Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

The battle of the Caribbean islands was on!



It all started when my in- laws coordinated a trip to their country of origin, Trinidad and Tobago.  They wanted their grandchildren to see and get to know their life journey. It was great trip with lots food, fun, and of course being with family.  It got me to thinking that it was equally important for my kids to get to know my parents’ country of origin, Haiti.

So what does a fully assimilated Haitian-American do to make that happen?

I booked a cruise, of course.


Now, I had set my expectations of Haiti very high. I was 6 years old the last time I had visited. I mean on a scale of 1-10, it was on one million.  What life has taught me is that the higher the expectations, the more likely you are to be disappointed.  I brought it on myself and that is exactly what happened when we docked in Labadee, Haiti. As we approached Haiti on Day 3,  I was struck by the beauty of the mountains and how picturesque the scenery was. Then out of nowhere a dark cloud appeared over us and began a torrential downpour, an ominous sign indeed.

So back to the cruise, before I get into the nitty gritty and you may feel the need to comment about how I went about it all wrong. You are right. Who asked you anyway?  The lesson in this is NEVER take a cruise line to a country if you really want to get a feel for the culture. That was my biggest mistake.
 So we arrive in Labadee Haiti, a privately owned island, sanctioned by the cruise line in a torrential downpour. I figure since we had been on that boat for 3 days, We ARE getting off.  We are greeted by a group of men singing “Guantanamera”. I did one of those gestures where you look back and then in front of you a few times, like “What in the world? Is this for real?” I understand Haitian music is a unique blend of African, Spanish, and French rhythms but I anticipated compas/kompa upon my arrival.
 We just continued on our way but that experience was just the tip of the iceberg. However, I made sure to make eye contact as if somehow they could read my mind.
There were signs directing us to a marketplace area where we could buy from the locals. Prior to departure, it was explained that the vendors were “cruise line” approved. In other words, you had to go through a vetting process in order to work on Labadee.  As we strolled through the marketplace, I am accustomed to vendors trying to get my attention, the other guests of the cruise, weren’t so pleased. I almost wanted to yell ” Stop it, we are better than this!”.
I wanted to pick a bottle of rum, so I stepped into a small store and begin to peruse the merchandise. I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea to put a picture of Bob Marley on souvenirs with the caption ” Labadee, Haiti”.  I love Bob Marley like the next person, but I also know he is NOT Haitian.  This was not isolated either, it was everywhere.  There is so much more to Haitian culture that there is no reason to culturally misappropriate individuals.
IMG_5002 (1)
We have so much we could be proud of as outlined in : https://cornbreadandcremasse.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/telling-our-story-3/, but here are a just a few facts to share.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Ameridian named Taino/Arawak both meaning the good people.
Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean.
Haiti has the second longest coastline in the Caribbean after Cuba; 1.100 miles. Over 70% of its beaches are still virgin.
Haiti was the second country in the world to issue a Declaration of Independence, only 33 years after the United States of America.
The first and only country in the history of mankind whose independence is the result of a successful slave rebellion.
Haiti is the first Black Republic in the World.
The first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolished slavery; it would take the United States of America another 65 years to follow suit.
The first and only Black Nation to have successfully defeated a major world power in a war; under the command of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haiti defeated the world mightiest army at the time, France’s; on November 18th 1803 after 14 years of battle.
-The only country in the Western Hemisphere to have defeated three colonial armies for its independence. The powerful armies of Spain, England and France.
-Haiti is unique in history, going directly from slavery to nationhood.
The National flag of Venezuela was created at the sea port of  Jacmel, a city in  south east Haiti.
Upon Independence, Haiti became the first country in the American Continent to constitutionally grant all Its citizen full rights regardless of gender or race.
Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for 22 years. From 1822 to 1844, holding the entire Island of Hispaniola under Its jurisdiction. Today’s Dominican Republic was called Spanish Haiti at the time.
Haiti is one of the only two countries in the American Continent having French as an official language. The other is Canada.
Haiti is the only country in the world with Vodou as an official religion.
For much of the 17th and the 18th century, Haiti was responsible for 60% of the world’s  coffee exports.
 Even though, things were not perfect or realistic for that matter, it meant a lot to me to be able to share the experience with my family. Clearly, I need a trip to Haiti do over and when I do, you will be the first to know.
Have you ever visited a place that didn’t quite live up to your expectations? How did you reconcile your expectations with the reality? I would love to hear your comments and ideas for my do over trip:).



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I am a Creole, but not the kind that you are most likely thinking of. I am not from Louisiana, nor do I resemble Beyonce. I speak Kreyòl, but I was not born in Haiti, and neither were my parents, or my grandparents. So why do I claim a Creole identity? And what does Haiti mean to me? My answer might surprise you. I believe that our world is comprised of both visible and invisible forces working together to create our experiences. In the visible world, my skin color, hair texture and body shape are the phenotypical identifiers of a Black woman, yet Blackness is not a homogenous, fixed social category. My ancestors are European, Native American, Asian and African. At my core, I am and continually strive to be a vessel of Light, sprouting forth and filled daily with the love of God. Because I am multicultural, multilingual, and multireligious, I am a Creole.
From birth to my early twenties, my experience was that of an African American girl from Savannah, Georgia who was raised in the West Indian neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn. My step-father, God-bless-the-dead, was Jamaican, and my best friends were Haitian, St. Lucian and Trinidadian. On holidays, we ate jerk pork, griot, candied yams and macaroni and cheese. We also sipped on rum punch, carrot juice and cremas that sent us straight to sleep while the adults socialized through the night. We listened to R&B, Rap, Reggae, Soca and Ska. Although culturally rich, my neighborhood was no utopia. In a city as diverse as New York, inter-ethnic prejudice is no secret, particularly among the international Black communities. Insults such as “Haitian or African Booty Scratcher” were common in my childhood, and the internalized racism was rarely addressed by adults, and sometimes encouraged. It is true that too many of my family members would whisper disparaging things about the habits of “foreigners” who were taking over New York. As a smart and well-mannered African American girl, I was an anomaly to many of my West Indian peers whose parents had cautioned them that Americans were lazy and were jealous of them.

The author in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

Khadeidra in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

The author in Lafayette Square, Savannah, GA

Kahdeidra in Lafayette Square in Savannah, GA











As Black children developing our self-concept, we objectified ourselves and each other in manners that, as bell hooks writes, “were compatible with existing images and ways of knowing, constructed within the social frameworks that reinforce domination” (Ford and Dillard, 1996, p. 233). Painstakingly, I tried my best to use such prejudice as a motivation to work harder in school and in extra-curricular activities, as I not only had to counter stereotypes of my race, but of my class background and ethnicity, as well. In the space between high school and college, in a search for myself, I began to challenge my notions of work and pleasure, choice and obligation, assaulting myself with a barrage of doubts and hypotheticals. Gradually, everything that I thought that I was sure of had become a waste of time, and I questioned whether I truly had earned the privileges that I enjoyed—acceptance at elite institutions of learning, scholastic and public speaking awards—or whether standards had been lowered to accommodate me. I grew tired of having to prove my worthiness to others because the work came to easy, or too hard, or because I switched like I had diamonds between my legs when I had been expected to apologize for the sight of my voluptuous booty and thighs amidst the stellar student-athletes.
During my sophomore year in college, after a Spring Break Learning Expedition to Ghana, I decided that I was not going to comb my hair anymore, and after several days, it began to naturally sprout dreadlocks. They were different sizes and shapes and absolutely beautiful. They started in the back of my head and worked their way around the sides, but the very top and front of my hair refused to lock. These strands were too straight and were what Black people referred to as my “good hair.” In all of my efforts to be “pure” African with the distinctive strong, tightly coiled hair texture to match, my own truth was literally staring me in the mirror. I joked that the behavior of these strands could be traced to my maternal Irish great-great-grandmother saying to me, “You better respect me, too! You ain’t all African.” My elders tell me that she was very light-skinned with long red hair and freckles, so I assume that she shared the Scotch-Irish heritage of several White Americans in the South. Across my cheeks and nose are both freckles and moles, which my mother refers to as “Black people’s freckles.” If I was not all African, and clearly not all European, then who was I? Why do I often find similarities between myself and people from the Caribbean when others claim that we are “totally different”?
I turned to God. I called on my ancestors for guidance, and they served it in a huge way. The more I prayed, the more I dreamed, and listened, and witnessed, and loved. It was revealed to me that somewhere in my lineage, I had Haitian ancestors. Moreover, they had been priests and priestesses of the Vodou religion. It was my path—the African American girl from Savannah—to initiate into the religion, as well. This news entirely changed my life. It shocked me and at the same time anchored and fortified me. I believed wholeheartedly in my connection with God. I believed wholeheartedly in my connection with my ancestors, so I trusted my messages and began my training in the theology and liturgy of Haitian Vodou. I deepened my cursory knowledge of Haitian culture and began to learn prayers and songs that were in French, Kreyòl, Fon, Yoruba, Kikongo and other indigenous languages. This process affirmed my whole being, and I began to develop what Ford and Dillard (1996) referred to as the “critical social consciousness” that allowed me to deconstruct notions of race and religion.


Veve are sacred drawings representing the Lwa

Veve are sacred drawings representing the Lwa


An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

Historically, ‘Creole’ has been used to refer to people with mixed African-European parentage, but not always. ‘Creole’ also has referred to people with a mixed cultural experience, who were often multilingual. I contemplated what it meant to be a mixture of different skin tones and cultures. Supremacist narratives of any kind would undo me. Did my African and Native American ancestors truly worship the Devil in their indigenous religions? If so, then their historical enslavement and decimation at the hands of Whites makes sense. Yet, if the Devil seeks enslavement for his followers, then God must seek liberation. I must credit God for all triumphs against enslavement and institutions of oppression. I must credit God with the success of the Haitian Revolution on January 1, 1804, which formed the first independent Black nation in the Americas and provided a beacon of hope for all others who remained enslaved.
Haitian Vodou is a religion of Creoles, of people from Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Dahomey, the Kongo who called on every name of God that they knew of to escape death and persecution. Powerful ancestors and forces of nature known as orisha, vodun and bisimbi in Africa (Ginen) became zanj and lwa in Haiti. Male and female, husband and wife, mother and child, they united to lead the Creoles in their fight for liberation. In reconciling the religious customs that he was taught with his emerging critical social consciousness, B. Kanpol (1997) writes, “I must challenge traditional Jewish ways, or even social efficient systems, as I did as a boy, and read for myself the New Testament or/and create possibility out of a simple and mechanistic mindset” (p. 30). What Kanpol describes in challenging religious norms and seeking truth for himself is precisely the kind of “leap of faith” that strengthens my belief in religious plurality and my commitment to practicing the beautiful religion of my ancestors.


Mambo and houngan marching at a ceremony

Mambo and Houngan marching at a ceremony

Ten years since I first received my call, I have become a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Haitian Vodou, and my husband Hermann is a Houngan, a priest. He initiated at 19 years old and has been active in supporting and preserving Vodou sacred traditions throughout Haiti and the dysapora. I am a Southern girl at heart, and he is as country as they come, so our movements are often synchronized in some way. We meet over stewed turkey wings and white rice, mayi moulen and grits, lima beans and sos pwa. We meet over Kongo square and Neg Mawon. We meet over loud talking and bay blag, all day, toujou. Through the practice of Vodou, I have learned that only God has wisdom, and it is precisely our arrogance, or frekan-ness, that keeps us from moving forward. My spirituality is my defense against oppressive social practices. It is the critical lens through which I see the world and make sense of its infinite multiplicities. I am a Creole, a Savannah Creole, and I could never be more proud.




The author and her husband in ceremonial dress

Kahdeidra and her husband in ceremonial dress




The author and her husband on their wedding day

Kahdeidra and husband on wedding day



The author and her husband at a ceremony in Archaiae, Haiti

Kahdeidra and husband at a ceremony in Archaiae, Haiti


An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

Ford, T., & Dillard, C. (1996). Becoming multicultural: A recursive process of self-and
     social construction. Theory into Practice, 35(4), 232-238.
Kanpol, B. (1997). Establishing a criticality and Critical pedagogy and the multicultural
     project. In Barry Kanpol & Fred Yeo (Eds.), Issues and trends in critical
    pedagogy (pp. 21-32, 49-63). NJ: Hampton Press.

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This blog post was written and submitted by DJ Hard Hittin Harry

Tuesday January 12, 2016 marks 6 years since the devastating earthquake and subsequent aftershocks that crippled my beautiful island of Haiti on January 12th in 2010. It is a tragic day that I will never soon forget…and no one else should either.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, with an epicenter near the town of Léogâne (Ouest Department), approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.  The shaking started on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 4:53 p.m. EST (21:53 UTC)

By the 24th of January, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. Death toll estimates range from 100,000 to about 160,000  (Haitian government figures ranging from 220,000 to 316,000 have been widely characterized as deliberately inflated by the Haitian government.) The government of Haiti estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged. There has been a history of national debt, prejudicial trade policies by other countries, and foreign intervention into national affairs that contributed to the pre-existing poverty and poor housing conditions that exacerbated the death toll.

I will never forget that day. Since it actually occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, I had just finished spinning my online mix show (The Global Jam Session) at a studio in Newark, New Jersey at 4:00pm EST. I vividly recall commuting via the subway back to Brooklyn. By the time I arrived in Brooklyn, the Haiti earthquake was “BREAKING NEWS”. I began receiving a multitude of texts to turn on the TV. From that moment I, nor anyone, will never soon forget the events and images plastered all over the TV screen on every channel. Mayhem, death, sadness, and devastation emanated from Haiti to the horrified world via news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and others. Phone lines and cell phone service to and from Haiti were shut down and as you can well imagine, panic ensued. Unspeakable chaos followed as family members here in the United States (as well as all over the world) desperately tried to contact loved ones, family members, and friends via news and radio stations. Local Haitian radio stations such as Radio Soleil, tirelessly operated by Mr. Rico Dupuy became the hub for the Haitian community to desperately attempt to locate their loved ones 24/7. Haitian businesses such as Savoir Faire Record Store in Flatbush were flooded with medical supplies, clothes, and food to help our people. The world continued to watch and wondered how they could help and donate monies. Yet…as the death toll and the number of displaced Haitians continued to rise…you couldn’t help to begin losing hope.

The impact of the earthquake affected me personally here in the States. The day of the quake I received word from my mother that her elder sister, my then-84 year old aunt, Marcelle St. Jean (A United States citizen and New Jersey resident) happened to be in Haiti at that time. Every year Tante Marcelle or Ti ManMan (Lil’ Mama), as we affectionately call her, travels to Haiti to celebrate her birthday as well as deliver toys and gifts to a school that her son, Rev. Marcel St. Jean (my cousin), has there called Sam Haiti. When the earthquake occurred, my aunt was one of the victims buried under the rubble, and went missing for 3 days.
Thanks to a concerned neighbor, my aunt was found in the streets and her children were contacted stateside.  Then came the daunting task of how to get to her and bring her back to the States. My cousins Bernard and Catherine flew to the Dominican Republic and retrieved my aunt in Port-Au-Prince. She was subsequently flown to a Miami hospital for treatment. On Tuesday January 19th, 2010, exactly one week after the horrific events that claimed lives and displaced thousands of Haitians, the Good Lord answered our prayers and my aunt arrived at JFK Airport bruised and battered,  yet alive. Fox 5 News even covered the story and cameras documented her safe return.  Six years later, and undaunted, my dear Tante Marcelle (Ti ManMan) will be in Haiti to celebrate her 90th birthday on January 16, 2016. She is a true warrior and survivor…and very blessed I might add!
marcel3  marcel2
We were extremely fortunate with our situation, however our hearts and prayers goes out to families deeply affected by this unspeakable tragedy. It’s been 6 years since the Haiti earthquake and although the island is on a recovery mission, there is still a long way to go. Let us never forget that day and the victims and their families.
Here are the tolls according to CNN:

  • 220,000-316,000: estimates of the death toll vary
  • 300,000: number of injured
  • 1.5 million: people initially displaced
  • 64,680: displaced people remain as of March 31, 2015
  • 3,978: number of schools damaged or destroyed by earthquake

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While on the phone with my mom on New Year’s Eve and I casually mention that I’ll come over the following day to have some soup joumou as I’ve done every Haitian Independence Day for as long as I remember.  She casually responds “I’m not making soup this year.” *record scratch*

In all my life, I had never heard of such a thing from my mother.  I tried to reason with her (i.e. guilt trip her).  “How can you NOT make soup this year?”  “What about your GRANDCHILDREN?!”  Still nothing.  I told her I would pray that she changes her mind, pray for a miracle — and pray I did.  I got off the phone with her and she seemed grounded in her decision not to make soup this year.

Naturally, I called one of my besties (also a Haitian-American) to complain, and she tells me that her mother is away visiting her cousin for the New Year and her soup joumou prospects are looking a lot like mine.  Stunned and appalled, we went on and on complaining about these mothers of ours “What kind of Nouveau Haitians are they becoming?! What kind of grandparents do this sort of thing to their grandkids’ parents??” Then my girlfriend says “I mean, we’re grown…but still…”  and without missing a beat, I counter with “We aren’t that grown”…but her comment gave me pause.

We are pretty grown.  We have three kids each and our youngests are 5 and 6 — so our babies are not even babies.  It hit me in that instant that maybe I should be making my own soup joumou.  I was not being independent at all (on Haitian Independence Day of all days!) In fact, I’ve been pretty dependent on my parents keeping my Haitian culture alive for me and my children.  It’s so easy to fall into that pattern when you live so close to your parents, and your world (and that of your children) is so Americanized.  I realized then that I must do better.  I actually have the recipe for soup joumou (in fact, I’ve posted it on this very blog in the past), but hadn’t even considered making it myself.  I realized again the responsibility that I, as a Haitian-American, have to pass down the culture of my parents to my children as best I can.

Luckily for me, before I was able to run to the supermarket and get all the ingredients for my very first January 1st Soup Joumou, I got a call from my mother.  A friend of my father’s gave him a huge pot of soup joumou to bring home. (One thing you should know about Haitians is when they do make soup joumou they make a whole lot of it!)  My prayers had been answered…Amen!


I was very happy to be able to enjoy soup joumou, pates and kremas with my parents this year (again).  Next year, though, I do plan to hook my own household up with my own soup joumou…I’ll invite my parents over if my mom doesn’t feel like making it herself.  After all, I am grown.

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As a child, I usually found it quite fun being a girl. Growing up with two brothers had its perks: I got to do all the girly things that girls do (dressing up, playing with dolls, etc), but I also got to get dirty and do all the things that the boys did too. It was the best of both worlds. Usually.

I was raised to be a good little Haitian girl, and as such I was required to greet (“saluer“) all adults properly. “Properly” greeting a grown-up by Haitian standards means that the younger person should greet each adult in a room (or a group) individually. Boys had the pleasure of shaking hands with the men and kissing the women on the cheek. Girls had to kiss every single adult present, male and female. Oh, how I longed to be a boy in those moments!

Usually with my mom’s friends, the ritual involved said kissing followed by a sort of “Show and Tell”. I would stand there, my mom would share “important” highlights of my current life using my Haitian nickname (which by the way 90% of Haitian-Americans have): “Gigi had 2nd honors this quarter, if it wasn’t for Conduct, she would have had 1st honors; AND she’s almost the same shoe size as me!”. Her friends would respond: “It’s good to be smart, Gigi!…but you shouldn’t talk so much in class”, “Ah, li grandie!“, etc. This was usually followed by a brief “Question and Answer” session directed at me: “So…tell me…do you have a boyfriend at school?” or “Would you like if I bring over some of my old shoes?”. The whole episode was quite embarrassing.

My dad would have his friends over periodically for a good old fashion game of Dominoes. The event was somewhat akin to “Poker Night” in American culture. The players were all men. Whenever we kids had to greet them, I was so jealous of my brothers. They would saunter through the room shaking everyone’s hands and then run off to play. I, however, had to go cheek to cheek to cheek to cheek… *sigh*

I dreaded the whole scene. It took forever (compared to my brothers) to greet in this way; I wanted to run off and play too! And it wasn’t just that; I had an issue with the whole “closeness-to-people-I-don’t-know” thing. There were times I had to kiss beard stubble! (Ugh!) Sometimes the men smelled like, uh, they had a long day; other times i found that grown-ups smelled too “good” – like they took a bath in a tub of cologne or something. It didn’t take much to gross me out.

my sentiments exactly!

how i felt

I didn’t yet know about the cheek to cheek kiss, which would have helped me out a lot back then, but I did sometimes do my version of an “air kiss.” I would approach the adult whom I had deemed gross for whatever reason, and ACT like I planted a kiss on their cheek, but never actually made contact at all. I’m not sure if they noticed it or not, but I thought I was pretty slick since it never came back to haunt me.

Today, I believe the rules are still the same in the Haitian culture. I still greet older Haitians with an actual kiss on the cheek (I’ve outgrown the air kiss). My tolerance level has improved, I suppose, because I don’t find it to be such a chore anymore. Occasionally, I’ll implement the cheek to cheek kiss, but kissing to greet my Haitian elders has become natural for me.

My (half-Haitian, half-American) kids greet people according to the cultural norms that the person being greeted is used to. My children are required to “saluer” all Haitian adults Haitian-style ( I don’t really require them to do this for first generation Haitian adults, though, as it is not really the American way). This requirement, however, does not hold true for American adults (although, they are required to kiss American family). When kissing is required of them, my boys have been taught to shake the hands of men (look them in the eye, and give a firm shake), and kiss the cheeks of women; and my daughter has been taught to kiss the cheeks of both women and men. When they don’t have to kiss, they are expected to speak – there is still some form of greeting that goes on. And I admit: I have, at times, been guilty of using my kids for “Show and Tell”. Sue me.

If you asked me as a child, I would have told you that my kids would never have to kiss anyone ever; and that I would never ever use them as the subject for “Show and Tell”, but maturity changes things. I hope that my daughter doesn’t dread this ritual as I did. But, hey, at least she has far fewer people to kiss…and like me, she will survive it.

we all survive it in the end

Did you have to “saluer” like I did growing up? Were you often a “Show and Tell” item? Did you mind any of it? What do you require of your children when greeting your family and friends?

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The Scene:

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?

Mom never met a mumu she didn’t like.

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?

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I’m Haitian-American, but what does that mean? Identity cannot be explained; it can only be expressed. It’s a lot like love. You can say you love someone, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it’s expressed through actions. For most of my life, I’ve been standing on the fence, on the border, on the dash between Haitian and American.

You see, I was born in the United States, but my parents are from Haiti. I only visited Haiti once, and that was a long time ago when I was about four years old. Of course, I would love to go back and see the country for myself as an adult. I would love to drink the strong coffee I always heard about as a child. I would love to swim in the crystal blue lakes, and sit under the banyan trees. I would love to imagine what’s behind the mountains. I would also love to shop at the street markets, and see the women selling fresh vegetables and fruits. I would love to crack open a coconut and drink its refreshing elixir. As I write this, I already feel like I’m in Haiti. I thank God for books and the internet, but I know there’s nothing like being on Haitian ground and standing under the Haitian sun as it embraces me like a mother who cradles her newborn daughter.

Growing up, I didn’t learn how to speak French-Creole. I would respond in English when spoken in Creole. As a child, I was defiant and refused to speak the language. I have no explanation for this behavior. I guess I just wanted to be more American. As I sit in my room today looking out of the window on a cold December day with white skies and leafless trees, I regret being so stubborn like the weather outside.

There is a void, and although I know it’s never too late to learn Creole, I missed 20+ years of molding the language into my own. Unfortunately, as the years go on, I find myself straining to understand Creole as if I’m trying to grasp water or harness the wind with my hands. To fill this void, sometimes, I visit Little Haiti in Brooklyn, NY along Flatbush and Church Avenues where there is a plethora of Haitian restaurants and stores. I catch pieces of conversations from the passersby, and hear the all too familiar “Sak Pase? M’ap Boule” and “Bondye Bon.” Yes, God is good!

When I look at the mirror, it’s undeniable that I am Haitian. I have the high cheek bones, almond-shaped eyes, and dark cocoa skin.  My relatives always make fun of me whenever I stare at the mirror for too long. I not only resemble my parents, but I can see a hint of my grandparents in me. Every time I look at the mirror, I wonder, “How did my great-grandparents looked like and those before them?” I get the answers by looking at the reflection staring back at me. I am reminded that I come from a line of people with resiliency, fortitude, and intellect. There would be no me if it were not for them. I am because they were. Yet, my dark brown eyes still hold mysteries of what I will never see.

Food has a way of causing long-forgotten memories to resurface. I vividly remember eating pâtés, diri djon djon, bannann peze, and pikliz at graduation, baptism, and communion parties. One of my earliest childhood memories was of sitting in my grandmother’s backyard in Port-au-Prince, eating mayi moulen served with sos pwa on a sunny Saturday morning.

Around this time two years ago, I met my century-old grandmother for the first time in 20 years.  “Do you remember me?” she asked in her sing-song Creole. “Wi, mwen sonje ou,” I replied. Of course, I remembered her. How could I forget? Sometimes, I would daydream about the time I spent in Haiti as a child, and the only thing I can remember was the time my family and I sat in her backyard amidst the banyan trees, eating her rich, savory meals.

That night, my grandmother had such a youthful glow, and I could not believe she was 102 years old. She was jovial. She shared stories of her past, sang hymns, blessed her grandchildren, and imparted timeless wisdom. Her skin on the back of her hand felt delicate and smooth like a rose petal.

It was during that moment of holding my grandmother’s hand that I had the idea to write a book that captured my Haitian culture, particularly its food. There are many people out there who are like me  — Haitian-American, and caught in the position of facing dual identities. We are faced with the challenge to make lasting contributions, honoring those who came before us and preparing the way for those will come after us. We must carry the torch and illuminate everything we say or do with pride and purpose.


Haitian-American Author Cindy Similien-Johnson graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University with a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. Ambitious and determined, she’s known for being strong-willed and confident. As a life coach and a motivational speaker, she draws from her own life experiences to inspire others. In 2014, she founded CSJ Media Publishing as a platform to use her gifts and talents in writing; and, to enlighten, encourage, and empower others to discover and fulfill their life’s purpose. She is the author of two motivational books: “Goal Chic: Changing the World, One Goal at a Time” and “How to Stay Motivated: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Living.” Like her Facebook page at facebook.com/csjmediapublishing.


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