Alva James-Johnson: The beauty of the American melting pot

May 8, 2014 

Alva James-Johnson

My daughters are great impersonators.

They mimic my quirky gestures and corny expressions every chance they get. But it's all good. Last night they were able to put those skills to good use.

Both girls performed in Calvary Christian School's production of "The Little Mermaid," a Disney classic based on the timeless fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen.

My oldest daughter had a major role, playing Sebastian, a red Caribbean crab and a servant of King Triton. My 13-year-old played several smaller parts, including a chef, a seagull and a jelly fish. They had been practicing for weeks, and I can't get the "Under the Sea" song out of my head.

The play had two showings Thursday and will close with a final show today at 6:30 p.m.

My daughter, I have to admit (with a bias, of course), is a great Sebastian. In the animated film, it's a male character, but at Calvary she managed to turn the crab into a feminine sensation, dressed in a red skirt and tights, with a sparkling top hat to match. But what really stands out is her strong Caribbean accent, which sounds like she just came off the shores of the Bahamas. My younger daughter didn't have much of a speaking part, but she expressed Caribbean mannerisms through choreographed movement.

The girls were acting, of course, but they do come by the culture honestly.

You see, they have Caribbean ancestry on both sides of their family. My husband is originally from Guyana, South America (considered part of the Caribbean) and migrated to the United States at age 10. I was born in the United States, but my mother is from a small island called Nevis, and my dad is from Antigua. Those countries are just dots on the map, but they are rich in culture and heritage.

The girls were born in Omaha, Neb. But when we moved to South Florida, -- where my parents and mother-in-law retired -- they had an opportunity to really bond with their grandparents. Through their relationships with those Caribbean immigrants, along with other relatives and friends, they were steeped in island culture while at the same time growing up as typical American teens. That, after all, is the beauty of the American melting pot -- a place of "E pluribus unum," out of many, one. At least, that's what we were taught in school.

Over the years, the girls have learned to love West Indian foods like curry and roti, rice and peas, plantain and channa (what we in America call chick peas). They've developed an appreciation for tropical goodies like mango, sugarcane, coconut and pineap

ple. They've been exposed to Caribbean folklore and customs. And they've learned to imitate West Indian dialect in their own American way.

So, when the play opened Thursday night, my daughters displayed Caribbean flair handed down for generations -- and mimicked along the way.

Sitting in the audience were both grandmothers and relatives who traveled from as far as Atlanta and Huntsville, Ala., for the performance, each of them reflected in some way on stage.

An old African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. My daughters have been blessed by that reality -- Caribbean style.

Alva James-Johnson, reporter,

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