In the continuing furor over rollover and as conditions reach polarization on both sides, Cayman is facing a classic rock-and-a-hard-place impasse on this fundamental issue.
In these days of apparently increasing marriages of convenience, it is worth noting that the Cayman story is itself a marriage of convenience – convenient for the Caymanian because it allows him/her to enjoy a standard of living, and a freedom from anxiety, that is not enjoyed by the surrounding Caribbean nations, but equally convenient for the expatriate who ends up earning an attractive income, in a socially benign society and with most of the amenities of modern life and few of the irritants.
However to stand on the sidelines recently and listen to the two partners in this marriage go at each other is to notice that the two sides are doomed to stalemate because their substantial constructs differ substantially. Simply put, the expatriate is approaching the issue as a purely economic one, while for the other side (the Caymanian) it is largely an emotional or psychological point that is at play.
The expatriate position is that he/she is pivotal to the Cayman success story, and that the Caymanian, benefiting from that success, should be happy to have the expatriate stay here forever; it’s a business decision, plain and simple, if you want your vaunted high standard of living to continue.
It may be that plain, but it is not that simple.
What is integral to this equation, and which the business position does not catch, is the emotional issue of a people whose country is being taken over, subsumed, transformed (choose your own verb) right under their noses.
The expatriate is basically talking money; the Caymanian is talking nation and the two sides have to start seeing that their respective perspectives differ at the base.
On the one hand, the issue of nationhood or culture or way of life (choose your appellation) is deep-seated, powerful and global, and it is frankly astonishing to me that many if not most of the expatriates who come here seem to expect Caymanians to have lower aspirations or impulses in that regard.
The premise of this position is baffling.
Surely, these highly educated and very astute individuals must know that the Caymanian concern bubbles up from emotions that go back to the cave; ones that have to do with the anxiety in a nation or an ethnic group when outsiders appear in significant numbers.
They should be sensitive that the rancour expressed by Caymanians on this issue is simply part of a common human occurrence (Kosovo; the Sudan; Gaza; etc.) when outsiders, needed or not, become a significant presence.
Indeed, the further astonishment is when some expatriates take the even more egregious step of ridiculing this position among Caymanians on the basis that they (the Caymanians) ‘don’t get it.’
That statement, spouted by the bloggers as mantra, smacks of closed minds or miscreants; they, in fact, are the ones ‘not getting it’.
The Caymanian, on the other hand, has to accept that some consideration of formulas for tenure for imported people with essential skills has to be provided if he/she wants the wheels to keep turning in the Cayman success story. While some Caymanians may be willing to see the train slow down to save Caymanian culture, it is a fairly safe bet to say that, as Mr. David Ritch posited recently, most would opt to keep the train going full speed ahead, and committed expatriate support is required for that to happen.
And there’s another point to consider: Even if they’re sent home after a given period, the sober reality is that even a limited expatriate presence is changing Caymanian culture, anyway.
Even held to a six-year stay, those individuals – be they from Spanish Town, London, Chicago or Manila – are modifying the fabric of this society, and the old weave will never be the same.
Ormond Panton and Benson Ebanks, among others, predicted that the foreign influx would have negative repercussions for Cayman down the line, and down the line has arrived, as phrases such as take over, rollover, losing our country are expressed virtually daily.
Fear is operating on both sides.
The expatriate is troubled by an uncertain or constrained future, which leads to a reluctance to commit; to become involved.
The Caymanian is struggling to cope with a loss of the sense of self, and nation, in a fear so strong that overrides logic and leaves him reaching to accept the higher standard of living with his right hand but pushing away the foreigner with his left.
As the by-standing family, including government, seeks to provide solutions, the marriage needs counseling from within and without to achieve comity through reasonable compromise.
On the Caymanian side, while conceding the psychological point, the appeal has to be made to the intellect – you can’t have your cake and eat it.
On the expatriate side, acceptance of the psychological issue has to come on board – taking the economy needs us, case closed approach is not going to cut it; not when a people are seeing their nation slowing disappearing from view.
If this marriage has value, the principals have to empathise with each other’s concerns, otherwise the union is in peril.