Millennials are classified as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, though there is some spillover with Generation Z who are now coming of age. It’s hard to put this into words without sounding like just another naive, spoiled, out of touch millennial — because that’s what many of us are told.
Many of us worked hard as soon as we left high school. We moved away from our homes at a time when the Great Recession rocked the world and did our best to keep our grades up in school, keep a good-paying job and limit how many times we asked our struggling parents for financial assistance, and many are still drowning in student loan debt as young adults.
Today, money and the cost of living in the territory are still an issue, but it’s not what truly scares us. You might have guessed it, so I’m here to tell you your suspicions are correct. Millennials have been organizing for over two years. Groups have come together, fallen apart — restructured, re-envisioned strategies, and constantly they crumble.
This is a cycle that has repeated itself in closed circles, though I can’t speak for every millennial living at home. I can only speak for those who have contacted me, asked for assistance or a partnership to amplify their message for meaningful change.
Unknowingly, we’ve begun creating support groups, many of us wake up and cry about our current dilemma, and it’s not just the state of our local government that worries us. In St. Thomas, we have created micro support groups simply to discuss issues and discuss the realities that only we experience.
As we’ve continued to discuss what our future will look like, we’ve realized that we are up against a force even greater than our own local government — the federal government.
We are fearful of the federal government, and quite honestly, all three branches of the American government. The helplessness we feel isn’t just because we know our government (and to be fair all 5 U.S. territories) have an uphill battle in the 21st century; it’s the thought of spending our 20s or 30s being activists, writers, climate change advocates and movers of social change — its a crushing responsibility. A responsibility our children and their children should not have this fight in the 22nd century.
There is in fact an underground millennial cohort, actively pushing for change well beyond the Virgin Islands because we know it will inevitably benefit all other U.S. territories.
I’m a disabled Marine Corps veteran, who served nearly three years in the service before being medically separated. Like many of my counterparts from other U.S. territories, our superiors assumed we were foreigners even though we were born Americans and served right beside them.
One specific incident struck me and it was at that moment I realized that all 5 territories were in trouble.
While in my living quarters, with Marines similar in rank to me, a conversation came up. Many times, it was about wars from the past, specifically the American Civil War.
This time, the conversation was about slavery, to which I believe I briefly commented. Another Marine, also Black, responded to me with “don’t play George, you know your ancestors were picking cotton too.”
To which I responded sharply, “my ancestors didn’t pick cotton, we mined sugar cane!” It was the first time they heard me yell.
The conversation continued and this time white Marine said, “what are you talking about, the Caribbean didn’t have slavery.”
For lack of better words, I lost my sh𑁋. I don’t think I had ever felt so slighted or disrespected in my entire life. For about 5 minutes, I cussed everyone out for not knowing what an essential role the territories played in major wars, securing the Panama Canal, the Cold War and that per capita, territories contributed more soldiers than all other U.S. jurisdictions.
Meaning, we serve in greater numbers in American wars and have never been allowed to vote for the Commander in Chief that wages those wars.
How could you not know about our history? Why didn’t your teachers teach you that we were bought over 100 years ago and have never participated in a presidential election? Who was telling this hundred-year lie, that the territories didn’t matter — only for white sands, blue waters and tropical paradise.
As millennial Virgin Islanders, many of our parents didn’t experience this kind of trauma in America. At least, the parents of millennials that have never moved away from home. I was servicing a country, willing to die for a country that didn’t even know (or care) about the suffering of my ancestors and what it meant socially for U.S. territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
What’s unique about my generation is not how savvy we are with phones, problem-solving or creative projects — we are unique because we never stop consuming information. And it hurts, it hurts to be this aware. It hurts to be viewed as naive and young, when many of us are so socially aware, it would scare the founding fathers, who also owned slaves.
Many times, it is how we survive. We learn, and learn and frequently create ‘brain iterations’ to improve our previous self. And as tech companies shift strategies, and release new products, we pounce on them in order to stay ahead. Because we know another financial collapse will force us to lean on those skills, we have been fine-tuning since we reached adulthood.
Millennials and Generation Z (the generation behind us) are looking at the world with a fresh pair of lenses. We see several realities and how they play out — often working together. Both generations are pioneers of the internet age, which means we often see both sides at play — and they often don’t add up. Because democracy (at least in its current state) is not fair or inclusive.
It saddens me that even the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation, has ignored over 100 years of human rights violations affecting over 4 million Americans in U.S. territories. Residents have been calling for a reduction in our local Legislature for quite some time, but it doesn’t work that way. Only the United States Congress can alter the structure of our local Senate body.
This is a travesty that we must discuss as Virgin Islanders before this century slips away from us.
The more we attempt to fly under the radar to avoid federal scrutiny and federal oversight, the more we run the risk of delaying justice for our children and their children. This is a fight that will not end — not even in the 22nd century. As American citizens, voting and proper representation in Congress is God-given right that should not be a bargaining chip for colonial control and racial oppression in the Caribbean and Pacific.
Amaziah George, U.S. Virgin Islands