in the 1930’s, where Jeffrey Dahmer would certainly have enjoyed dinner, but where there is enough of it, you can bet your ass that dumbfuck lefties won’t shut up about its profound meanings. It’s a convenient way to ignore serious cultural differences, and that’s probably why the self-destructive parts of the left are so taken with it. I shit you not, the paper I linked to is a scholarly examination of how you can now buy condensed milk and jerk sauce at the Simcoe A&P. This is the kind of scholarship that you forsook by not staying in school. I’d need days of editing, not counting reference checks, to write something so dull and pointless. Chipotles in the house. Jalapeños in the house. Furriners at Canadian Tire, catalog in hand, gawking like kids in a candy store.
See, like any good tourist or exchange student, these folks are totally fascinated by the culture of their host country, like that it has a nationwide chain of tire stores, but not that they’re planning to settle there or anything. Why not? Well, Lloyd said as much. Isn’t that enough?
If you have a lick of mind in your brain, your overwhelming question right now is this: who in the everloving fuck is Lloyd? It turns out that he’s this one Jamaican dude worked for this one Ontario farmer and labor broker for nearly three decades:
And even without a mandatory requirement for the workers to return to their sending countries, Forth thinks the majority of workers choose to return to the familiarity of home.
“There are some people that have a huge Canadian ego and think, ‘Everybody wants to live in Canada.’ Everybody does not,” Forth said. “One guy worked for me for 29 years. I said, ‘Lloyd, would you ever want to live here?’ He said, ‘If I’d wanted to live here, I’d have run away 25 years ago. I’ve got a good thing going. I work here six or seven months, and I go home to my wife, and I build a nice house, and I have a nice family, and I have a nice life.”
“And besides,” Lloyd told Forth, “it’s too cold here.”
This isn’t just a Canadian problem. It’s an American problem, too, since the foregoing mental garbage ran in an all-American newspaper, USA Today. This is, read it and weep, the second-highest circulation daily newspaper in the United States, and its understanding of journalism is to have a reporter insinuate policy recommendations that are also sort of policy recommendations for the United States based on a secondhand story from a farming HR poobah about how this one Jamaican guy who used to work for him was afraid that winter would be le cold.
Lloyd’s constituency is legion, his voice unanimous. It’s not like settling in Canada or not should maybe be an individual decision or something. What is this, a pluralistic parliamentary democracy or some shit? Nobody is legally compelled to stay the whole winter. WestJet’s scheduled flights to Palm Springs aren’t full of Jamaicans who wonder, my God, why did we settle in this horrible freezer chest? Not a whole lot of Canadians look at the weather report and think, gee, nights are getting into the negative centigrade in Palm Springs this week, and the American weathermen are blaming it on Alberta, of course, so maybe we should look into fare specials to Fort McMurray instead. No, this is not a week when one is fucking stoked to go to Coachella.
Yeah, it’s a bit chilly, eh. Do tell Mr. Wonka. Some shitbirds who know how to pull levers at the Arizona Republic and USA Today think that this is a reasonable basis to not offer permanent residency to Jamaicans because, you know, they’d be cold. There’s a movie about that, after all. Because Canadians, the other white meat, are much better adapted to the weather than their Caribbean brothers by a very other mother, and I’m not gonna look into the possibility of there being multiple scheduled flights daily from Toronto to Kingston and Montego Bay because the cognitive dissonance of Canadians flying away from their country’s awful weather would make my head explode.
I guess Dagmar Midcap lost her adaptive layer of blubber when she came south. Not that I never dig the chubbies, too, or that more quality time with the poutine wouldn’t turn Dagmar into one of Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls and not the kind one sees on the scooters at the Cottage Grove Safeway; I’m just sayin’. The Cronkite Borderlands Project should look into this possibility of a protective blubber layer and report back to us on whether that, like the constitutional unsuitability of Jamaicans to cold weather as reported in USA Today, is the way it is.
Sometimes the white boy plays that funky music until death do him and the funky music part. At other times, it is neither the time nor the place for the funk, so the white boy plays the radio instead. This is, shall we say, an excellent cultural practice. Perhaps Mr. Ross’s extra upper body strength will allow him to obtain an immigration waiver for the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, so that he isn’t forced to buy Antiguan citizenship or work as an illegal alien. As they say in the maritime trades, all hands on deck!
In any event, if Mr. Ross doesn’t bring interesting foreign cuisines with him to his new land, the Jamaicans will. This, jerk chicken, do you call it? It’s delicious. We haven’t got a thing like it in Sudbury.