The earth literally shook on April 4, when Ann-Marie Vaz made history in Jamaica as the first woman elected to be a Member of Parliament for East Portland. A minor earthquake
trembled on the northeastern coast of the island shortly after Vaz was confirmed winner in the contentious election. Securing over 300 votes
more than her opponent, Damion Crawford, Vaz says the historical significance of her victory is surreal. “Nothing in my life could tell me that this would be the road I would walk. Nothing prepared me, yet everything did,” she explained.
In mid-April, the political newcomer will go from “country girl” raised in Duff House to Gordon House—the seat of the government in Jamaica. “I’m 53 years old,” Vaz said. “I left being a full-time mother and a philanthropist to become a full-time Member of Parliament.”
The historical impact of her win is a tale of two truths: Vaz is the first female ever to hold this seat for East Portland and
riding on the Jamaica Labour Party ticket, she ended the People’s National Party’s 30-year stronghold over the rural Jamaican community. East Portlanders, she said, voted for change. “They saw someone who was genuinely was there for the people.”
Despite facing attacks of sexism and color bias
from Crawford, Vaz says winning was an onerous task because the PNP brought out their best candidate. While Crawford attempted to throw personal punches by publicly diminishing Vaz to “just a wife,” she explained that her positive message of moving East Portland from poverty to prosperity with a plan resonated with constituents.
“I never spent any time on my opponent because I had too many issues to talk about,” Vaz said.
Providing food and shelter to shut-in East Portlanders are Vaz’s immediate priorities. “The expectations are going to be so high for my performance so I do not have a moment to waste,” she admitted. She said she’s already doing this work in her community, and her victory affords her a seat at the national table to do that work on a larger scale.
Vaz plans to move forward with her policies on job creation, improving the infrastructure, and elevating tourism. She hopes to change the College of Agriculture, Science and Education(CASE) to a university and build stronger relationships with local farmers. Vaz encourages constituents to hold her accountable during her two-year term. “If I don’t find that I am making a difference in the lives of the people of East Portland, I love them so much that I would step aside.”
For Vaz, running for office was never really about her. She said it was about helping the people of East Portland not accept mediocrity from anyone—and for Black moms to not accept barriers restricting their lives.
“When that day comes when they (women) have emptiness and their children have moved on in life, they can look around and chose any path they decide on and take the steps to fulfill it,” Vaz said. “Your choices begin whenever you choose them.”