As a St. Lucian who works virtually, I’m always on the look out for people who work virtually, especially if they’re St. Lucian. One of my beliefs is that building a community of people who reside in St. Lucia but work virtually anywhere in the world will be important to the future of our economy — a real future, where we don’t rely on tourism for subsistence. Kerlea’s interest in returning to St. Lucia after a long time abroad mirrors my own experiences of spending 9.5 years in the U.S. and decided to return home… Reading this interview will give you great insight into some of the considerations that can be made about returning to the Caribbean after a long absence.
Kerlea Joseph | 21 | St. Lucia (currently residing in Canada)
Follow Kerlea on Instagram! Here you can find black and white illustrations and in the near future, photos of gorgeous calligraphy.
Tell me a little more about yourself? What do you currently “do” in your spare time? What are your interests?
I’m extremely interested in Illustration particularly Fashion Illustration as well as Calligraphy. While I’m not currently studying either at school I really hope I can make a career of it someday (at least part-time). A good chunk of my time is spent researching sources of visual inspiration to keep my drawing habit going. I’m also an avid reader so I invest a lot of time reading all kinds of books (I don’t have a particular genre or type of book I favour over another) because I am also a huge fan of storytelling.
How would you describe your ethnic/racial background?
Well racially I would describe myself simply as black. While I know there’s a high possibility of having indigenous blood from my dad’s side because of my paternal grandparents features, even if it was confirmed I probably still wouldn’t list it as part of my racial identity
You’re no longer living in Saint Lucia, do you plan to return? Why do you wish to return?
Yes to the 100th power. I’ve been living in Canada for what will be ten years as of next year, and while living in a first-world country comes with a lot of benefits and incredible amounts of access to things we’ll probably never be able to have in St. Lucia, it’s also been very hard in ways people back home will never understand and people overseas will rarely admit to.
First off, in terms of weather, no matter where you live in Canada, a full-blown Canadian winter is no joke, like that shit is relentless and overbearingly oppressive. Like as a person who has suffered from depression and general anxiety for as long as I can remember far back into my childhood and only had to deal with two seasons (both hot) before I moved here, I really could not anticipate the profound effect it would have on my mental health. Winter is ALWAYS the time I feel most close to going over the edge. I always feel trapped and suffocated, like life is trying to metaphorically and literally bury me. Even if I was sufficiently medicated, I really don’t see myself coping with weather like this for the rest of my life.
Secondly, I live having the support system and sense of community that I just don’t have here. I feel like this is a big one people often take for granted back home because I know I did. Like I know for my family in particular, even though we’re not the most well off and a lot of times we have disagreements and don’t always like each other, we’re still there to support and help each other where we can. Even though I consider myself a highly independent person, not having that invisible support system has just made it 100% harder to navigate the minutiae of everyday life. Like yeah I have friends and realistically I can ask them for help with things, but with a lot of stuff I just feel more comfortable asking my family. Like if I’m hungry and totally out of food, I can’t just call up parents to drop some dasheen and green figs off for me, I’m just screwed. If I’m looking to buy a car or apartment, I have to manage it all on my own. There’s no one to say “Aye, I know somebody selling a car for this much” or “I know somebody renting an apartment for this much let’s go” which I would have back home have back home which is really hard.
Thirdly, I hate the general feeling of not belonging I have living here. I would probably feel a lot better about it if I did live in a community with a lot of black people, not even other St. Lucian/Caribbean in particular, just black people but it’s been very difficult for me to connect with or even find those types of communities. It’s incredibly tiring, always having to navigate mostly white spaces in a country that likes to pat itself on the back for “being more open minded and not as racist as America”. Canada has done a pretty good job of branding themselves as the polite, inoffensive middle power. Like racial anxiety is not a joke and I am 1000% over it. I’m looking forward to living in St. Lucia, where I won’t have to worry about how I express myself, at least racially anyway.
Lastly, I just really feel a lot of guilt at the thought of being one of those people that leaves home and never turns back but always has something shitty to say about St. Lucia. I want to be able to use what I’ve learned during my time overseas to help people at home in whatever way I can. Like building up the country so it’s a place where people feel like they have more opportunities than leaving.
How informed do you feel about last month’s election season? (If you feel informed, what were your perceptions of the election season activities?)
To be honest, I felt very disconnected from the whole thing in the sense that while I did have general news information about what was happening, I wasn’t able to listen in on radio discussions/debates which I know where a lot of the action traditionally happens. Obviously I would talk to my mom about it, but it’s very different when you’re on the ground and it’s all around you.
Flambeau, Labour or neither?
Even though my family is staunchly red all the way, personally I would say I’m not for either one.
Do you feel comfortable expressing yourself and your gender/sexuality in your family and/or your community?
This is a very interesting question because right now, I’m at a point in my life where my gender and sexuality are really in a state of flux where I’m really questioning whether I am a cishet woman or if I mostly identify this way because I’ve been forced to. But to answer your question, I definitely would not feel comfortable expressing my gender/sexuality if it deviated from the traditional cishet framework that my family is used. Even now I don’t always feel comfortable expressing even my sexuality because I think there’s too thin of a line of what counts as an acceptable display of heterosexual sexuality and what isn’t when it comes to being a woman in West Indian family and the youngest daughter at that. In that role of the good, ambitious hard-working youngest daughter, I feel like I have to present a decent interest in men but nothing overly sexual or lascivious. I can be cute but not too cute, I can wear short shorts and skirts but nothing where “my business would be hanging out for the dogs” (one of my mom’s favourites). But in the same token I can’t present asexual either because that would be equally as ostracizing.
So for me, most of the time, these subjects can be very frustrating and uncomfortable when it comes to my family because I often feel trapped by the narrow examples of sexuality presented to me.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why is feminism/womanism important to you?
I actually consider myself more of a womanist. Obviously I have a lot more researching and reading to do, but by what I’ve learned so far of womanism (feel free to correct me, I love learning more information), it sounds more focused on developing and nurturing a community wherein the focus is placed on black women outwards, as inorder to dismantle the global system of white supremacy the most oppressed individuals in society need to be cared for first.
In terms of feminism, while I do think of course agree with a lot of its ideals my biggest sticking point is seeing how it can be applicable to individuals living in third world countries like St. Lucia. I’ve also been really put off with some of the condescending attitudes of a lot feminists living in first-world western countries and the unrealistic solutions they have sometimes when trying to solve issues in third-world countries. I can’t think of any specific examples right now, but usually these “solutions” get thrown around without any real understanding of the local culture or social dynamics of our countries.
Are you fluent in creole/patois/patwa? If not, are you interested in learning?
This is such a sore spot for me because the thing is, while I can understand creole fine, my accent is horrible and I get the worse, the absolute worse anxiety when I try to speak it around my family (mainly from getting teased so badly about it as a child) that I don’t actually speak that much creole when I’m around family. I’ll toss around a few phrases but nothing too complex because I really don’t want to get roasted. If I do speak any creole, it’s usually around friends or people my age because, in that context I care a lot less about being judged and we’re on a more level field socially.
However, with all that said, I am really hopeful that one day I can overcome my creole anxiety around my family because right now, I feel like I’m not fully connecting with them. Especially with my grandparents that mostly speak creole and have a harder time speaking English, it’s hard for us to really know and connect meaningfully with each other because of the language barrier.
It’s really sad but everyday I do make an effort to practice saying some phrases out loud here and there. I’ve also find that incorporating creole into practicing calligraphy has really motivated me and gotten me to expand my vocabulary with words that I’ve found from the St. Lucian creole dictionary (which I found online) which I had never known about previously.
Is being a feminist acceptable in your community?
Within my community of friends yes because we’re young and more open-minded, but I find because my friend group in Canada is mostly white, feminism is mostly discussed from a mainstream perspective with a dash of intersectionality here and there. Most likely because that’s the most common narrative that is pushed when it comes to feminism, but fortunately when I do speak to my friends about more intersectional matters there hasn’t been any resistance to learning more information so that’s good
In terms of my family, while my mom in particular seems interested in learning more about some facets of feminism, overall I don’t think being a feminist is acceptable amongst them. I think it’s mainly because they have this stereotype of angry white lesbians with hairy armpits in their minds as being the “real” feminists and don’t really see how it connects with them or their lives as black people living in a majority black society. To my family being a feminist is being a white woman who hates men and spends the majority of her time complaining about how men have done her wrong.
What are the biggest priorities feminists in your country should have if they’re looking to change things?
Well in terms of everyday St. Lucian women concerned with enacting change from a feminist perspective, I think the top priority would be to stop worrying about displeasing men. Like it sounds very simple but it’s such a big part of St. Lucian society, the fear that women have of displeasing or offending the men in their lives that I think simply overcoming that , would set them on a really good path.
Did you have any brothers growing up? If so, did you notice any differences in how you were treated? What were some of those differences?
OMG, I’m so triggered right now lol. But really there were so many ways that being the only girl negatively impacted my childhood and in fact negatively impact me as person today that thinking about it a lot makes me extremely angry.
For a little background I have 3 brothers. 2 half (1 of which I only learned about as I was older and dont have a relationship with) and one by both of my parents who I mainly grew up with. As children, my brother was allowed to just do whatever while I had to stay home close to my mom. He was always allowed to climb trees and explore the neighbourhood, staying out til dark, while I had to chill around the house never out of sight. In the summers, when we would go down the coast and spend the time with our grandmother in Mon Repos my brother was the one taught how to use a cutlass, how to farm , how to take of animals while I always had to stay inside or at least out of the way and tidy.
The worst part of the whole thing was while I was not being actively taught how to do anything useful in an outdoorsy sense, every-one would tease and make fun of me for not knowing how to do those same things. I can’t tell you how many times my cousins laughed at me for knowing how to climb an ackee tree in the summer (even though no-one would teach me or even let me learn on my own). Or if my mom and grandmother were clearing some bush to farm and I would grab a cutlass to help, I’d get laughed out for not knowing how and sent back to the house.
As I got older, the differences were particularly noticeable with my parent’s double standards when it came to dating. My brothers were both allowed to pretty much “run” girls from like 13. I mean sure my mom disapproved and she would talk to my brother about it but neither she nor my dad actively tried to stop anything from happening. Meanwhile, my ass was basically under lock and key, particularly by my dad who would always freak out if any male figure even boys my age, looked in my direction. As a result, I never bothered to date in high school even when I did move to Canada because I just saw it as too much of a hassle (sneaking around always seemed like waaaaay too much effort for any high school crush).
Even now as 21, I still have never dated and I’m pretty averse to the whole thing while both my brothers had live-in girlfriends at my age.
If you had to raise a child in Saint Lucia, what would you keep from your own upbringing and what would you change?
Well in terms of things I’d keep, I think one major thing would be to replicate the emphasis on reading and in general, nurturing a passion for learning like my mom did for me. She always says I came out of the womb reading (she really really wanted me to be a literature professor) and I do think I came out a better, more empathetic and self-reflective person because of it. I also liked how my parents taught me the importance of always finding ways to help out family members, especially those who maybe struggling and are too proud to ask for help but at the token, to never be anybody’s doormat or “lavabo” as my mom says. I’d also take my kids to the beach ALL the time and just in general, take them around to see the different communities so they get that, just because St. Lucia is small doesn’t mean there isn’t any variety like my dad did with me (He always takes me places in St. Lucia that I’ve heard about before and I’m like how is it possible that I’ve never heard of this place before??)
However in terms of stuff that I’d change, that’s a loaded list. But mainly I’d want my kid to know that there’s no appropriate age to get mentally ill. That they don’t have to have stress from a wife and kids to be feeling terribly depressed, which was always a big sticking point I had with my parents. Like I said earlier, I’ve suffered from general anxiety and depression from as far back as I can remember but a lot of times as a kid, I remember feeling horribly guilty because I didn’t have a “reason” to feel the way I did and was just being a brat. I feel like if my parents had respected my mental illnesses as a child, I probably would’ve been farther along managing them than I am now. Secondly , especially if I had a little girl, I would do my very best to ensure that my child never for a second felt ashamed of their body because of perverted attention from older men. As a child, I grew very very quickly. I started going through puberty around 8 and I was 5″ 8ft by 10. As a result, I looked A LOT older than I actually was and disgustingly enough, I always attracted the attention of older men often times, leading me to feeling ashamed and confused about my body. I love my mom, and although she did do her very best to defend me from those types of men, I feel like if she had spoken directly to me about my body and made me understand that their negative attention had nothing to do with me, I probably wouldn’t have wasted all those years being ashamed and frightened by my body and had more of a jumpstart on accepting myself.
Thank you so much for reading through this interview! I’d like to remind you to check out Kerlea’s page on instagram: @dynamodandridge. For more interviews like this one, check out my interview with Veronique from St. Vincent & The Grenadines!