Written by Stephanie Koathes

Faces of the Diaspora: Keisha Swaby

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Keisha Swaby left Jamaica when she was just 14 years old to live in the United Kingdom. Though she’s lived most of her life abroad, that hasn’t dampened Keisha’s connection to her Jamaican roots. This ambassador of Jamaicans Inspired shares a little bit of her life as a Jamaican in the diaspora.

Where do you live?

Manchester, UK

Where in Jamaica are you from?

I am from the Parish of St Elizabeth!

When did you leave Jamaica?

June 1992

Why did you leave?

My grandma and aunt wanted to give me the opportunity to experience the UK and have more opportunities.

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What do you do now?

I am currently studying full time for a degree in Health, Fitness and Exercise, after being in the corporate world for 17 years! I am also giving back to my country by working with Jamaicans Inspired on the Parish Ambassador Projects.

How strong is your connection to the island?

Very strong I love my beautiful island and it’s my birth home, nowhere nu betta than yard!!

What is it like being Jamaican where you live? How do people react?

Everyone wants to be Jamaican. Our culture runs through everything from our music, our ‘twang’, our food, colours, the warmth of the people, our determination, our hard work, our history the list goes on and on!

How do you keep close to your Jamaican culture despite having been abroad for such a long time?

My husband is Jamaican and is a proud one like myself! I listen to reggae everyday if not in my house in my car and there is always Jamaican food in our house, I even have a traditional dutch pot from my mom. The kids are crazy about our colours and great fans of the man himself, the great Usain Bolt. We are very proud Jamaicans and people are fascinated by Jamaicans!

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What does being Jamaican mean to you?

Everything. It’s in my blood, my spirit, my language (especially when communicating at home and my fellow members of the diaspora). I wouldn’t want to be anything but Jamaican! I love my culture and everything about it.

How can the Diaspora give back/ be involved in Jamaican affairs?

By supporting the communities and the children of the communities. Together we can make a bigger difference, there is strength in numbers and with love and unity we can achieve more! All things are possible.

Are you part of any Diaspora communities/organisations where you live?

Yes I am a proud ambassador of Jamaicans Inspired and I am working with the Parish Ambassador Project in partnership with the JCDC. Jamaicans Inspired is achieving great things and I love the mission of the organisation in connecting the youthful diaspora back to Jamaica and it’s culture.

Would you say that the Diaspora community is very active? (regular meetings, cultural activities etc)

Yes in some areas that I am aware of activities and events are being held regularly keeping the link going. There is always something happening somewhere involving the Diaspora.

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What was it like being raised Jamaican in a British environment?

Very different. For a start I really missed the sunshine when I got to the UK and the food; at first I found it very difficult to get used to the food in the UK! The people were very different too with various deep accents! The environment was very different.

Where would you like to see Jamaica in 50 years?

I would like to see Jamaica more developed with more opportunities for young people, empowering them to make better life choices and positive role models for the generations to come. I would also like to see better use of our resources such as consistent supply of local natural produce. More export with better availability of our own crops!

What’s your favourite aspect of Jamaican culture?

Our food, our music, everything about our culture, even the stereotypes we get! We are a strong people and very proud of who we are and our heritage.

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What is it like when you visit the island?

Where do I start? I feel at home on my own soil with my own people, my recent trip was amazing.  it was more than I imagined and being there to attend my first diaspora conference and the celebrations for the 55th year of independence was out of this world. The whole trip was just perfect and thanks to everyone that made it so special, the Jamaican Inspired team, the JCDC, Grace Foods, the great people that I met from the US and Canada. The conference and all the events were great and I met some amazing people.

What’s your favourite Jamaican saying?

Everything irie! One one coco full basket! One han cyaan clap!

Your favourite Jamaican dish?

Ackee and salt fish with boiled dumpling, breadfruit and green banana! steam fish too!

Which culture do you identify more with, British or Jamaican?

Definitely Jamaican. I am blessed to be a Jamaican!

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