I’m a first generation Haitian-American, although probably more accurately, an “American Haitian”. Meaning that although I am the child of two Haitian immigrants, I was born and raised – and still live – in the United States. I was raised in a Haitian household growing up, but in an American (often African-American) environment outside of home. As all creatures do, I’ve adapted to my surroundings (the US). When you see me, my Haitian background is not apparent to the naked eye…most people I meet along my travels, don’t know I’m Haitian until I tell them — they just assume I’m African-American. Sometimes other Haitians don’t even recognize me as one of them! I don’t pass the “Haitian Last Name” test either (Haitians and Haitian-Americans typically assume you are of Haitian descent if you’re black and have a typically Haitian last name, like Jean-Baptiste, Pierre — or a generally French sounding last name. My maiden name, Austin, is not an instantly recognizable Haitian name nor is it a French sounding name. Then to top things off, I went and married an African-American man and my married name is super American.
So for these reasons, I feel sort of like an “Undercover Haitian”. Little does a passerby-er know, in a sea of accents from all over the world, I can decipher a Haitian accent or mannerisms in 2 seconds flat! (Most of my American counterparts think that all West Indian people sound alike when speaking English.) And when I’m out in the world, I’m quite good at eavesdropping on any (Haitian) Creole or French conversation within earshot. So beware!
Seriously speaking though, I don’t intentionally hide my background. In my case, being an “Undercover Haitian” is not intentional — it’s more circumstantial. Most people who know me, are fully aware of my Haitian background — but the key is you have to actually know me (or know something about me).
One of the best things about being an “undercover” Haitian-American is discovering other “undercover” Haitian-Americans! It’s even better when you get to talking to someone you just met and you think they’re great — and THEN you find out that they’re Haitian too! That’s like the cherry on top!
There are TONS of us roaming the earth waiting to discover more of us — and we ALWAYS seem to be so happy to find each other. I usually discover other Undercover Haitians by doing the Haitian Last Name test, but sometimes I’ll volunteer that I’m Haitian — and then they’ll reveal themselves to me. “OMG — are you Haitian too!? Sak Pase?!” There’s an instant kinship — even if we’ve just met a second ago. Even if I’ve only known the person for 2 minutes, once I learn that they, too, are an Undercover Haitian — already I know that we share so much that is unique to us and our experiences as first generation Haitian-Americans. We’ve had to reconcile two different cultures (Haitian and American), we share a language, customs, cuisine — just to name a few — and I could probably correctly guess a little bit about some of their childhood experiences — or the ways of their parents. It’s just a great feeling to find a similar minority within the majority. I love the kinship that we share!
I guess most people/groups like to find similarities and common bonds with others. It’s no different for us Undercover Haitians. I also think that finding other first generation Haitian-Americans helps to instill pride in our culture as well — and I think that’s great!
How have you discovered other Americanized Haitians in America? Do you do the Haitian Last Name test? Do you have some other method? How does finding your own kind make you feel?