"But What Kind of Nonsense Is That?": Callaloo and Diaspora
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"But What Kind of Nonsense Is That?":
Callaloo and Diaspora

This recounting begins in my region of the diaspora that is the Caribbean: in Jamaica, in Kingston; in that wide area north of Kingston proper known as upper Saint Andrew; in a neighborhood known to me since the earliest days of my childhood, although in this recounting I was (I am) a fully grown man: a man like many others, like countless other men and women, now sweating and aiming to keep as still as possible on this late morning of steadily bristling heat already casting its spite (because it can, and because no one dares to stop it, even as, in the cooler hours, the sun responsible for the bristling invariably caresses) over guango trees, Kingston Harbour, and over a Blue Mountain peak shrouded, without question to its own relief, in the thick mist that so often surrounds it and shields it from the spiteful sun: the mist that, when it clears, permits one vision, from the peak, of the muscular long green lankiness of Cuba, some ninety miles to the north, and a great deal more on all sides. Images of diaspora, its smooth flanks; its insistence that it exists. On this late morning, in the house in upper Saint Andrew I have known since my earliest days, I am spending time visiting a relative whom I have not seen for some time: a relative known for, among other things, his frequently sharp tongue, who, upon noticing on my night table my copy of the most recent number of Callaloo (carried with me from the United States earlier that month, for, as always, I had known that Callaloo was never easy, if not impossible, to find for sale in Jamaica), shares the sharpness with me at once, manifested at first in one of the Africanisms that have survived in Jamaica—the pronounced sucking of teeth—as he exclaims a loud "Eh-eh! Callaloo?" (He pronounces it like a true Jamaican, stressing the first syllable.) "Is that really the name of a magazine?" (As he calls it.) "But what kind of nonsense is that?" he snorts, moving on to chase out of the room, my bedroom, three bottle-green hummingbirds that, unnoticed by the both of us, had just darted into it, seeking to escape the building heat that will soon unmercifully lacerate this side of the house unprotected by either mango or guava trees.

"What kind of nonsense"?—but I know what he means. For him, born and raised entirely in Jamaica, "callaloo" should and will only ever be that vegetable that is ours and ours alone: distinctly Jamaican, not of or from anyplace or anyone else; not to be mistaken, for him, for what Haitians call "callaloo," that would be recognized by people in North America and elsewhere as okra. Not to be mistaken for what Trinidadians and French Antilleans and Brazilian black Bahians consume as an entirely different callaloo. (Diaspora produces singularity but also nationalism in regard to cuisine and "culture"; diaspora knows the sum of its many parts, but not all the parts acknowledge the sum.) Not to be pronounced in any other way, this callaloo, except as we pronounce it, call-a-loo, accent [End Page 594] on the first syllable; the first syllable rhyming with the Spanish word for salt, "sal," and the entire word rhyming somewhat with the word "hullabaloo"; and not to be eaten in any way except in the ways we serve it. That is callaloo, he thinks, this man who loves to eat and whose form has long betrayed that desire. Not a rass1 name for a "magazine," he might say, but rather always only the vegetable hawked loudly by walrus-voiced vendors in Jamaican markets within Jamaica or in other places: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles—anyplace else throughout still another enormous diaspora, the Jamaican one; the green bunches of the vegetable sometimes tied together with green or beige rubber bands and hawked by large-bosomed, generous-buttocked, short-tempered women of all ages in other markets—the same women who will just as soon tell casual browsers...