The trouble with raising your babies on a rock in the Caribbean is that whenever you’re on the beach, tourists inevitably want to take their picture. The tourists head down to paradise, having already been enchanted by internet images of golden-haired, brown-skinned babies with giving smiles and innocent eyes frolicking in the white sand. And my babies happen to look something like that.
Beach days are a pleasure to romp and stomp with my little ones, barely keeping one hand on each kid, shovels and pails around my elbows, sunglasses sitting elegantly crooked on my sweat-drenched nose, infant floaties delicately wrapped around my neck, waist or ankle – all while holding in my still-shrinking post-partum pouch. Seriously, I would not have it any other way. But once we are comfortable (finally!), and the babies are doing their baby thing, at some point in the day someone will eventually walk up and ask if they can take a picture of my children. Now, being a polite, tourist-friendly rock woman, I don’t want to be rude. However, in these moments, my chest gets tight, and I find myself wanting to run and grab my children in an attempt to ward off danger. I am unsure where this anxiety comes from. I mean, a picture is just a picture… right?
Whoever the sunscreen-clad person is requesting the photo really isn’t posing an immediate threat, but my mommy instincts kick in nonetheless. My instinct is to say “no” and to say “no” loudly to the normal-looking, East Coast-accented woman, which adds an unexpected stress to our tropical beach day.
Don’t get me wrong – I am happy that my children are growing up in the Caribbean, and I am thrilled that people enjoy seeing them. Beyond the mere beauty of this place, there are so many definitive pluses to island family life: We know our island neighbors and they know my children; we’ve become a part of the fabric of our island community; the weather is always fine, allowing them to play outside everyday in the shining sun; they are exposed to people and cultures that span outside of our island borders – the visitors and residents of our rock come from all over and expose my darlings to languages, styles, religions, and viewpoints that can prepare them for our global world; our beaches are clean and without trash; and the natural pristine waters and sand are beautiful and available to my family in a five-minute walk. I cannot imagine returning to city life and enjoying the same lifestyle as we do here on the island.
But… I also can’t imagine anyone stopping my babies in Chicagoland for a picture either – police might have to be called. The island lifestyle positives certainly outweigh the negatives for my family, thus the reason we have chosen to raise our children here. However, taking into account the tourist culture and history of the use and abuse of brown bodies in the Caribbean, I often wonder if my loud “no” to photographs would even be considered that rude in actuality.
On my rock, tourism is king. Without it, my family would be financially devastated and would be left to find other means. We do need our coins for smoothies, sundresses, and sails. Though tourism’s downside is the commodification of the island lifestyle and that includes all who inhabit it. For it seems, on my rock and maybe even yours, anything can be purchased if the price is right. Now, no one has offered me any money for a photo as of yet, but I wonder how a childhood of posing for pictures for strangers would contribute to my children being another commodity of Caribbean tourism. Child trafficking is a real concern, and the prospects of desensitizing my children to being pliable and available to strangers makes me more than nervous. Taking into account social media and the immediacy and availability of the internet on our phones and tablets, I wonder where their pictures would truly end up. Could my baby’s picture be the next hot meme on Instagram, used to make a joke at her expense? Would she or could she indeed “Do It For The Vine?”
No one has been able to give a conclusive theory on the effects of our image-saturated society, especially on our youth. As an American woman of African descent with children of African descent living on an island where African people were brought for the purpose of slavery not too long ago, I do have a fear of how and why a stranger would want their picture. Being knowledgable of Caribbean history, coupled with my identity, keeps me distant when it comes to posing for pictures for anyone.
My children are blessed to be able to live in the beauty of the transatlantic trade winds and are blossoming under our island sun. But just like any mother on any rock, I am protective of their consciousness as individuals, humans, and as women. It tickles me pink, brown, and yellow that some possible millionaire wants to take my lil’ pretty brown baby’s picture to share with their other millionaire friends across the world to highlight their island adventure. Isn’t that how Iman, Rihanna, and countless others were discovered? Yet fear of the unknown stops me from possibly putting my little ones in a historic exchange and training them to be so readily available for the voyeurs who visit our lovely islands.
A picture is just a picture, but for a woman on a rock and her lil’ women, we might just pass on the poses for now.
Want to stay connected to the Land of Coconuts?
We'll send you island mail, fresh from the tropics each week.