CONNEK interview with international CONNEK ambassador: Devonn in NYC

When we launched CONNEK in 2018 the out pour of messages and notes about this project from queer folk outside Jamaica who were touched by this project was beautiful. A lot of amazing people living everywhere from NYC to Canada were excited to see a way through CONNEK to re connect and/ or come to Jamaica for the first time. With that said the CONNEK team reached out to a couple international ambassadors to interview them about their experience with queerness as it relates to their Caribbean heritage. We asked them why CONNEK was important to them and what they saw in the future for queer liberation through out the diaspora.

Photography:   Naima Green

Photography: Naima Green

Tell me about your experience with queerness.
It’s always been a part of my life, but I learned it later on. My queerness is one part of my sexual gender expression and identity, but I also think that being a person of color is inherently queer, too, just because our experience is not normative. We aren’t confined to the same constraints as white folks, and that experience really does shape the way I think about what I do and what I care about.”

What is one of the biggest myths about Jamaica?
I think about the food myths a lot. I think people have these really confused idea about Jamaica being something like everyone being on the beach, eating fish, and rapping about cucumbers. The way the food is distributed and the economics that influence the way people eat is something that needs to be addressed. It’s very similar to how you would see other people of color in the U.S. Education around food, land and ownership around diet in Jamaica is something that should happen and doesn’t happen often.”

A long time ago you recommended that I see the documentary Life and Debt (2001). In that documentary there was a lot I found out about the agriculture and economics of Jamaica dealing with post colonialism and globalism to this day. Can you expand on the documentary Life and Debt (2001), and globalism in relation to Jamaica? How does ownership, colonialism, food and health are tied together?
”Specifically, Life and Debt is a interesting documentary produced by Stephanie Black. It’s narrated through one of Jamaica Kincaid’s book called A Small Place. It basically talks about the difference between being a tourist, a non-native or non-residential person and the sort of veil that is cast over Jamaica as an island having to be a recreational or vacation spot. It’s a sort of fantasy of pleasure and desire, access to fruit, a good time, and the specific music that people get to experience, but they don’t get to experience the other side of it –– the disparate spread of economics –– like people living in 3rd world poverty is some places and wealthy in others.“

Why is CONNEK important to you?
This goes back to the idea of Jamaica as a myth. I always thought that the work I was doing was, in a way, to liberate the Jamaican experience for Jamaicans. But actually, it’s to liberate myself and my own. The unlearning I need to do of what is culturally valuable or demystifying the things I believed to be true and perpetuating negative beliefs about Jamaica as a place. It’s really, for me, to connect with people who actually live that experience every day, to build family and connections. Outside my biological family, which I don’t really have a connection to in Jamaica as strong as I’d like, I’d love to build a family of queer people that live in the realities that we talk about but don’t get to experience as often.”

What has been your experience connecting to your Caribbean heritage?
I feel for me growing up, my grandparents and mostly the men in my family from my Dad’s side, there was no history-keeping that happened. For me, when it comes to heritage, it’s less so thinking about the family structure, and more so holding up and continuing the narratives that we believe in and that we care about. I think that CONNEK is a good platform for that. You have a lot of people coming together to write the stories, write the history, write about the people that are important, and talk about what the future looks like. That’s what it’s doing for me.”

As a foreigner, how do you feel about Jamaica’s queer liberation movement?
I feel like I don’t know enough about it, if I’m going to be honest. I want to know more. I think there’s something to be said about the ways in which Western culture in America unfortunately sometimes trickle into the politics of how queer liberation looks like in Jamaica from what I understand. The wealthy people are good, but when it comes to the scales of economics and poverty, I think that looks different if you don’t have the same access and I have questions about that.”

What is a dream project of yours in Jamaica or with queer people there?
Right now, we here at YARDY (my company) are working with a couple farms upstate and in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to perpetuate the crops and seeds that you would find in the African diaspora and through the things that came over via the transatlantic slave trade, but also the things that represent joy in history. The types of vegetables that people love to grow and eat that they feel like is representative of their own identity and having a place for where that history is kept through the food that people grow. Something I’ve always wanted to do is connect with a group of farmers and seed keepers in all the West Indies because it super diverse based on colonization. I also want to think through how to map that out and tell better stories around what food could look like without a Western gaze. That’s something I really want to work with CONNEK as well.”