MANCHESTER — Everton Brownie, his wife Viris, and his family emigrated to Vermont from Jamaica over 18 years ago. They own the Jamerican Cuisine Food Truck, cooking authentic, home-style Jamaican and Caribbean comfort food, in the Orvis parking lot in Manchester.
“I was a cop back in Jamaica, part of the Crime Management Unit. We were the backbone of Jamaica, law enforcement for the whole country, helping mostly with drug and gang violence. They called on us whenever any serious crime happened. It was very dangerous. One day I was in a shootout in a rural area. We were pinned down, and I was shot. It was my worst day.
“There isn’t much else in Jamaica where you can support your family. Thinking of leaving a job like that, a government job, was a difficult decision, but I knew I might not survive. You might be able to get another job, but the money you make might be half of what your rent is, so I decided to just get out of Jamaica before it was too late for me.
“I do miss it, though. There’s no freedom of speech in Jamaica, but it’s somehow freer. I miss that culture. It makes you feel freer than anywhere else I’ve ever been. You can go anywhere without worrying. You can get stopped by a cop, and you don’t have to worry like here in America. There are things that make you worry every day, getting stopped by police — what’s going to happen, what’s going to result if they stop me while driving. That’s not a thing in Jamaica. You hear it on the news, on TV, all that, here, anywhere across the country. It’s just that fact of walking around, not knowing what can happen as a Black person in America.
“It’s not here in Vermont, though, at least what I’ve seen since I got here. The people in Vermont have welcomed us warmly and made us feel at home. People come, they eat, they laugh. There’s not a lot of ethnic food here, so many people thank us for just showing up. Everyone knows me here.
“Vermont has been good to us. It sometimes feels like a planet unto itself, an island out in the sea. I feel so grateful to have landed here. I often wonder why other states can’t see what’s happening here. I know there are places that are still hung up on race, and I’m like, ‘what?’
“I was down by the car wash, washing my car one day when I first got here. Two ladies drove up next to me in a car from New York. They saw me standing there, and they immediately pulled back out. A while later, I saw a cop car driving behind me. They pulled me over and told me they had received a complaint about a Black man lurking around by the car wash. I showed them my paperwork and told them I was washing my car, and they thanked me. I asked them if they would bring the ladies to meet me and we could talk about what happened, but they told me they reported the incident and left. That happened over 18 years ago, and nothing has happened since then. I sometimes wish I could have talked with those ladies that day.
“Freedom has different meanings. In Jamaica, there’s poverty and drug violence, but we don’t have that issue of race. There are gangs and poverty, but it’s not about your skin color. In America, it’s different. What if that person takes offense to who you are? You never know. You might be stopped by one cop who gives you directions and another who might want to kill you. It’s a different kind of freedom.
“I think about my original home every day. In Jamaica, there is a lot of poverty. It’s hard to survive. That’s why most people leave. That’s why America is so filled with immigrants, to survive, to make money to support their families.
“America is what got me here right now. I can’t ever be ungrateful. If it wasn’t for America, I might have died by now. America saved me. I was accepted into this country. I am now a citizen. I appreciate what this country has done for me.
“On those winter days, when it’s so cold here that you can’t stand it, I sometimes think about my hometown. But the fact remains that even though Jamaica would be warm and beautiful, I know I would be poorer that day. The days it snows here, I open, make money, and survive. If I was in Jamaica, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be doing anything.
“Sometimes you have to let go of certain things if what you’re trying to do is survive.”