Isaac Gordon (b. 1927): Migration, Immigration and Emigration – Writing Lives

Isaac Gordon (b. 1927): Migration, Immigration and Emigration

“To go to America is not like coming here
  To go to America
  they have to come over and employ you.” (10)

Isaac Gordon wrote his memoir focusing on his life, in relation to how he travelled to three different countries for work. Isaac began his journey in his birthplace Jamaica, where he started his low paid manual labour jobs helping his Father on their farm. At the end of the chapter about Isaac’s farm work, he says, “I didn’t want to come to England and I didn’t have the money. But I did want to go to America.” (9).  

Isaac then proceeds to tell us about his journey to America, referenced in my previous posts about Isaac’s life and labour. Isaac shows us how difficult it was working in a country like America because of the state of the economy at the time. Isaac said that he “don’t have any union but if they employ Americans, they would and they’d have to pay more money.” (13). This was Isaac’s response to being let go from his work and sent back to Jamaica.

Normally, it is said, “writers wrote repetitiously and simplistically about themes that would offend no one, rather than about the unique characteristics of their own class.” (Vicinus, 1974, 225). However, Isaac shows to be voicing his political ideas about America and the way in which migrant workers were treated at that time. However, there was no abuse or direct racism referenced in Isaac’s description of work, but there was a clear pay gap and divide between workers who were sent to America and workers who were from America.

“I stayed in America three months.
  Then I went back to Scarborough,
  and I buy pigs.” (17).

Image taken from Isaac’s memoir, to show exactly where he travelled for work

After his journey back to Jamaica, Isaac tried many short-term jobs in order to make money to survive but none of them kept him out of trouble. He said that he “didn’t have a proper job” and that he was “drifting away.” (18). His family in Jamaica saw that he was getting into trouble after coming back from America and wanted him to go and work in England with his Father and some of his other family.

Isaac did not want to go to England but he said, “if you live in your family house, if they told you to do anything, you have to do it.” and going to England is what they wanted him to do (18). Isaac found it easier to immigrate to England than he did to get to America, he also found it easier to find work, though the jobs were still “too little money.” (26).

To conclude his memoir, Isaac writes about how different his life is in England compared to what it would be like if he could move back to Jamaica. In England, Isaac goes “to work every day, and have nothing to show for it” whereas, if he was in Jamaica he “would working for [himself]” doing farming (33). When referencing going back to Jamaica, Isaac comments on the current events and why he would like to go back. He says that his mother is getting old, as is he, and he would like to go and ”look for her” and “see the district where [he] born and grow up, where everything mess, because of the bauxite company. They take bulldozer and turn up the land.” (31).

Image from Isaac’s memoir, showing the land being dug up in St Ann’s, Jamaica

Works Cited:

Gordon, Isaac. ‘Going Where the Work is’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection. 2:327, available at

Vicinus, Martha. The Industrial Muse. New York: Barnes & noble books, 1974.

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