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Jaineba Chang

Meet Jaineba Chang, summer scholar

By Christian Macaluso

There's a Patois saying in Jamaica: Wi likkle but wi tallawah." It means: We're a small island but we're a hard people. Now thanks to the 2015 Summer Scholars and Artists Program, Jaineba Chang is getting the chance to reflect that strength in her upcoming novel, "Tallawah."

According to Chang, "Tallawah" is a partially fictionalized autobiography about her life. Born to Jamaican parents in Brooklyn, Chang moved to Manchester, Jamaica, when she was 7. Her book deals largely with viewing Jamaican culture through the eyes of someone who should be acquainted with it, but still feels alienated.

"It's about my life growing up in Jamaica and viewing the world from the perspective of someone who was born in America," Chang said. "And it's about having to learn a culture that is technically already mine."

Patricia Lespinasse, an assistant professor of Africana studies, will aid Chang as she writes her novel.

Chang, a senior majoring in English, wasn't aware of the Summer Scholars and Artists Program until one of its flyers caught the corner of her eye.

"I was just walking past the EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) office and I saw a sign," Chang said. "I always wanted to be a writer, so went in and they said I could do any creative activity. I had been wanting to write the novel for a while and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity."

"Tallawah" also deals with the ambiguous concept of race in Jamaica, and how its people approach differences in pigmentation. Chang recalled that people back home often assumed she came from money because of her light skin.

"There is the sad assumption that Africans are broke. The Chinese came in and they had shops and they had money so there are very rich Chinese families in Jamaica," Chang said. "I had the Chinese last name and light skin. ... I was the person people always asked for money."

To Chang, being a part of the Summer Scholars and Artists Program allowed her to portray what she believes is the real Jamaica. Chang wants to show people that we are all more alike than we think we are.

"I want people to be able to relate to a culture that isn't their own through shared experiences," she said.

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Last Updated: 5/15/17