Duck nu lay egg before fowl

Everyone can achieve success regardless of their origin

By: Sandra Seligson

No, the title isn’t a typo. It is in fact an old Jamaican saying that means “Everyone can achieve success regardless of their origin”. Tropical beaches, dreaded hair and cannabis culture are amongst the many things that may come to mind when Jamaica is mentioned. But apart from the catchy music such as dancehall and reggae brought to the masses by the likes of Major Lazer and Bob Marley, how much do we really know about Jamaicans and their culture?

Tevin and me in Melbourne, Australia in July 2016

Well turns out, in my case: not a whole lot. I had paid very little attention to this ethnic group until I met Tevin Chang, a 23-year old Jamaican-Canadian friend of mine. “What an interesting mix”, I thought to myself. Little did I know that Canadians of Jamaican origin are not a rarity at all; with a population of just over 250 000 people, in 2011 they made up 0.8% of the country’s overall population. Out of all major Canadian cities Toronto has the largest share of the minority: 3.2-3.4% of its population identify themselves as ethnically Jamaican. Native to Toronto and true to his Jamaican roots, Tevin was kind enough to share some thoughts on being a member of this vibrant ethno-linguistic minority.

“My family of Jamaican heritage have been living in Canada (mostly the greater Toronto area) for two generations now. About 45 years ago my grandmother moved to Canada. She decided to immigrate for a couple reasons: due to the fact that Jamaica and Canada are both part of the commonwealth it is fairly easy for Jamaicans to immigrate to Canada and eventually earn citizenship. The second reason being the financial benefits because of Canada’s superior economy. There is definitely a large Jamaican community in the city I’m from, Toronto. As a result of that fact, there’s all kinds of organizations and groups reaching out to the Jamaican-Canadian community”.

And what about language? Most of us are familiar with the quirky dialect, formally known as Patois or Patwa. It is classified as an English-based creole language that is also spoken by expat communities in the US, UK, Canada and other Caribbean countries.

“I can understand and speak patois. It’s mostly family and family friends that I speak Patois with. So family gatherings is primarily where I speak Patois. But also in my work environment and in just doing everyday tasks as there’s a large population of Jamaicans in general and you just bump into them. The language is a broken English that uses native English words as a base and infused with a mix of west-African and Spanish words due to Jamaica’s history of colonization and slavery. So because of the nature of Patois and the large caribbean community in Toronto, Patois and its slang has become quite popular amongst a variety of citizens of this city, whether of Jamaican heritage or not”.


Tevin wearing his backpack with a Canadian flag on it. Taken in Queensland.

Australia in March 2016

Upon befriending Tevin I was amazed how well he represents both countries. This is not due to coincidence; it seems like Jamaican-Canadians have succeeded at both keeping their own cultural heritage alive and seamlessly adopting the Canadian lifestyle. I asked him how the Jamaican-Canadian community celebrates their culture. Tevin responded:

“Canada takes a lot of pride in embracing other cultures and Jamaica is no exception. So therefore there is a joint effort from Canadian government and the Jamaican-Canadians to create all kinds of organizations and events. An example of this Is the world famous “Toronto Caribbean carnival”, a weekend long event that closes off a section of the city for a celebration of Caribbean culture including parades, musical shows and food. The event brings in people from all over the world to partake in the celebration”.

It is safe to say that this diverse minority is doing all kinds of well. It was after racial discrimination was eliminated from the Canadian Immigration Act in 1962 that Jamaican citizens could emigrate to Canada freely. As a result, a lively community now thrives in the country, keeping their cultural heritage alive and embracing it. And why shouldn’t they? After all, what a fi yu, cyaan be un fi yu (What is yours will always be yours).


Sources and references used:

– Statistics Canada “The Jamaican community in Canada” (2007)

– Statistics Canada 2011 census “Ethnic origins”

– Canadian Immigration Acts and Legislation, Immigration Regulations,
Order-in-Council PC 1962-86, 1962

Canadian museum of immigration at pier 21

-Patois: The language of Jamaica by Paxton Belcher-Timme, Rhetoric of Reggae, 2009

-Jamaican Creole English

-Jamaican (Jimiekn/Patwa/Jamaican)