Culture shock

Culture shock, jerk chicken and food truck; Rexroy Scott shares his immigration story

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series of stories about people whose paths to central Missouri began with immigration and how they made the journey from their homelands .

In 1996, Rexroy Scott was a 19-year-old footballer in a small working community on the northeast coast of Jamaica.

He soon came face to face with American culture after a Jamaican professor gave the Lincoln University football coach a tip about a scholarship-worthy young defender.

life in Jamaica

The village where Scott grew up is in the parish of St. Mary and sits in the shadow of an upscale resort. The people of Hamilton Mountain, like many parts of Jamaica, work primarily in agriculture and tourism. Within miles of each other, glitzy seaside resorts are contrasted by poorer working-class communities.

“It could be next door that you find a five-star all-inclusive resort. Income level is a stark difference,” Scott said. “Income inequality is a huge issue here (in Jamaica). rich, there are poor, there is not much in between.

Life in Hamilton Mountain is typical of many small Jamaican communities, where residents are close together.

“You know, you weren’t just raised by your parents. There are other people to whom you must be accountable… . I’m coming home and I have to go visit them, and they’re old people now,” Scott joked.

Having a large number of parental figures put a strain on Scott’s shoulders, as he was known to be gifted both academically and athletically.

“There are countless people who don’t live in my house and I think if I did anything wrong it would be a disappointment for them,” Scott said.

The Scott education system grew up in places where children are sorted into defined sections through testing at a young age. Scott, being one of the few men to pass high tests, felt this pressure to succeed from an early age.

“Smart kids go to smart schools, and dumb kids go to dumb schools. And they test you at 10 years old, between 10 and 12 years old; and depending on your score, you can go to a school of your choice,” Scott said. “It could crush a child.”

Culture shock

Arriving in America at age 19, Scott faced a double dose of culture shock upon arriving in the middle of Missouri.

“A high school kid leaving now to go to college, there’s a lot of trepidation, new people, you know, new friends, new environment,” Scott said. “For me it’s been multiplied by 10…lots of new things to get used to.”

Arriving in the middle of Missouri, Scott found a culture very different from what he expected from America. It wasn’t skyscrapers and subways.

“It was a case of, you know, what you see on TV, and your idea of ​​what America is – North America – versus the reality now of what you’re actually going to see “Scott said.

Darby Hodge

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The Missourian Columbia

Rexroy Scott and Devon Francis make pots of Jerk Sauce Feb. 7 at the Jamaican Jerk Hut in Colombia. The sauce is homemade and unique to the Jerk Hut.

One of the biggest sources of culture shock for Scott was the lack of focus on community in American culture.

“I could live in my subdivision in Columbia and not speak to my neighbor for six months. It doesn’t happen” in Jamaica.

“You don’t, you don’t get up and say hello to everyone. Because they’re looking at you weirdly, like some random guy, waving at me in the hallway.

Scott discovered that unlike large American cities with established Jamaican communities, the culture of central Missouri compels immigrants to be self-sufficient.

“Here I am in the middle of nowhere with a very limited support system. So the options are sink or swim. If I can survive Hamilton Mountain with a single dad, I’m sure I can survive the middle of Missouri.

Since Scott moved to America, the Jamaican community in the area has become well established. Much of this is due to Jamaica’s pipeline of athletic talent to Lincoln University.

Under Jamaican coach Victor “Poppy” Thomas, Lincoln University has built a dominating track dynasty over the past 20 years that has helped the local Jamaican community flourish.

The Beginning of Jerk Hut

While living in the middle of Missouri, Scott became an information technology professional at MU and co-owner of Jamaican Jerk Hut. Jerk Hut has locations in Jefferson City and Columbia as well as a popular food truck.

It all started with the small Caribbean community of Jefferson City.

“When a Jamaican goes somewhere, he has friends and family that they know are going to ask for information, and you make it easy for the next guy to come in,” Scott said.

Colin Russell is a Jamaican who immigrated to the middle of Missouri with the help of Scott. Russell grew up in Oracabessa, Jamaica, a town a few miles from Scott’s native mountain, Hamilton. The couple have been friends since elementary school. They played football together in Lincoln and are now co-owners of Jerk Hut.

“We were both athletes, you know, we met on the playground. We really became friends after beating him on the track,” Russell said. “I got a call, and he (Scott) was like, ‘Hey, do you want to come play ball? You can get a scholarship.’

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Darby Hodge

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The Missourian Columbia

Rexroy Scott chops chicken on February 7 at the Jamaican Jerk Hut. Jerk chicken is the restaurant’s most popular dish.

Russell moved to America just a year after Scott, and the two became even closer as friends in a small, tight-knit Caribbean community.

“We just play ball, do our homework and hang out. There weren’t many of us, so we even got closer,” Russell said.

Over the years, the Jamaican community around Lincoln University grew, and Scott was at the forefront of bringing people together, with weekly parties bringing together the Caribbean and African communities in Jefferson City.

“So we get together, the gatherings will get bigger and bigger each week,” Scott said. “We would raise our funds and go to the Gerbes closest to us and buy meat and seasonings and stuff and cook different meals. It kind of became a block party.

Based on the success of these block parties, Scott and some of his friends had an idea.

“I think it was my wife who said to me, ‘Why don’t you sell this stuff back to school? Because people love it when you do it,'” Scott said.

“We went to the house and sold out all the food in… less than an hour.

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Darby Hodge

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The Missourian Columbia

A Jamaican Jerk Hut employee logs his hours from the week of February 7 in Colombia. Normally the restaurant is open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 7pm

Scott offered to regularly sell food at festivals and events. Some of his friends decided against going that route, but Russell immediately bought into it.

“I’ve always been entrepreneurial,” Russell said, “and that’s something else to do, especially in the warm months when school is out.”

After selling tents at Lincoln University’s homecomings and multicultural festivals, Scott and Russell obtained a business license in 2003. The couple set up a food truck with their friends in a historic Jefferson City neighborhood , which was once a black-owned hub. companies in the 1980s.

For the young immigrant duo, finding a jerk chicken recipe that appealed to their clientele was an adventure they took on with pleasure.

“I was not a big grill. … I said to him, ‘I don’t have the expertise,’ and he was like, ‘Me neither. Let’s play a little,’ Russell said.

“I tell people all the time: I burned a lot of chicken and pork.”

Sharing food and culture

Jamaican Jerk Hut is an important part of the central Missouri Jamaican community. It’s a place to congregate, eat familiar and sometimes hard-to-get food, and find people from your own culture in a place where that culture isn’t particularly prominent.

Part of the reason Russell and Scott started cooking with their Caribbean and African friends in the first place was to find a taste of home.

“There was no access to our food, so you do it yourself,” Russell said. “It was all the ingredients you could find, so you could get it as close to home as possible.”

For Scott and Russell, serving Jamaican food is more than giving Jamaicans a taste of their island home – it’s a way to share their culture.

“I see food, it’s something common to all cultures, isn’t it? Everyone eats, and everyone prepares the food and eats,” Scott said. “The way we prepare, serve and consume our food has, in my opinion, served as a conversation starter.”

Scott sees food as a common ground for meeting people and understanding them, despite the communication gaps that can arise between those of different cultures.

“Rex cares about people, you know, and that’s probably why we’re such good friends,” Russell said.

By understanding food, Scott believes people can better understand themselves and the history of their cultures. He is fascinated by America’s barbecue culture and enjoys sharing the history of jerk chicken with his customers.

“You kind of start conversations that way,” he said, “and you get to know people that way.”

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Darby Hodge

/

The Missourian Columbia

Benjamin Ruffin helps Rexroy Scott make Jerk Sauce Feb. 7 at the Jamaican Jerk Hut in Columbia. Ruffin has worked at the Jamaican Jerk Hut for four years and is about to leave for college, but Scott says he is always welcome to come back.