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COMMENTARY: Examining BVI culture amidst Immigration pressures

COMMENTARY: Examining BVI culture amidst Immigration pressures

Over the past year, immigration has become a hot-button topic in the Virgin Islands society, with arguments that appeared to be rooted in a defence of VIslanders, Virgin Islands culture, and the general Virgin Islands way of life.

Public voices and discussions around immigration policy have revealed a lot of misplaced thoughts about Virgin Islands culture being eroded by immigrants to the territory.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss the pros and cons of the state of immigration in the Virgin Islands today. Instead, as the Territory celebrates the newly rebranded, ‘Virgin Islands Day’, I want to tackle the fallacy that Virgin Islands culture and way of life is under direct threat because of the influx of immigrants.

I’d like to present an interdisciplinary perspective to challenge this idea, starting with dissecting culture and ending with recommendations for fellow Virgin Islanders.

What is culture?

Culture can be defined as ‘how things are done’. Culture at its core is abstract and consists of ideas, values, and perceptions that inform behaviour. Those behaviours and the rituals that develop are cultural expressions. Though the representation of a culture can be obvious, passing on the actual culture is usually more abstract and happens via relationships and traditions.

What happens at the intersection of immigration and culture?

Immigration is not intrinsically bad but should operate within the constraints of a core economic principle; the law of scarcity. This principle outlines that economic resources (land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship) are limited and not infinite. When immigration policy does not operate within this economic theory, or there is a perception that it does not, that is when immigration as a matter becomes problematic.

I believe that the core aspect driving the discourse on the immigration policy in the territory has roots in this law of scarcity … How many immigrants to the Virgin Islands are too much? Will there be enough [land, labour, etc.] for VIslanders in their homeland? Will a prolonged imbalance in immigrants and citizens erode VI culture? All great questions but consider this idea … Virgin Islands culture (along with cultural traditions and expressions) can only be eroded if VIslanders choose to abandon them.

We would have to collectively hide our light behind a bushel. Do understand, immigrants bringing their culture and practising their own cultural expression is not diametrically opposed to Virgin Islands culture flourishing in these Virgin Islands.

How do we maintain Virgin Islands culture?

Since culture is most easily embodied in behaviour, Virgin Islands culture will need to be amplified and modelled via intentional signalling and storytelling by those who authentically carry the culture. This highlights the importance of cultural expressions: carolling at Christmastime, religious assembly, Fungi music, and tales of Boysie, the Boy Louie, and Captain Henley and Ella-Gifft.

These examples themselves are not the culture; instead, the culture is nestled in ideas and values driving these behaviours. As we seek to preserve, activate, and transfer Virgin Islands culture while balancing the effects of immigration, consider the following:

1. CHARACTER – Strong character and knowledge of self are uniquely yours. The cultural expressions that we associate with the Virgin Islands are built on deeper notions: being industrious, caring for the family/the village, and honouring and celebrating life. Continue to embody these mindsets and behaviours that espouse what it means to be a Virgin Islander.

2. CIVILITY – Don’t lose sight of polite and courteous interactions with others. Consider the lowest common denominator – humanity. When we strip away the surface level trappings that might otherwise seek to divide us, including geographic and national origin, we can maybe offer everyone a level of grace in life, living, and livelihood.

3. COMMUNITY – Understand that it is not us against them; it is not ‘all ah we’ and ‘none ah dem’. As tiny as this Territory is, we share space and thrive in a symbiotic relationship that benefits everyone. Immigrants provide profound benefits to the economic and social construct of the Virgin Islands and by extension, Virgin Islanders themselves.

There is so much happening in the world with an economic impact to the Virgin Islands, including immigration. We can safely acknowledge that Virgin Islands society has evolved with the generations and that has impacted demonstrations of cultural expression.

However, unless we have totally moved away from whence we came, Virgin Islands culture is still alive and well, as long as Virgin Islanders and generations to come, continue to represent it.

Justin J Blyden, a Virgin Islander, is an interdisciplinary leader who leverages a mix of business acumen and relationships to help companies meet strategic goals. He leads teams to design, develop, and deploy procedures to solve complex business challenges for some of the world’s largest multinational companies.


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