“Cayman is easily the most cosmopolitan country in the region. You’re just as likely to hear Spanish or Tagalog spoken in the bars or on the streets these days.”
– Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin
Too often on the political campaign trail and in Legislative Assembly debate, speakers devolve into two ideological camps: one focused on “protecting” Caymanians from foreign immigration and influences, and the other championing the opportunities that new residents and ideas create for everybody in the Cayman Islands, including Caymanians and other residents.
Therefore it was refreshing to hear Premier Alden McLaughlin – talking to an international group of public officials visiting Cayman this week – publicly acknowledge the importance of our country’s newer residents, and indeed extol the diversity of Cayman’s population as a distinct virtue.
Effectively, what Premier McLaughlin did before the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference was to expose the “Caymanians vs. foreigners” argument for what it is – artificial, empty rhetoric.
The truth is, of course, that there is no hard line between Caymanians and non-Caymanians, and distinctions blur and eventually disappear as expatriates assimilate into the Caymanian population, and the Caymanian population adapts to the new influences. Over a period of years, those who were once considered “foreign” become “local,” and this perception passes on to their children and their children’s children. As the premier put it, they become “part of the permanent Cayman fabric.”
According to statistics cited by the premier, in the past two decades, both Cayman’s overall population and the number of Caymanians have increased by about 70 percent. Many if not most of the 15,000 new Caymanians created during that time did not arrive in Cayman via the Cayman Islands Hospital’s maternity ward, but by the arrivals hall at Owen Roberts International Airport. In other words, they are immigrants (or their children).
Over the last 20 years, the proportion of Caymanians in the population (57 percent) has not changed. What has changed is what Caymanians look like, and what they sound like. The very malleability of the definition of “what is a Caymanian” has infused the country with energy and stability through uneven times and challenging circumstances.
Unfortunately, local legislation and political rhetoric, when it concerns the country’s growing population of “foreign-born,” have not kept pace with Cayman’s evolving demographics. In particular, the laws governing right of franchise deprive roughly half of Cayman’s residents from electoral representation. The eligibility requirements for which Caymanians can hold elected office are even more restrictive. The result is that a significant minority of voters set policy for a much larger group of people.
About 16,000 of Cayman’s 21,000 registered voters cast ballots in the 2017 election, selecting the members of the Legislative Assembly charged with governing 63,000 individuals – including Caymanians, permanent residents, work permit holders, dependents, etc.
It is good that Premier McLaughlin has correctly recognized the increasingly cosmopolitan makeup of our growing society, and the growing diversity among the Caymanian half of our population.
Perhaps, it is time to begin exploring forms of political representation for the other half.