Mertella Whyte

June 02, 2019 Share

Childhood Memories

In Jamaica, I had cousins, grandparents all around. We were in Boston Bay – Kay Field. That’s where I was brought up, my mother’s house. The only thing was the house got bigger because the one we had was a wooden house, and they break it down and build that one.

4 young school boys are arranged behind a cricket batter in Kingston, Jamaica.
School boys playing cricket in Kingston, Jamaica in 1965. Source: The National Archives UK

My mom grew up the same area, but a different house. I don’t know much about my grandparents, just that we lived poor lives in the Boston Bay area. My grandfather worked for a parish council where they do the building of sidewalks, fixing up roads, things like that. My grandmother raised pigs, and that’s it.

I don’t remember if Jamaica was still a colony then. I think it was. We were using pounds and shillings.  


Escaping Jamaica

Mother’s Refusal

I had saved up enough money to fly to England because I did not want to raise my kids in Jamaica, but after I bought the ticket, the airline collapsed so I lost all the money I had saved and had to start over again. And I could not get any support from my parents to go either.

Green $100 dollar bill from Jamaica showing a man and a woman in swimsuits walking across the bottom of a waterfall.
One Hundred Jamaican Dollar Bill, undated. Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. Source: Pixabay

My mother was a mess. Not even would she give me the money to buy anything. She tells me that my father had sent for her. He was in England. But she didn’t want to go, said she’d stay with the kids in Jamaica. So I said to her, “Mommy, we’re two different people. I want to go. You didn’t want to go, but I’m going.” This way, I didn’t know if she’d give the money or not, but she didn’t want to.

So right away I write to my father to see if he can send me a bit of money to buy a suitcase and a pajama. He said to me that it was a bad time, and he wasn’t working. He said, “Mommy have money, ask Mommy.” But she wouldn’t give it to me. And I cried and I cried and I cried. I didn’t know where to turn now. You can’t without a suitcase, and I had spent up all the money I have. I couldn’t make my mother change my mind.

No Regrets

But I had one aunt, my father’s aunt, who lived by the beach. I went to her and tears were coming down my face, and I said, “Aunty, can you give me some money?” Oh, I’m getting emotional about this again…

She said, “I don’t have much money because I don’t work, but the money I do have I’m going to give it to you. It’s the church money. But if you don’t give it back to me, I know Shined will.” My father was so black that he shined. They called him Shined. She gave me the money, and I was lucky to send it back to her after a couple of months. I was working, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t send it back.

In the meantime, my mother had her money and giving it to other people to go away, and she wouldn’t give it to me. Because she didn’t want me to come. She thought I wouldn’t go if she said no to me. I don’t know if she wanted me home in Jamaica to be with her.

I don’t know how she think because she throw me out at age 18, so I don’t know how she think. From the day I was 18 and she throw me out, I never go back there for a night’s sleep. And I never sleep on the street either. It’s a little messy story… But so far so good. I left home. I have no regret. No regret.


Coming to New York City

The New York Paper

Middle-aged man sits behind the desk at a newsstand ready to sell the newspapers hanging all around him.
New York City newsstand in the 1950s. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was in New York from 1968 until the early 1970s. When I came here, I took the bus from Canada. It spent me, must be about a year, but my papers weren’t processed.  And then we kept on buying the New York paper, and we see jobs and they’re paying so much. They’re not paying us more than about $75 or a little money over there.

My sister came first – she got a sponsor. She looked in the paper where they advertised, and she came over first. My sister was staying where she lived. She was a maid, so she was sleeping with the family.

God is on my side

So I took the bus over, and I came over. When I got off the bus, I didn’t know where to go. The first night I came over I didn’t have a place to stay. I sleep at WYMCA. It was 34th street, no – it was 42nd street, so I asked the bus driver if he know someplace where I could get some sleep. He took me to 23rd street where there is a motel. When I went there, my heart was so big, I didn’t know what to do! You know when you’re alone in a place you don’t know nobody, and the walls…. but they have a bible on the bed, and that was comforting for the night.

10 story block-like YWCA building on the corner of a New York street.
The Harriet Judson YWCA in Brooklyn, New York, 1914. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Morning comes, and I wonder, “Where am I going?” But God is on my side. I got up and I go out. This is when the phone booth is on the street. I buy a paper off the street, and I take my suitcase, I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I signed out. I go to the phone booth with my newspaper and with my suitcase underneath my foot, and I’m making a call. You look in the paper and see advertisements for jobs.

I worked one week in Brooklyn. I didn’t want it there. So again, I pick up, and I leave. That woman had a dog and a girl there…it wasn’t for me. Anyway, I spent the week there, and I pick up and I come back to Manhattan. I still go on the phone and buy the paper.

And then I find this woman who asked me, “Oh you sound like a Jamaican, are you Jamaican?” And I said “Yes!” And she said, “My mother-in-law has a nice Jamaican girl, I hope you are one too. When can you come over for an interview?” I said, “Anytime you want me.” That was a Sunday.

She told me what time to go over, and I go over. She said let me take my little dress off. She wanted to see how I look, to make sure I didn’t look like a slob in her house. It was a nice young couple. After she interviewed me, she left me in the dining room area. I knew this woman who had given me a good reference because I was a good person to them.

Then she came back and she asked me, “Where are you going to sleep tonight? Where are you going to stay?” And I said, “I just got here, I don’t have a place.” She said, “You can stay here.” I’m going to call the girl who supposed to come in tomorrow and give her her salary and pay and tell her to pick up the rest of her stuff. I guess the other girl was not doing a good job. I guess not.

So I stayed there with her babysitting. She only had one child anyway. Her husband was a lawyer, and she was a model. So they lived on 88th Street and Madison Avenue.

One day when I was going to work, I saw they had a little white sheet covering up the sidewalk. Some woman committed suicide, threw herself off. She lived in an adjoining building. I said that was something… You know rich people, you never expect that from them. Yeah, but, it happened. 


Keeping the Family Together

I stayed at the Manhattan job until my kids came. They were small, but not babies. Your mother came in the 1970s.

Well, you do what you have to do. Their father was there, and I know he loved his children. He may not love them now because they grow up and have mouth, but I know he cares about his children. There was nothing to him like his children. You would see him on his bike and them on it. They get on his bike too. Yeah, I knew they were fine.

And besides, and when you’re in a country and you’re getting your papers due, you can’t leave the country like you want to. You have to wait to get your papers too. I could leave to go to Canada, but I couldn’t leave to go back to Jamaica. So that’s the story.

I went to Canada and got my papers, and the same year I went back down to Jamaica and got married so I could then sponsor the kids. But you have to be a citizen before you can sponsor them.

If I didn’t have children and had to sponsor them, I wouldn’t have married your grandfather. The children did it. We stayed together. You never know.

After all these years you invest so much with him, and now you’re going to leave and someone else is going to come in to get what you invest with him. So, sometimes, you know… no one said it’s worth it – Right overall, that’s what I’m looking at. And when you tell me to make that decision, I don’t know.


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