An exchange program brought Jamaican national, Shawn Hutchinson to Alaska, but love kept him here. Being far from his mother country hasn’t always been easy for Hutchinson, but as he puts “It doesn’t really matter where you’re at, to be happy” (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

In honor of Black History Month, KCAW has been exploring what it means to be Black in a small Alaskan town. In part three of our series, “Black in Sitka,” Tash Kimmell meets with local chef and Jamaican national Shawn Hutchinson. Listen below:

My name is Shawn Hutchinson. I’m from Jamaica. I was born in St. Elizabeth, and moved to Kingston at a tender age. 

 When did you get to Alaska or even the states?

I was going to U-Tech, doing culinary arts management. And from there, you have a couple guys from here doing cultural exchange programs. I was introduced to it by one of my dorm mates. They only have, like, Sitka available because the lower 48 was booked out. I wanted to work at, like, one of those fancy restaurants, five-star, you know, but it wasn’t available at the time. And yeah, it’s like a summer program. So I did it for like two two years. Yeah. And met Brooke, my wife, fell in love.

Was your family at home like “You’re crazy. What do you-“

Everybody, yeah.  A lot of people asked me. But it’s like when you have true love I would say, you lean on that a lot.  I don’t really pay much attention to, like, being like black and white, and stuff. Yeah. If I did, I wouldn’t be here. The darkness can get to you sometimes, like, you just have to, you know, make friends and don’t pay much attention to you know, skin color.

 What’s it like raising a mixed-race son in Sitka?

We’re gonna try for a trip [to Jamaica] one of these times, for him to like gain the fullness of our culture and Jamaican culture. But being a mix, culture here, it’s…I would say he gained much more from being here. He learns more on this side of the world, here.

Do you miss having a Black community around you?

 Yeah, for sure. Because, you know, I can’t forget where you’re coming from, and stuff.

It does make an impact, you know, being around a lot of different color people because even like, our friends and stuff, or like the toddlers ands stuff come to you and say ‘Why your skin is different color than’…. ya know?

If you were gonna give advice to a Black person moving to Sitka like, what would you tell them? What would you say?

I would say get a happy lamp. Yeah, just work. Stay focused. It doesn’t matter really where ya at to be, like, happy and stuff.