New Jersey, circa 1986, My lovely Haitian household
The house phone rings. I make a mad dash for it like an Olympic sprinter. Mom picks up from her room first.
Mom: Alo? (pause) Alo?
Friend: Umm, Hello?
Me: Mom, I GOT IT! You can hang up now.
Mom: ki lè wap etidye?
Me: Mom, I will do it later. Please hang up the phone now.
Me: Hello, Hey…
Friend: Yo, You HAITIAN?
Me: No, My Parents are French.
How many of you have said that line (or something to that effect) to your friends growing up?
I remember one experience at the Catholic school I was attending vividly. Sister Maureen, the Principal, would come to take the annual census of students. When she called out where your family was from, you had to stand up and be counted.
I was ready to die. Like a roll call, the White students stood up, the Hispanic students, and I knew it was inevitable. Then she said it: “Stand up if your family is Haitian.” The words almost sounded slurred and drawn out. I looked down and froze. Then I heard chairs moving and looked up and saw 1/4 of the class starting to stand up!! I couldn’t believe it. She was Haitian. He was Haitian. Oh my God, you’re Haitian?
So there, I admit I had issues. However, from that day on I owned who I was and where my parents came from. No more telling people my parents were French. No more rushing to answer the phone before my mom did.
Was I the only one? Did you do that too?
That’s my confession. As a mother, I wonder what will my kids deny about me? Will they be embarrassed by my short hair and tell their friends that I have cancer? I’ve been there. I regret that I’ve even done that.
What were your experiences of identification growing up? Did you feel comfortable saying you were Haitian? Did you ever use the explanation that French people settled in Haiti so technically, kind of sort of, you were French?