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Archive for the ‘school’ Category

 

When I was junior in high school, a new hip hop album was released by a group called A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) entitled “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”.  My then boyfriend had bought the new ATCQ cassette tape and he dubbed it for me.  I loved that album so much that I played the tape over and over again until the audio started sounding funny.

They were part of a crew called the Native Tongues, who I was really feeling back then (and even still now).  The Native Tongues were a group of hip hop artist known for their positive-minded, good-natured Afrocentric lyrics.  They also pioneered the use of eclectic sampling and jazz-influenced beats. They were different and more fun than the standard hip hop groups up until that time. I felt that I could relate to them the most out of all the other hip hop groups/crews at the time.  They  were young, black and seemed to have fun together.  Their lyrics didn’t focus on the ill realities of the inner city and as a carefree high schooler, that was more my speed.  Relatability has always been important to me.  They even had female emcees in the crew — one of which grew up close to where I lived.

As I matured and started to identify more with my Haitian culture, I still loved hip hop but was very aware that Haitian-Americans were not represented in the genre – not publicly anyway.  I was a sophomore in college when I heard the first real Haitian hip-hop reference…and it came from none other than Phife Dawg, a member of a Tribe Called Quest.

It was one line,  but it was such a big deal for us fans who were Haitian.  He said “I love ’em black, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian, name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation…”.  We were all so hyped to have been shout out by such an amazing, mainstream group.  Phife is Trinidadian, so he could have very well shout out his own country, or instead said “Jamaican” which was a more common Caribbean country that would also rhyme with “Nation”…but he didn’t; He said “Haitian”!!  I love how he SAW us..and loved us — so much so that he put it in his rhyme.  When people acknowledge you, you feel empowered.  Thanks to Phife, Haitians were no longer invisible in hip hop. That small gesture…to be seen, named, and publicly acknowledged was such huge deal to me.  My love for ATCQ was already deep, but it deepened after that.

I was saddened to learn that Malik Taylor, also known as Phife Dawg passed away recently.   I would have liked to thank him for that shout out.   I wonder if he knew how much we appreciated that line.

Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest

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When I was a child in school, Black History Month was when I first learned about African-American heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  While it was refreshing to learn of these people and their contribution to history, I also learned how very unfairly Blacks were treated in the United States before the Civil Rights era.  Even in the midst of celebrating “us”, the “Black as the underdog” thing was looming and stayed in the back of my mind.  Honestly, Black History Month was one of the few times I didn’t so much mind being “different” or more like my African-American counterparts.  As a Haitian-American child, I knew that my parents didn’t have the same history that I was learning about.  I was still “different” — but this time I felt like maybe it wasn’t so bad.

As a parent today, I hate that my children have to learn that their country didn’t (and in many cases still doesn’t) treat Black people and other people of color fairly because of the color of their skin.  Although the list of Black Heroes that my kids are learning is longer than what I remember being taught growing up, I wonder if Black people being the historical underdog looms in their young minds as well.

blackhistorymonth

Isn’t Black History Month supposed to uplift?  Without discounting what our kids are already being taught about the historical contribution of African-Americans, why aren’t they also being taught more uplifting stories about Black people? Why aren’t they learning about Egyptian Kings and Queens? Why isn’t Haitian History part of the curriculum? It’s a more recent history.  I am of the belief (and yes, I might be biased) that Haitian history is not just for Haitians — it is literally BLACK history — a story of redemption for all people of color who have ever been enslaved.  Is the story of the Haitian Revolution too militant?  Surely it’s not more militant than the story of white settlers coming to a foreign country and taking what wasn’t theirs to begin with (i.e. American history).   I suppose we shouldn’t depend on the hunter to tell the lion’s story.

Article_didyouknow

I make it my business to share that history with my children — and whoever else will listen. (When my eldest was in Kindergarten, I spoke to his class about the Haitian Revolution during Black History Month).  Haiti’s history is all too often ignored in terms of its importance and significance. What a momentous event!  The story of the Haitian Revolution is an event that has significance, not only for Black people, but for all of humanity. When the slaves revolted in mass in 1791 after a long struggle against the French army, they were able to proclaim Haiti’s independence and the end of slavery in 1804.  It was the first time that a whole people (Black people!) extended the notion of freedom to everybody. Not only that, they also demonstrated that slavery is the unnatural state, and freedom is the natural state of people.  They rightfully took back what was theirs!

We need to boost our kids’ self esteem with this story.  Obviously the schools are not going to to it, so it is our responsibility.  My children have both African-American and Haitian ancestors, and I think it’s my job, as a Haitian American parent, to make sure they know something about the history of both sides of their family.  I think even if half of their family wasn’t Haitian, this is a story worth telling — especially to our Black children.  Haitian History is BLACK history.  It is a victorious history of an oppressed people who fought for — and won — their freedom.  This should be part of the Black History curriculum.   Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (even when the hunter wants you to think it’s all about the lion for a month).

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When I was a child in school, Black History Month was when I first learned about African-American heros like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  While it was refreshing to learn of these people and their contribution to history, I also learned how very unfairly Blacks were treated in the United States before the Civil Rights era.  Even in the midst of celebrating “us”, the “Black as the underdog” thing was looming and stayed in the back of my mind.  Honestly, Black History Month was one of the few times I didn’t so much mind being “different” or more like my African-American counterparts.  As a Haitian-American child, I knew that my parents didn’t have the same history that I was learning about.  I was still “different” — but this time I felt like maybe it wasn’t so bad.

As a parent today, I hate that my children have to learn that their country didn’t (and in many cases still doesn’t) treat Black people and other people of color fairly because of the color of their skin.  Although the list of Black Heros that my kids are learning is longer than what I remember being taught growing up, I wonder if Black people being the historical underdog looms in their young minds as well.

blackhistorymonth

Isn’t Black History Month supposed to uplift?  Without discounting what our kids are already being taught about the historical contribution of African-Americans, why aren’t they also being taught more uplifting stories about Black people? Why aren’t they learning about Egyptian Kings and Queens? Why isn’t Haitian History part of the curriculum? It’s a more recent history.  I am of the belief (and yes, I might be biased) that Haitian history is not just for Haitians — it is literally BLACK history — a story of redemption for all people of color who have ever been enslaved.  Is the story of the Haitian Revolution too militant?  Surely it’s not more militant than the story of white settlers coming to a foreign country and taking what wasn’t theirs to begin with (i.e. American history).   I suppose we shouldn’t depend on the hunter to tell the lion’s story.

Article_didyouknow

I make it my business to share that history with my children — and whoever else will listen. (When my eldest was in Kindergarten, I spoke to his class about the Haitian Revolution during Black History Month).  Haiti’s history is all too often ignored in terms of its importance and significance. What a momentous event!  The story of the Haitian Revolution is an event that has significance, not only for Black people, but for all of humanity. When the slaves revolted in mass in 1791 after a long struggle against the French army, they were able to proclaim Haiti’s independence and the end of slavery in 1804.  It was the first time that a whole people (Black people!) extended the notion of freedom to everybody. Not only that, they also demonstrated that slavery is the unnatural state, and freedom is the natural state of people.  They rightfully took back what was theirs!

We need to boost our kids’ self esteem with this story.  Obviously the schools are not going to to it, so it is our responsibility.  My children have both African-American and Haitian ancestors, and I think it’s my job, as a Haitian American parent, to make sure they know something about the history of both sides of their family.  I think even if half of their family wasn’t Haitian, this is a story worth telling — especially to our Black children.  Haitian History is BLACK history.  It is a victorious history of an oppressed people who fought for — and won — their freedom.  This should be part of the Black History curriculum.   Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (even when the hunter wants you to think it’s all about the lion for a month).

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returntosenderreturntosender

 

The following blog was submitted by Elikusa A.

As a middle school administrator in a very highly populated first generation American Community in Maryland, I am often reminded of many experiences of being raised as a first generation Haitian American  in Irvington, New Jersey in the late 80’s.  Here’s a comment  that my parents use to always say to my brother’s teachers when they found themselves in the school office for some disciplinary action, “If you do that again, I will send you back to Haiti.”  As a young child that meant something but by the time my brother got to middle school, he knew that wasn’t happening.  He knew it was just an empty threat but he continued to play the role in this melodrama.  He would act like he was scared (sometimes even cry) and that he learned his lesson and my parent’s walked out of the office feeling like they did something but of course they didn’t because within the next two weeks my parents were back in the school office.  I thought only my parents did this until I became the administrator who was calling parents from- Nigeria, Jamaica, Ghana and of course Haiti – and one after another they would say the same thing, “If you do that again, I will send you back to …. ” and their child would act like they learned their lesson but all I could do is laugh (inside) because I saw was my younger brother, who by this age knew what this meant.  For me I knew sooner or later I would see the same student back in my office.
What comments did your parents make to your teachers, to your principals or just to you when you got in trouble?   I would love to hear them.

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Yven’s article first appeared in the Miami Herald on 11/29/14 and is shared here with permission.

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Thirty years ago, Phede Eugene, an honor-roll teenager at Miami Edison High School, parked his car at a neighborhood church and shot himself in the chest. He died instantly. By accounts from family and officials, Phede probably killed himself because he was ashamed of his Haitian heritage.

But more troubling was the thought that being identified as Haitian was so stinging an indictment that Phede no longer wanted to live. It was better to hide — and die — in the shadow of a lie than to live openly Haitian.

As the Miami Herald reported, he preferred to speak English rather than Haitian Creole. He told few people about his Haitian background and reportedly told his family that he refused to identify as Haitian. Phede’s tangled hidden world, however, soon began to unravel. It began about a week before his suicide, when his sister came to Burger King, where he worked, and spoke to him in Haitian Creole.

Phede, who went by Fred, and aspired to pass as African American, was accidentally outed in this exchange, in front of his girlfriend, who reportedly did not know he was Haitian. Mortified, Phede scolded his sister. Shortly after, he borrowed money to buy a gun and ended his life.

Most likely he lived a tormented life, torn by a thorn of a double consciousness, never sure of where he fit in. He probably agonized over what his girlfriend knew and feared the taunts of would-be aggressors at school who might discover his secret and bully him for being what many Haitians in South Florida were perceived to be — smelly newcomers right off the refugee boat.

I feel his pain. For Haitians like myself, who were so-called “undercover Haitians,” Phede’s story — his extreme disdain, anxiety and, perhaps, guilt for hiding his identity — goes deeper than any one can imagine. Short of suicide, Phede’s story is my story and the story of thousands of others in the Haitian diaspora.

Phede’s death is important because it marked the awakening of immigrant Haitians reaffirming their identity, a long process that drew more attention right after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, almost three decades later. This struggle with identity and acceptance hits close to home as there are, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, as many as 830,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States, almost a third of that number reside in Florida.

I was 4 years old when Phede died, a resident of South Florida and the son of immigrant Haitians. I did not know Phede. However, by 11, I knew what it was probably like to be him: I felt there was something eerily damaging about letting people know that I was Haitian.

In the thick of the refugee crisis surging in 1991, in my 11-year-old mind, being Haitian represented being primitive, uncultured in sound and speech. To me Haiti equaled hate. Thus began my lying about my heritage. Lying was never easy, and I learned it is impossible to shed your culture, your uniqueness, the stuff God put in you.

I agonized daily over every decision to cover up my identity. I told people that I was half Bahamian, half Canadian or French.

Perhaps the worst of it came when I had to grieve alone. My mother died in a small plane crash in Haiti. To remove any connection of myself to Haiti, I told people my mother died in the crash of the ValuJet Airline DC 9 headed to Atlanta from Miami in 1996.

It was not until college in Atlanta, away from the cultural cauldron of Miami that placed people of Haitian descent at the bottom of society, that I began to embrace my heritage.

Phede never got the chance to embrace who he was. But his death, at least in my mind, marks a watershed moment in the Haitian immigrant experience and highlights a long history of severe bias and stigma that has plagued people of Haitian descent.

Phede‘s death reveals the tragic degree to which untold numbers of Haitians went “undercover” to escape the stigma. But knowing of Phede’s life can begin a new era, one in which I believe immigrant Haitians can reach for self-acceptance and pride.

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If tiger parents are “strict parents who demand excellence in academics and other extra-curricular activities from their children,” then I have TWO tiger parents. In fact, I know a lot of high achieving Haitian-Americans who are products of not Asian “tiger” parenting,but Haitian tiger parenting.

i am a tiger child

i am a tiger child

When the media was inundated with controversy about the whole “Tiger Mom” phenomenon, I didn’t quite know what the big deal was.  As an adult, I wasn’t traumatized by strict parenting.  I did know one thing, it’s not just an Asian thing.  Tiger parenting did not seem to be terribly different than how I was raised.  Although the Asian technique seemed to be even more strict than my parents’, the general philosophy seems to be the same. It apparently worked for me, and is really all I know. In fact, I still have Tiger in me, and it shows in my personal parenting style. I’m not totally opposed to western style parenting, but some of it is kind of weak to me. My parents didn’t always contemplate how I would react to their parenting style when I was a child. They assumed I was malleable and would easily adjust — which seemed to be exactly what happened.

Growing up, I knew my family was different. My parents were new to the country after all, so of course we were different. I figured when you leave everything you know and love, and move to a foreign country to raise a family for the first time, the stakes are high, and you don’t make silly mistakes like NOT trying – with every fiber of your being – to do your very best. My parents did their best to make it in America.  That was the example they set, and they expected no less from us.

And, yes, they were strict: I didn’t “sleep over”, I wasn’t able to stay up as late as I wanted, I couldn’t have a TV or phone in my room, I couldn’t come and go as I pleased, I had a curfew that I was never pleased with — and we didn’t even have call waiting!  All Haitian kids did not have the “pleasure” of tiger parenting, but I knew a good number who did. And although I know that strict American parents do exist, as a child, I personally didn’t know any American Tiger children. I hated being a tiger child as a teen, but in retrospect it taught me discipline, and helped me focus (because even I know how reckless I would have been with my very own phone), and I am still able to think back to my childhood with fond memories.

Education was, without a doubt, my most important “job” growing up since the first day of grammar grade. I learned early on that school was important and non-negotiable. Unless school was closed, I was going…and would do my best while there. The way I understood it, if I excelled in school, then life – back then, and in years to come — would be better. So that’s what I did. This didn’t happen without the help, encouragement — and sometimes the strong arming of my tiger parents. There were few times I remember that excellence was shoved down my throat against my will (like the time I had to memorize all the multiplication tables up to the 12 times table, and wasn’t allowed to go to bed until I knew them cold…and guess what, I learned them), but for the most part excellence was ingrained in me as something worth achieving. I was taught what the expectation was; I was taught that I was capable of achieving, and so I achieved (naturally, because that’s all I knew).

both my parents were involved in making sure i stayed on top of my work

Unlike the Asian tiger parenting style, I was not strongly encouraged to excel in extra curricular activities (it was all about education). However, because the lessons of striving for excellence and possessing the capability to achieve were so strongly ingrained in my psyche, I often did well in extracurricular activities too…so long as I was interested in that particular extra curricular activity.

The way I see it, Tiger parenting is based on two main factors: self-esteem and discipline. My Haitian tiger parents gave those two gifts to me… and I, a tiger child turned parent, will give them to my children as well. I have learned that achieving success has a lot to do with believing you can achieve. That’s half the battle. I expect my children to expect excellence of themselves, because I’m teaching them that they are capable, and I will give them the tools necessary to achieve that (one of which is discipline). If that makes me a Haitian-American tiger mom, so be it.

How did your Haitian parents’ “parenting style” differ from that of your American friends? How is your parenting style different or similar to that of our parents?

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Growing up, if I ever wanted to go to an after school function, house party, or quite frankly anywhere without my haitian parents, I had to give them at least two weeks notice.

Haitian parents do not like to be ambushed with requests at the last minute. Never, I repeat never, call from a friend’s house asking for permission to do something that same day or you will be in some serious trouble when you get home. You already knew better not to even ask to sleepover. Although, the phone conversation may have ended politely, as soon as you walked through the door, you were facing a consequence. (See “Mete ou ajenou (Get on your knees)!”https://cornbreadandcremasse.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/mete-ou-ajenou-get-on-your-knees/ for the aftermath.)

So just like leaving a job, you need to give haitian parents ample time for notification and to process your request. You may also have to spend time explaining to them terms like ” pep rally”, ” calabash”, or “tailgating”. Not quite sure there is a word in kreyol for any of the aforementioned, but in any event just avoid discussing the attendance of members of the opposite sex. Keep in mind, after you’ve made the request, you had to make it your duty to constantly remind them up until the actual date of the event. If not, you had better be prepared to have them tell you, that they don’t recall you ever asking them, and that either the answer was no or they would back to you after discussing it over with each other. This usually was the kiss of death.

Personally, I had a strategy in presenting my two weeks notice. First, I asked the more lenient parent, which in my household was my dad. My dad didn’t care too much about the details, but I knew that when I needed a backup for when, not even if, my mom acted like I was telling her something she had never heard before, he had my back.

Next thing I had to do was discuss it with my mom, but in doing so I had to invoke the “ONE FRIEND” into the conversation.

You see, Haitian parents have your one friend that they like. They don’t like your friends in groups; just one. The one friend even knows your parents love them because they will even say to you ” Just tell them you are coming with me”. The qualifications of the “one friend” vary from parent to parent. For my parents, mostly my mom, she had to have never been seen hanging around boys. This clearly meant that she was ” loose”. Her appearance and overall presentation had to be always on point. This meant her hair had to be done and her clothes neatly pressed. If she were Haitian, she would receive bonus points, and quite frankly win by default. Just make sure that you are actually going with that friend because the fallout from lying on and about the friend is devastating. Take my word for it.

I really envied my friends who could just go places on short notice or better yet tell their parents after the fact. That was unheard of when I was growing up. How about you? Did you parents let you go to different things on short notice? Did you have to give notice way ahead of time like I did? Did they have the one friend they loved? Are you still friends? Were you the coveted friend? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

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