Omar Gayle stands on the porch of a home near the corner of 42nd Street and Auer Avenue. Gayle’s flat-brimmed baseball cap and multi-colored tee pop with fashion, but can’t explain his journey, or where he started from.
“I’m a Jamaican,” he says. “It’s a humble beginnin’. We learn to appreciate people and life. I learned to make use of what we got.”
“Comin’ up, [as] young kids, we used to have to sweep the yard, wash the dishes, go to the hills, go look [for] firewood and stuff like that because it’s not like here,” he says. “We used to have to help our mother, help our father, do whatever they’re doing.”
Omar gestures to a tall tree along the sidewalk, which he refers to as a “wild tree.” There were a lot of fruit trees in Jamaica, he says.
“We’d have to go [up] the mango tree, shake the mango tree, the mango fell on the ground, we come and pick them up. Sometimes, some of them [were] damaged — you’d have to put those ones aside [and] take the good ones.”
“Back home, we have to work hard.”
After 32 years in Jamaica, Omar came to the United States. Back home, he worked in factories, making window blinds for export and other things here and there. Now, he works in a laminate factory — largely similar work.
“The money is different — the money is different,” he says. “A hundred dollars back home is like a dollar U.S.”
Gayle has three children, still in his home country. All are in school, and the oldest is just starting college in Kingston, he boasts. He sends money back regularly. “They’ve got more opportunity than I did.”
Even so, Omar misses Jamaica. It was especially hard being away when his father died in 2014. He’d been diagnosed with throat cancer.
“My father was a good man. My father was a good man — take care of his kids, work hard,” he says.
“It’s a part of life. Everybody goes through that,” the 40-year-old says of losing his father. “It wasn’t a good experience. But, you know, life goes on. Life goes on — we have to tough it out.”
“What we didn’t get, we have to make sure our kids get.”
As far as the future goes, Omar’s hope is simple. He wants to buy old houses, fix them up and rent them out. He talks of getting a woodworking machine and making “simple things for people.”
“I’m looking forward to doing my own thing,” he says. As far as when that will happen, he adds, “I’m hopin’ soon … I’m hopin’ soon.”
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