Wednesday, 18 June 2014

What is a Jerseyman?

This question was posed on Facebook recently by Reg Langlois, and there were some interesting replies. I propose to examine them, and comment on them, and make a few suggestions of my own.
Reg also asked: "How long do you have to live in Jersey before being called a Jersey man?"
And Chris suggested that "to be a true Jersey man you have to be born here... but if you show respect for that country you can adopt that title"
Reg also commented that: "Seems strange that someone coming from another country, say Germany or France to live, is called a Jerseyman straight away,.... I would have thought that they would have wanted to be called after the country that they were born."
So let's tease some of the aspects of this. What we are looking at here is a kind of marker of identity, and markers of identity are not always associated with birth place.
For instance, quite by an accident of history, during the German Occupation, some families left Jersey to go to the UK, and some children were born over there. After the war, the families returned to Jersey. Would they consider themselves to be English? As David commented:
"I consider myself a Jersey Man but I was not born here. My father's family left Jersey just before the Occupation and I was born in the United Kingdom and returned in 1946."
My youngest cousin was born in Australia. Her parents had emigrated to Australia from Jersey - under the "Ten Pound Pommes" deal which the Australian government was using to foster selected immigration to plug skills gaps. But they returned to Jersey later, when she was probably around three or four years old. She was born in Australia, but would she consider herself an Australian, when she has lived most of her life in Jersey?
I think that when we consider this, we can see that to identify ones self as a citizen of a country is not necessarily to be born there. A good deal may have to do with your parents, where their roots are, and not where you are born. If you are born outside of a country, but that is - to some extent - an anomaly - then you may well identify not where you are born, but where you come to live.
And of course, boundaries can be fluid. My girlfriend, Katalin, was born in Hungary - at least, it was Hungary (and part of the USSR as a satellite state) when she was born. The boundaries were shifted, and where she was born is now part of the Ukraine. She certainly regards herself as Hungarian, and her family live within the present boundaries of Hungary.
I suspect that childhood formation has a good deal to do with identity. If someone had remained with their family in England, and not returned to Jersey until perhaps they were 16, they would probably find some of the roots of their identity in England, and not Jersey. Their friends, the locality they grew up in, and all their early memories would be of England. Jersey would be a strange land to them.
But identity can be changed. Some of my relatives ended up in Canada - their Jersey mother married a Canadian man, and they were born and brought up in Canada. But quite a few of them moved to work in the United States. They have just received citizenship of the USA, and are American citizens. Likewise, a friend and family who are now living in New Zealand have now announced proudly that they are proper "Kiwis" - they have New Zealand citizenship.
Where there are formal arrangements for marking identity, it is very clear how people see themselves. They take on the citizenship of the country, and it is marked by legal procedures. Just as the Roman citizen could say "I am a citizen of Rome", they can say "I am a citizen of the USA" - and they have papers to prove it.
Where this is more informal, as in the UK, and in Jersey, it is harder to mark national identity. Instead, often other laws can act as markers. For example, in the UK, there is a distinction between residency and domicile. Someone can be resident in the UK, but not be domiciled there - a non-dom, and there are tax consequences on that. Questions of domicile can be complex but broadly speaking you have your domicile in the country that is your 'real' or permanent home which, if you have left, you intend to return to. The domicile is the home, the fixed place of habitation; while residence is a transient place of dwelling
Everyone has a "domicile of origin" at birth. This is usually the country that your father considered to be his real or permanent home at the date of your birth. If your parents were not married when you were born, your domicile of origin comes from your mother. You can also have a "domicile of choice", when after 16 years old, you can elect to change your domicile.
Now how you identity yourself - as, for example, a Jerseyman - is different from this difference between residence and domicile, but nevertheless, there are some similarities. In particular, there is a degree of choice in the matter. How you may identify when growing up, and where you grow up, may differ from that of your parents. And someone may come to a country, and settle there, and live there longer than they ever lived where they grew up, and put down roots.
In this way, identity is a matter of self-perception. I have come across people who came to live here, but still look back at the UK as "home" and "the mainland". They have parents there, and that is a tie that can bind their perception of their own identity more to the UK than Jersey. They cannot understand why Jersey does not have a party system with a Labour and Conservative party. From a position of invincible ignorance, they castigate the Honorary Police as "hobby bobbies". They may have been here more than thirty years, but their soul is in England.   
Equally, there may be people who have come here with their parents, even as young adults, and who see the Island as their home. The UK is a distant memory. It is where they were born, and grew up, but it is not where they feel their sense of belonging. We might say that - as with domicile of choice - there is a case of self-identifying "Jerseyman" of choice, as a matter of intention.
We might consider this almost like a plant that has been transplanted and puts down roots, and becomes firmly part of the landscape. It is not a native plant, but it has become one. During a walk I made around the La Pulente headland, there were many wild flowers, but a good many were not originally native to Jersey. They are now.
"A Jersey man/ woman is a person who was born here and whose parents were born here, like me!"
That comment, then, is an attempt to simplify something much more complex. Within several generations, identities can be established, but they may be fluid, and the boundaries may overlap. There are people who self-identify as Jersey, but who also self-identify as Portuguese, for example. They have relations- family, cousins - in Portugal, and they speak both English and Portuguese.
Language itself can be a marker of identity, and Barry Cunliffe suggested that the contested notion of "Celtic" in Iron Age times could be better marked by language, rather than any ethnicity. But unfortunately the Jersey patois is dying, and cannot now be used easily as this kind of marker.
Another way of looking for identity is in genealogy. But genealogy can also throw up surprises. Surnames often contain traces of origin. There is a particular class which has to do with place of origin, where a family came from. Obviously, it makes no sense to call someone by a surname that is common in a district, so a surname identifies the stranger - the immigrant.
Although the Langlois family is an old pedigree - they are an immigrant family. The surname is what GR Balleine described as a geographical place name - "If a man arrived in the island from outside, it was natural to describe him by the place from which he came." As Balleine notes, Langlois is a corruption of L'Anglaise, i.e., "The Englishman"! So the original Langlois were immigrants from England, and that is how they got their surname. Other old "Jersey" surnames are equally good at identifying locations - Le Gallais and Le Gallon are - the Welshmen (Galles is the French for Wales). They came from Wales originally.
Those families who might be three, four, five and more generations, but their origins are outside of Jersey. Nevertheless, those who bear those names, may well regard themselves as Jerseymen because of the long standing. But should that be mutually exclusive with shorter durations? How long did it take before the original immigrants identified themselves as Jersey? If we take the present as a guide to the past, we might assume, with good reason, that the same kind of social forces discussed above lead people to change their self-perception from being an outsider to being someone who belonged.
For example, we have one individual comment on Facebook:
"That is just my understanding there are those families who would say, three, four, five and more generations are try Jersey. I do believe to call yourself a Jersey person you must have roots and at least two generations of understanding and loving the quirkiness that is Jersey."
While someone else used the genealogical argument very strongly:
"I have traced our line of Langlois, back to 1660 in France. Great grandfather Jean Augustus Hyancithe Langlois 1822 was born in Port-bail France. He came to Jersey with his wife and had 12 Children, including my great grandfather. I hate it when people say I'm English."
But the roots of the name also contain its history, and cannot be denied. If you go back before 1660, at some point in the past, Langlois will end up as an Englishman coming from England. In fact, this family tree also shows French roots along the way.
An examination of the DNA of the oldest Jersey families are interesting. It is a mix of Breton, and Norman Danish. Yet there are traces of Neolithic DNA showing there may well have been  interbreeding with the indigenous population. So most Jerseymen are peoples whose ancestors came here, settled, married local people, and remained here to work and bring up their families. And at some time in the past, even the Neolithic people were immigrants.
But looking at the comments on Facebook, what we can do is put together aspects of what people think makes a "true Jerseyman".
·         Genealogy - if you can trace your family back a few generations, to within living memory, and perhaps further still, you can claim to be a "true Jerseyman"
·         A sense that the Island is your home, and its customs and history matter, rather than (for example) England, even if you are the first one in your family to come and settle here; in marked contrast to those who come, but look to the UK as their "mainland" and as a yardstick by which to measure Island institutions.
·         A sense of pride in the Island
But we could also turn things on their head, and say that a true Jerseyman would not be anyone who sent poisonous letters of hate, denouncing their neighbours, to the Germans in the last Occupation, however long their family tree, and even if their illustrious surnames appeared on Assize rolls of the 12th century. Their actions would be seen as a betrayal of their heritage.
And while a fixation with ancestry can be good,  it can also be a curse. I've been reading the book by Ward Rutherford on Edward Paisnel, and one of the main factors which drove Paisnel was his deep resentment of middle class and richer immigrants whom he believed had stolen much of his true birthright, and the status and esteem he should have had as a true Jerseyman. He was extremely proud of his ancestry, and children of families he targeted were all (as he saw it) relatively new to Jersey, and fair game.

Fundamentally, it comes down to self-identification, how we identify ourselves, and like all kinds of identity, it can be corrupted, as we see in these cases. And when someone plays the "my heritage is more authentic than yours" as if to say "I am a truer Jerseyman than you are", that corruption is never far from the surface. There is something very infantile in this attitude, like a child playing the game  "I am king of the castle - and you are the dirty rascal".
Rather, the attitude of those who call themselves "true Jerseymen" or for that matter "true Jersey women" should be - "my ancestors settled here some time in the past, and made it their home, and respected their traditions, holding fast to what was good (of which there was much), reforming what was bad (by evolution, not revolution), and if you do likewise, we will respect you too as a fellow Jersey man or woman."

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