As I worked in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island this summer, I noticed a large abundance of Jamaicans throughout the city and the island. We witnessed many people from different cultures all summer as tourists but this specific ethnic group was present throughout many of the shops on and off the island as workers and as store owners. I became very interested as to why such a large populations of Jamaicans were being gathered into one specific place.
From Martha’s Vineyard Magazine:
“Most Jamaicans work in the United States at the mercy of temporary, “non-immigrant,” H-2B visas, which were created to support local economies with seasonal spikes in non-agricultural labor demand. That’s government longhand for “resorts.” The Jamaica Central Labour Organisation, for its part, actively encourages its citizens to seek job opportunities in the United States through its Overseas Employment Programme. Put the two initiatives together, and for 2007, for example, you get 14,682 Jamaicans working in the United States on H-2B visas. After Mexico, Jamaica sends more guest workers to the U.S. than any other foreign country.
These visas are good for up to six months, and guest workers must earn the same wages and benefits that locals would get. A season’s worth of earnings in the states, and on the Vineyard in particular, can exceed what a Jamaican might make at home in a full year. Hence, despite round-trip air fares, visa fees, and other ancillary costs that may or may not be subsidized by their employers, Jamaicans beat a lucrative path back to Martha’s Vineyard time and again.”
As this exert explains, Jamaicans were seeking easy jobs for the summer that did not require full Visa to live in the United States. Therefore I put the Jamaicans into two categories: Island workers possessing H-2B visas and Mainland shop owners and workers that had moved to permanent settlement over the years. The seasonal work that had drawn the Jamaicans to Mackinaw Island was the Grand Hotel.
To them, hiring foreigners to do the more tedious tasks, like housekeeping, lawnwork and dishwashing, is essential to their survival.
Fewer American college students are interested in such work than in the past, said John Hulett, managing director of the Grand Hotel, where about 350 of the 575 staffers are foreign, including about 230 Jamaicans.
“Over the years we’ve become more affluent, and the kids out there today just aren’t as hungry as they were back in the day when they had to earn their way through school,” Hulett said (the owner of the Grand Hotel, 2007).
As a college kid working up in Mackinac all summer, I partially agree and disagree with the owner of the Grand Hotel. I see a number of college kids taking a ride up on a whim to work up on the island and instantly getting placed in a job, we work very hard to get through the summer so we have money for the winter, yet you never see a white teenager picking up horse droppings from the side of the road or doing laundry/cleaning at any store (they are always working in air conditioned shops selling toys or clothes). Overall, it is enjoyable all summer to see all of ethnicity of tourists, yet it is even cooler to see a little bit of Jamaica so close to home because all you have to do is ask and they will share their stories and their culture with you. And I have never met a harder worker than a couple of the Jamaicans I worked side by side with all summer.