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Valerie Valme

Valerie Valme

Jamaican Fashion Designer & Salesperson

Born: Kingston, Jamaica
Heritage: Jamaican

It’s so important to respect yourself, so you can be respected. It’s important to appreciate what you have. you have a lot to be thankful for and to give back. There isn’t the need for expensive material things. You don’t seem to miss those things when there is love in the family.

Valerie Valme

Jamaican Fashion Designer & Salesperson

Hello, my name is Valerie Valme. I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, July 2, 1951. My parents were divorced. My mom was a nurse in Jamaica but went to England with her new husband, and dad migrated to the United States. There were three of us left: my brother, myself and a younger sister. We were raised by my very strict but loving grandparents. I had a happy childhood.

Although we would be considered poor, we never thought of ourselves as poor. We felt more fortunate than others around us. Our parents, who had migrated, sent money to support the family. My grandfather worked and grandmother had a business outside the home.

As children, we would invent and make our own concerts. Kids would come over and one would be a singer. Someone else would recite a poem. I would have a fashion show with dolls, because I always had a love for clothing and fabric.

Our food staple is rice. We eat things like plantains, which are like bananas. We eat codfish, cooked with ackee, which is both a fruit and a vegetable. That is our national dish. The fruits in Jamaica are like nothing you’ve ever heard of here.

Before going to bed my grandparents would sit us down and ask, “What do you want to be?” My sister wanted to be a doctor. My brother moved from being a pilot to a teacher. Mine would change every night. I loved to make clothing for my dolls. That wasn’t looked upon well by my family. They didn’t see it as being a designer, but as a seamstress slaving over a machine. My grandmother and grandfather wanted titles like doctors, lawyers, teachers or nurses.

Everyone was encouraged to get an education. Some children, who did not have electricity or kerosene at home, would study under the streetlights at night to do their homework. As far back as I can remember I never cared much for school. It was not uncommon to be spanked by the teacher if you did something wrong in school. You wouldn’t want to go back and tell your parents because you’d get another spanking.

I lived in Jamaica until age 13. I migrated to the U.S. and it was a different experience. I flew from Kingston to Miami as a port of entrance. Everything seemed much larger to me. As I started to settle in it was different.

When I came here some American black people said “you talk funny.” I feel when I came here I was more accepted by white people who didn’t accept their own black people from their own country. I have had white people tell me, “You’re from Jamaica, so you’re not black.” The black people resented me for being a stranger, coming in and being more accepted than they were. This is their country also.

After graduating from college, I went back to live in Jamaica for a year. I wanted Tamara, my daughter, to be brought up there. Because I had left the country and came back, some people there see me as a traitor in a way. I lived there for a year and decided to come back to the U.S.

Now, I live in the same house as my daughter and her husband and my granddaughter. It’s like the Jamaican tradition. When my granddaughter was born I took a year off from my job to be with her.

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Honoring Valerie Valme

In A Loving Family

Respect is what we have to show
To the elders and each other
Appreciate all you have
So says this mom, grandmother
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica
I will give you a little background
My parents came to the states
When I was two-years old
Three of us left behind
Brother, self, and younger sister
We were raised by my grandparents
They were strict, but I grew up
In a loving family
Before going to bed
Grandmother would set us down
Asking us what we wanted to be
Doctor, lawyer, nurse, or teacher
We were part of the British
Commonwealth at that time
Where the people labored
As servants or farmers
In a loving family
Some had electricity
But all had determination
Each of us we were told
To get an education
Some did homework under the lights
On the streets in the evening
When the power it went out
We would laugh and tell stories
In a loving family
Grandfather worked in a shipyard
Grandmother never graduated
She had good taste and manners
She was self-educated
Because of her I fell in love
With fabric and clothing
Because of her I fell in love
With fashion designing
In a loving family
Grandmother so intent
Not to be poor Jamaicans
Raised us to be Anglican
Above our class distinction
Our bloodline goes way back
To the slave rebellion
Our ancestors the Maroons
Gave courage like Bob Marley
In a loving family
When I migrated to the states
There weren’t many people
Who knew about from where I came
I was teased, alienated
Then I met people who
Traveled, or from Jamaica
Got married, now we share
Tamara, beautiful daughter
In a loving family
Now I live with my daughter’s
Family in Minnesota
Where I am near to help them
Raise up my dear granddaughter
It has been a dream of mine
To fulfill life’s expectation
Passed on by my Grandmother
To guide each generation

Words by LARRY LONG with Mrs. Nordsletten-Soderstrom’s 4th grade class of FAIR School
(Crystal, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI