Updated: May 31
As a young child, growing up amidst my Haitian family, I was proud and empowered. I was excited to hear and see the culture of my family’s culture come to life as they spoke, danced, cooked and just plainly lived life. I always loved that the most about my family. Like many immigrant families, they struggled, worked their behinds off and got themselves to the United States. They worked hard, they saved money and most importantly they didn’t assimilate or lose their sense of culture. I was proud! To be at family events and hear the beautiful sounds of creole seeping from everyone’s mouths. Sounds that were only at the time recognizable by ear and not by the brain, because I did not speak creole. I grew up loving the pate, bannan, and diri ak sospwa noir. The taste of seasonings jumping from taste bud to taste bud after every bite. I loved watching my mother blast Haitian music on Saturday mornings and dance as she cleaned our boxy one-bedroom apartment in East New York. I loved everything about the culture I saw daily. But it didn’t stop at my doorstep or my family’s gatherings. Being out and about in such a diverse city, I loved everything about seeing people from other cultures. Hearing their twangs and tasting their treats. But what I loved the most, was seeing other Haitian people and being a bystander viewing their lives from the outside, even if it was for a brief moment.
When my mother moved us to Kentucky, I never realized how much I would miss those simple things. Going back home to New York City every summer, wasn’t enough to scratch the itch I had about home. As I grew older, the love I had for my family’s culture was replaced with things like being a teen, sports and preparing for college. Although I went to a predominantly black high school and lived in a “diverse” neighborhood, my friends new I was Haitian; and that was the extent that it had gone. However, when I attended college, I realized that there was so much more to me than what meets the eye.
A part of myself I never really explored. I came into my own and wanted to learn creole, even more, I wanted to participate in Carnival and learn to cook Haitian dishes. See, my culture although I was not born there was my comfort. My home away from home. It felt great to be apart even in the slightest bit. Being one of the very few black students on my college campus, made things a little interesting. So, when searching for that nurturing home feeling from my peers, I gravitated to the very few Haitians I could find. I remember being in college, a member of The Black Student Association and speaking on the fact that I grew up in New York City. Where Caribbean restaurants were at my disposal and how I wanted to feel that same sense of home after college. One conversation led to another, and a comment was made “I can’t imagine being Haitian and not speaking my language that’s crazy, how old are you”. I instantly felt like my Haitian experience was null and void. It didn’t matter that my mother who was born in America didn’t speak English until she was 8 years old and didn’t teach me creole because of her own insecurities from her experiences. It didn’t matter that I had a passport and went to Haiti every year with my family. It didn’t matter that I was working hard on my own to learn the language but because I couldn’t physically tell someone “m’ap pale creole petit”, my studies left me feeling insecure. All that mattered was, I wasn’t fluent, I grew up in Kentucky and my mother was a citizen
; therefore, I wasn’t Haitian enough, just Haitian-ish.
It hurt my feelings and ultimately made me feel less than. I found solace in creole and enjoyed learning on my own but, was terrified to practice with anyone due to fear. Which ultimately caused some progression issues. My insecurities behind trying to enjoy the culture I grew up in and make it a fundamental and permanent part of my life was causing me a little stress. I was withdrawn from talking to other Haitian students and often times hoped that it wasn’t brought up. I spent a lot of time downing myself because of my upbringing not realizing that I too am apart. I am Haitian-American, and I should continue to be proud. The work that my family put in to get to this country is the reason I am who I am today. I have the education that many Haitian students are dying they could obtain. I have had opportunities to travel for leisure and for sport. I can walk “freely” in America and operate my daily life as many in Haiti can’t without fear. I made honest attempts to learn a beautiful language that seems to be going extinct, on my own.
So, I have to ask myself, “What is there not to be proud of?”. I can honestly answer, sometimes I just don’t feel Haitian enough. Sometimes I feel that I am not a good representation of Haitian Americans because I didn’t serve Haitian food at my wedding, I don’t know how to cook soup joumou and I do not operate my household by the “lekol, legliz, lakay” mantra. Although, I know that I am doing my family and Haiti proud. I allowed the negativ
e comments and stereotypes of what a Haitian person is to make me feel less than. I am proud of my upbringing, the creole I have taught myself and utilized even when I was afraid. I am proud that my grandmother had a well in her yard to pull up her own water and that I got to experience pulling fruit from her trees and eating them as they do in the homeland. I am proud that my mother taught herself English at 8 years old and is now one of the best elementary school teachers in the district. I am proud that my Haitian family came to the United States and didn’t forget who they were and where they came from. Because in that little time that I was ashamed of who I was and felt only Haitian-ish, they were the motivation I needed to live in my truth and finally enjoy my reality as a Haitian American woman. I can finally say, I am not Haitian-ish.