Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Growing Up Haitian American: Identity

Photo Credit: Murdena Francois

"The BIGGEST challenge of life is to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you like everyone else."

I often think about the days where I used to hide my identity from the world, hoping no one would figure out that I was Haitian American. And when they did find out, let's just say I have heard my fair share of ignorant reactions.

"Do you know voodoo?"

"Can you speak Haitian?" Say something in Haitian.

"Wow! You're Haitian! You don't look Haitian."

"Can you teach me a cuss word." "Say [enter any cuss word in the English language.]"

And I always answered all questions with such disdain!!

"No, I don't know voodoo! (But right now I'm wishing I did.)"

"I do not speak Haitian. Do you speak American? I speak creole and am under no obligation to do so to please the likes of you!"

 "And what exactly is a Haitian supposed to look like?"

"No! I cannot and will not teach you a cuss word that you will probably use against me later."
(Although, I didn't know many cuss words back then because I grew up in a Christian household and rarely heard them. Additionally, Haitian "cuss words" don't really translate well in English.)


When some people think of Haiti, I'm not sure why they think of such negative connotations. In fact, Haiti is beautiful! The language, the culture, the land, the music, the food. :)

Instead, people think of disease, poverty, and voodoo. Or the earthquake that happened on January 12, 2010, and how it left over 200,000 residents dead, starving, and the parts of the island in ruins. People pass judgments without knowing anything about anything and I wouldn't say it's our fault because Hey!! even I pass judgments. But judgments by peers can be the most hurtful. 

I had mixed feelings growing up with two different cultures. Feelings of pride, shame, embarrassment. And at times I felt as if I was forced to choose sides. Be American. Or be Haitian. It was hard especially not having anyone to talk to about it and my parents didn't understand. 

In middle school and the beginnings of my high school career, I was brutally bullied by the kids at my school. To them, Haitians, Haitian-Americans, and recent Haitian immigrants were the center point of ridicule. I soon learned that we Haitians were pointed out by what we wore (our church clothes or Sunday best even though it was not Sunday), smelled like (supposedly like fish), and our coarse, thick hair (which was apparently "nappy"). I remember a couple times where they would joke about voodoo, warning others not to f*%$ with us Haitians because we would kill them. Which none of which were true. It was tough life growing up. We were just like any other kid. So why did they hate us so much?

The recent immigrants had it the worse though, having to be separated because they had accents and could not speak or understand the English language that well. People would ridicule and say they were "fresh off the boat." Some children even threatened to call Immigration to take "us Haitians back" since they assumed we were illegally here.

Not to mention, when I got home my parents did not make life easier. They were very hard on us. But looking back now, I understand why. My parents came to America with nothing and tried to make a better life for themselves and their children like most immigrants coming to America do. My mother struggled very hard to give me opportunities that she did not have. And she made sure that I understood (every day) not to take opportunities for granted because there is always someone less fortunate.

It took a lot of self-control and turning the other cheek, and education to get through all the taunting.
Educating myself about the Haitian culture, asking questions, and doing research really grew my self-love for the country and for myself. It took a lot of personal growth and learning to truly love who I am to accept my identity no matter the cost. And as I got older I realized that it is okay to be different.  It's okay to stand out. It is praised even. That is what makes you, you... and me, me. Unique. I have finally come to terms with my identity and I am Haitian and I'm proud.

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