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It took a hurricane to show you I’m an American

Peter Bailey
Peter Bailey

Peter Bailey is an author and a St. Thomas native. Here, in a jeffpearlman.com guest post, he expresses his anger of the mainland dismissiveness over his home. You can follow Peter here.

It took Irma, a hurricane that blew with the vengeance of a woman scorned to make the rest of America realize we in the US Virgin Islands are actually Americans.

The ongoing joke here on St. Thomas is that Irma was upset at her boyfriend Harvey and went looking for him. We do have a plethora of beautiful women here that would make even Hugh Hefner’s head spin so the idea isn’t that far fetched.

Of course, the devastation that’s now decimated my native home is no laughing matter, but as a people residing in the Caribbean’s tiniest cosmopolitan oasis of opportunity we’ve always found a way to turn our cries into smiles.

I’m just heartbroken it took such devastation for the world and, most importantly our countrymen to the north, to take notice.

Living on the US mainland all this time I kept having to explain time and time again that I’m a US citizen. My first year in college at the University of Delaware a state trooper called for back up when he saw my US Virgin Islands license after a routine traffic stop:

“St. Thomas? Where the hell is that? You Caribbean immigrants are always invading our beloved country with drugs corrupting our youth,” he scoffed.

I emphatically repeated: “I’m a US citizen”.

Well not quite.

I was elated when I voted for President Obama back in 2008, the first time I ever voted for an American President. Although we are U.S. citizens, we Virgin Islanders have to become a resident of the state we live in to be able to vote for President. Since I reside in Miami, my vote counted as a Floridian and not a Virgin Islander.

However, my vote counted as a New Yorker not a Virgin Islander. I’ve described this dilemma to friends as the United States being a cheating husband and the Virgin Islands his mistress he sees now and again, shelling out a few dollars for a good time.

Our loyalty to this abusive matrimony has made for an uneasy relationship with our Caribbean neighbors who see us as having no true identity, but who also grudgingly envy our US citizenship, however second-class.

We’re basically a glorified colony of the United States, a country that celebrates its crusade against tyranny far and wide.

According to a landmark decision rendered from the famed Insular Cases inhabitants of unincorporated territories may have limited to no constitutional rights.

Regardless of our important role to American security – purchased from Denmark in 1917 to protect the US mainland from any European incursions – our second class status and the ignorance that reinforces it isn’t exclusive to that unruly cop who pulled me over many moons ago.

It also permeates mainstream media.

Like the media coverage of hurricane Marilyn that took the first part of my roof – Irma just took the second half – mainstream media all but ignored us before Irma wreaked historic havoc upon us.

Myself and my family sat their dumbfounded flicking between network news channels. It was as if we didn’t exist.

In the fleeting moments when the US Virgin Islands was mentioned reporters painted a scene ripped from an episode of Gilligan’s Island:

“American tourists on the US territory are being cautioned to hunker down”.

Hmmmm.

I guess the estimated 100,000 Virgin Islanders who reside between St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island are “other” or “locals” as we’re called with a tinge of condescension.

Now seeing those same tourists and US mainland transplants having to navigate this catastrophe depending on us “locals” for their survival and how we’ve been more than happy to help is a sight to see.

Our governor Kenneth Mapp met the deluge of complaints by basically telling visitors stop whining telling them:

“If you’re not prepared to go through these challenges in a realistic way, with realistic expectations, I am strongly urging you to take one of the flights or one of the mercy cruises, and go to the mainland for a few months and come back,” he said.

It’s because there’s been some benefit of being disconnected from our American counterparts to the north. The sense of entitlement and bigotry that rips at the fabric of our country isn’t given life here. We see human first and color a distant last, myself being introduced to racism upon my arrival to the US mainland.

In Irma’s aftermath one white American transplant Mary Anne Steele sitting comfortably on her boat over on St. John lamented in People magazine about the “the overwhelming smell of death in the air” instead of offering aid to those who now need so much of it.

She’s since been chastised by local Virgin Islanders of all races.

Now that we Virgin Islanders have beenforced onto the national psyche Mary and other fellow Americans stand to benefit from the lessons in humanity we’re sure to offer.

4 replies on “It took a hurricane to show you I’m an American”

Peter Bailey, You are wrong about saying that it takes 7 years of living in the Mainland to be able to vote for the President! All You have to do is change Your St Thomas Drivers License to Your Mainland Address! Come Election Day You go vote! No need To wait 7 Yrs!

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Exactly Leonice Milliner, what this guy is spreading a darm lie. Once you established residency on the US mainland, (90 days) and change you drivers license you can vote in any election.

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…. This timely narrative would have been geographically accurate and less confusing had the proper noun “America” used in its proper manner. America is a continent and hence Not one country. As a continent, it is divided by three. North America, which is comprised of three countries: Canada, the United States (stick with the US), and Mexico. Panama is located in Central America along with 5 other countries. Brazil is located in South America along with 8 other counties including Peru’ and Chile. There is no such thing as an American citizen, however, you are in- fact, a US citizen. Continent and country: know the difference.

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I think that people are missing the point of this article. It is definitely shocking to many US CITIZENS who live in the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and Hawai’i to understand out that 1. there are territories that belong the United States that have no voting power whatsover, and 2. if you were born in any one of these territories that you are indeed a US CITIZEN. Jeff is also correct in saying that there is absolutely no coverage during any hurricane season on the projected path or the aftermath. I remember, as a child, having to wait for “Weather on the 8’s” in St. Croix sometimes just to see a hurricane’s projected path. It was shocking to me, now that I live in the United States of America that Puerto Rico received as much news attention as it did before and following Hurricane Maria.
I attended a prestigious university in the contiguous 48 states from 2002 to 2006, and even during the new millennium had to explain to my peers that not only was I a US citizen by birth, but that I didn’t live in a treehouse on the sand. I had to break down the fact that there are cars, houses with running water and bathrooms, and that we use the US dollar and watch United States based channels on the television. They then expressed to me that they never learned about us in school. The point of the article, I believe, is that it shouldn’t take disaster to recognize that the Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, United States Virgin Islands and American Samoa(the five inhabited territories, there are more) exist, and that we are US CITIZENS too.

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