News Americas, KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thurs. April 9, 2015: President Obama turned Jamaican for a day Thursday as he opened his remarks at the University of the West Indies town-hall forum in Kingston, Jamaica with Jamaican patois.
“Greetings, massive! Wah gwaan, Jamaica?,” he began, to loud applause.
The President told the audience of 350 that he feels at home in Jamaica because he was “born on an island” too.
“I’ve been making myself at home here,” he said to laughter. “I just like the vibe here.”
While noting that he is “grateful for the warm Jamaican hospitality that I received this morning, including from Prime Minister Simpson-Miller” and his proud to be the first President of the United States to visit in more than 30 years.
President Obama also noted he was happy to get a chance to say hi to Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce. “When you have the fastest people on the planet, you’ve got to say hi to them, right? Because that’s fast.,” he added.”
Paying tribute to the Diaspora, the President noted that tens of millions of Americans are bound to the Caribbean and the Americas through ties of commerce and of kin.
“More than one million Americans trace their ancestry to Jamaica. More than one million Americans visit Jamaica each year. So we’re committed to you and this region,” he insisted. “ And as I’ve said before, in our foreign policy there are no senior or junior partners in the Americas; there are just partners.”
He used the opportunity to spotlight on a gay Jamaican woman in the audience and to tell her story.
“Several years ago, when Angeline was 19, she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted. And as a woman, and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side. But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, and get them treatment and get them justice, and push back against stereotypes, and give them some sense of their own power,” he said.
“And she became a global activist. But more than anything, she cares about her Jamaica, and making it a place where everybody, no matter their color, or their class, or their sexual orientation, can live in equality and opportunity. That’s the power of one person, what they can do,” added the President as he announced a nearly $70 million in U.S. investments in education, training, and employment programs for our young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
“And these investments will help young people in unemployed and impoverished and marginalized communities, and give them a chance to gain the skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st century economy,” he said.
President Obama also used the Jamaica visit to discuss Cuba, noting that it is this reason why the United States has started a new chapter in our relations with the people of Cuba.
“We will continue to have some differences with the Cuban government, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by the past. When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it; you try something new,” he said to applause. “And we are as committed as ever to supporting human rights and political freedom in Cuba and around the world. But I believe that engagement is a more powerful force than isolation, and the changes we are making can help improve the lives of the Cuban people. And I also believe that this new beginning will be good for the United States and the entire hemisphere.”
Ending with the Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay, who was a central figure of the Harlem renaissance, Obama quoted: “We must strive on to gain the height although it may not be in sight.”