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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.

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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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Happy Haitian Flag Day!

The first Haitian Flag I knew was Black and Red with vertical bars and had the coat of arms in the center.  I remember In 1986 when I was 13, shortly after the departure of Duvalier, the “new” Red and Blue flag with horizontal bars was introduced.  Despite the fact that my parents had been living in the States for 16 years,  their excitement was contagious.  Without knowing a whole lot about Haitian history at the time, I immediately thought the new flag was so much better than the Black and Red one — it looked so much happier and more festive — and it came with a huge celebration.  My parents explained to me that the “new” Haitian flag was actually an old Haitian flag and that Haiti was happy to be rid of the Duvalier dictatorship and the Red and Black flag that represented that era.

Today’s Haitian flag (as described in the 1987 Haitian Constitution, Article 3), has two equal-sized horizontal bands: a blue one on top and a red one underneath.  The coat of arms of the Republic is in the center on a white square.  The coat of arms of the Republic are a Palmette surmounted by the liberty cap, and under the palms a trophy with the legend: L’Union Fait la Force (“In Union there is Strength”).

After doing some research, I learned that Haiti has actually had 9 different variations of the flag in its history.  Here’s a brief recap (courtesy of http://www.haiti.org):

1697:

flag-1697

When Spain formally recognized French control of the western third of the island, until February 1803, the French flag ruled over the French colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1793, Toussaint Louverture, black leader, and precursor to Haiti’s independence, aligned with the French tri-colored flag. In 1801, Louverture is nominated governor of the entire island, and with the Constitution of July 8, 1801 becomes governor for life. In June 1802, Toussaint Louverture is captured by Napoléon Bonaparte and deported to, and jailed in France where he dies.

1803:

flag-1803

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, chief of the black rebels, and Alexandre Pétion, leader of the mulattos, decided in February 1803 to stop fighting alongside the French. Dessalines, on May 18, 1803, removed the white band from the French flag – which was used in Haiti during the French rule, and thereby created the first Haitian flag, symbol of the alliance of blacks and mulattos in their fight for freedom. Dessalines, ordered that the phrase “Freedom or Death” be inscribed on the flag. A relative of his, Catherine Flon, was entrusted with the task of sewing back together the blue (hoist side) and red bands of fabric to form the new Haitian flag.

1804:

flag-1804On November 18, 1803, French troops capitulated in Vertières; Haiti was independent. On January 1, 1804 the generals of the revolution decide to change the flag so that the bands are now horizontal. This is the first flag of the free and independent republic. This new bi-colored flag is confirmed by article 192 of the Constitution of 1843.

1805:

flag-1805

On October 8, 1804, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor and took the name Jacques I. On May 20, 1805 he adopted a new flag of two vertical bands; one black, for Death, and one red, for Freedom.

1806:

flag-1806After the assassination of Dessalines at Pont Rouge on October 17, 1806, the country was divided in two for 14 years; the north ruled by Henri Christophe and the south and west ruled by Alexandre Pétion. Pétion immediately reverts to the blue and red flag of 1804, to which he adds the inscription “L’union fait la force” (strength in unity). At the center, the coat of arms of the Republic, adorned with the Phrygian hat (liberty cap), is placed on a white square background. This flag was hoisted at the National Palace for 158 years, until 1964.

1811:

flag-1811On December 27, 1806 General Henri Christophe became president and is recognized in the North, North West, and in 1807, Artibonite Departments. On March 28, 1811, he proclaimed himself king and took the name Henri I (1811-1820). The self-made monarch kept the colors of the imperial flag of the Kingdom of the North (1805), but changed it slightly; red in the hoist and black in the fly with, at the center, a shield with a phoenix under gold five-pointed stars, all on a blue background; the shield bears a crown and the Latin inscription ‘Ex Cineribus Nascitur’ (« From the ashes we will arise »). In 1818, Henri and his kingdom were vanquished by Alexandre Pétion’s conquest of the North. Pétion, who had been proclaimed president on March 19, 1807, imposed the horizontal blue and red flag to the North. On October 8, 1920 he was succeeded by Jean-Pierre Boyer who maintained the same flag.

1822:

flag-1822In February 1822, Jean-Pierre Boyer annexed the Spanish part of the island (present day Dominican Republic), which a few months earlier, on November 30, 1821, had proclaimed its independence from Spain under the name of “Republica del Haiti Espanol” (Spanish Republic of Haiti), as well as declared its alliance with Colombia. The flag of the Spanish Republic of Haiti was raised in the early weeks of 1822, but the new Republic would soon be dissolved by Boyer.

1849:

flag-1849An attempt to reinstate the black and red flag failed in 1844. In 1847, Faustin Soulouque was elected president, but proclaimed himself Emperor under the name Faustin I (1849-1859). The 1849 Constitution kept the blue and red flag but replaced the coat of arms by the shield. The Empire of Faustin I ended on January 15, 1859 and the coat of arms of the Republic regains its original position at the center of the flag.

1964:

flag-1964In 1957, François Duvalier, Papa Doc, was elected president, and in 1960 seized all powers. In 1963, he established a single party system and a new Constitution was adopted on May 25, 1964. The new Constitution returned to the black and red flag, although this time the coat of arms of the Republic remained. This flag became official on June 21, 1964. On April 21, 1971 Duvalier died and was replaced by his son Jean-Claude, who was proclaimed president for life. Following a popular uprising, Jean-Claude was removed from office in February 1986.

1986:

flag-1806On February 17, 1986, 10 days after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Haitian nation reverted to the blue and red flag, which was ratified a year later by the official adoption of the March 29, 1987 Constitution.

Today’s Haitian flag has come a long way.  Haitians in Haiti and abroad proudly celebrate it today — join us!  Bring your Haitian flags out and wave them in the air!!

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The following blog post  was submitted by Mr. Ashley Toussaint: www.brothertoussaint.wordpress.com

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“Identity Crisis” is an excerpt from a book that I am currently writing. It’s a coming of age story about a Haitian American boy named Johnny Baptiste who grows up in Miami, Florida. The book addresses the common struggles that inner city youth face, such as poverty, crime, peer pressure, school life and identity. “Identity Crisis” exposes the depth of how some Haitian Americans struggle to publicly acknowledge and embrace their Haitian heritage. 

Therefore, as Johnny continues to deny his own heritage, he continues to buy into an idea that he is inferior. Our identity is what makes us unique and authentic. Unfortunately, the stigma of being Haitian will not allow Johnny to embrace who he truly is.
Excerpt from the upcoming book authored by Ashley Toussaint:

“It was a sad sight, but not surprising, at least not to most of the students in the class (95% of the class was Haitian). Ms. Gomez however, was flabbergasted. She could not believe it. She was so excited and eager to share a piece of literature with them, especially sense it was written in their language. But she was sadly mistaken. It was the exact opposite of what she had expected. Instead of excitement, there was lethargy in the room. Instead of pride, there was embarrassment. The looks on their faces and the silence of the classroom infuriated her. And suddenly, the petite soft-spoken Filipino woman ripped them all a “new one”.

“Why don’t you want to read in Creole?!” Why are you ashamed of your culture?!” No one answered. “You should be proud of your heritage, you should be proud of where you are from!” she exclaimed in her Filipino accent. How embarrassing. There stood a 4 foot 6 inch nun from the Philippines teaching a group of black, Haitian-American children about being proud of their race, their heritage and their history. Her words were so precise and simple, yet heavy and sharp. They cut right through Johnny’s heart.

She continued to lecture them about how she had come to America, but was not ashamed of where she was from. By the time she was done with them, they were all humiliated, but for the right reason. “Now who wants to read the third page?” Just about every hand went up. They were strong, proud, black hands of young Haitian-American children, who had never felt like they had a reason to truly be proud. And though Johnny struggled to read his mother’s language, it didn’t bother him. If anything, it was the most beautiful struggle he could ever endure.”

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Happy Haitian Flag Day!

The first Haitian Flag I knew was Black and Red with vertical bars and had the coat of arms in the center.  I remember In 1986 when I was 13, shortly after the departure of Duvalier, the “new” Red and Blue flag with horizontal bars was introduced.  Despite the fact that my parents had been living in the States for 16 years,  their excitement was contagious.  Without knowing a whole lot about Haitian history at the time, I immediately thought the new flag so much better than the Black and Red one — it looked so much happier and more festive — and it came with a huge celebration.  My parents explained to me that the “new” Haitian flag was actually an old Haitian flag and that Haiti was happy to be rid of the Duvalier dictatorship and the Red and Black flag that represented that era.

Today’s Haitian flag (as described in the 1987 Haitian Constitution, Article 3), has two equal-sized horizontal bands: a blue one on top and a red one underneath.  The coat of arms of the Republic is in the center on a white square.  The coat of arms of the Republic are a Palmette surmounted by the liberty cap, and under the palms a trophy with the legend: L’Union Fait la Force (“In Union there is Strength”).

After doing some research, I learned that Haiti has actually had 9 different variations of the flag in its history.  Here’s a brief recap (courtesy of http://www.haiti.org):

 

1697:

flag-1697

When Spain formally recognized French control of the western third of the island, until February 1803, the French flag ruled over the French colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1793, Toussaint Louverture, black leader, and precursor to Haiti’s independence, aligned with the French tri-colored flag. In 1801, Louverture is nominated governor of the entire island, and with the Constitution of July 8, 1801 becomes governor for life. In June 1802, Toussaint Louverture is captured by Napoléon Bonaparte and deported to, and jailed in France where he dies.

 

1803:

flag-1803

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, chief of the black rebels, and Alexandre Pétion, leader of the mulattos, decided in February 1803 to stop fighting alongside the French. Dessalines, on May 18, 1803, removed the white band from the French flag – which was used in Haiti during the French rule, and thereby created the first Haitian flag, symbol of the alliance of blacks and mulattos in their fight for freedom. Dessalines, ordered that the phrase “Freedom or Death” be inscribed on the flag. A relative of his, Catherine Flon, was entrusted with the task of sewing back together the blue (hoist side) and red bands of fabric to form the new Haitian flag.

 

1804:

flag-1804On November 18, 1803, French troops capitulated in Vertières; Haiti was independent. On January 1, 1804 the generals of the revolution decide to change the flag so that the bands are now horizontal. This is the first flag of the free and independent republic. This new bi-colored flag is confirmed by article 192 of the Constitution of 1843.

 

 

1805:

flag-1805

On October 8, 1804, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor and took the name Jacques I. On May 20, 1805 he adopted a new flag of two vertical bands; one black, for Death, and one red, for Freedom.

 

 

1806:

flag-1806After the assassination of Dessalines at Pont Rouge on October 17, 1806, the country was divided in two for 14 years; the north ruled by Henri Christophe and the south and west ruled by Alexandre Pétion. Pétion immediately reverts to the blue and red flag of 1804, to which he adds the inscription “L’union fait la force” (strength in unity). At the center, the coat of arms of the Republic, adorned with the Phrygian hat (liberty cap), is placed on a white square background. This flag was hoisted at the National Palace for 158 years, until 1964.

1811:

flag-1811On December 27, 1806 General Henri Christophe became president and is recognized in the North, North West, and in 1807, Artibonite Departments. On March 28, 1811, he proclaimed himself king and took the name Henri I (1811-1820). The self-made monarch kept the colors of the imperial flag of the Kingdom of the North (1805), but changed it slightly; red in the hoist and black in the fly with, at the center, a shield with a phoenix under gold five-pointed stars, all on a blue background; the shield bears a crown and the Latin inscription ‘Ex Cineribus Nascitur’ (« From the ashes we will arise »). In 1818, Henri and his kingdom were vanquished by Alexandre Pétion’s conquest of the North. Pétion, who had been proclaimed president on March 19, 1807, imposed the horizontal blue and red flag to the North. On October 8, 1920 he was succeeded by Jean-Pierre Boyer who maintained the same flag.

1822:

flag-1822In February 1822, Jean-Pierre Boyer annexed the Spanish part of the island (present day Dominican Republic), which a few months earlier, on November 30, 1821, had proclaimed its independence from Spain under the name of “Republica del Haiti Espanol” (Spanish Republic of Haiti), as well as declared its alliance with Colombia. The flag of the Spanish Republic of Haiti was raised in the early weeks of 1822, but the new Republic would soon be dissolved by Boyer.

 

1849:

flag-1849An attempt to reinstate the black and red flag failed in 1844. In 1847, Faustin Soulouque was elected president, but proclaimed himself Emperor under the name Faustin I (1849-1859). The 1849 Constitution kept the blue and red flag but replaced the coat of arms by the shield. The Empire of Faustin I ended on January 15, 1859 and the coat of arms of the Republic regains its original position at the center of the flag.

 

1964:

flag-1964In 1957, François Duvalier, Papa Doc, was elected president, and in 1960 seized all powers. In 1963, he established a single party system and a new Constitution was adopted on May 25, 1964. The new Constitution returned to the black and red flag, although this time the coat of arms of the Republic remained. This flag became official on June 21, 1964. On April 21, 1971 Duvalier died and was replaced by his son Jean-Claude, who was proclaimed president for life. Following a popular uprising, Jean-Claude was removed from office in February 1986.

 

1986:

flag-1806On February 17, 1986, 10 days after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the Haitian nation reverted to the blue and red flag, which was ratified a year later by the official adoption of the March 29, 1987 Constitution.

 

 

 

Today’s Haitian flag has come a long way.  Haitians in Haiti and abroad proudly celebrate it today — join us!  Bring your Haitian flags out and wave them in the air!!

If you’re in the NYC area, join us at the Haitian Flag Day Selebrasyon! Sponsored by Haiti Cultural Exchange.  It’s a free outdoor celebration of Haitian culture with live dance performances, workshops by CUMBE, traditional drumming, crafts, and more! Music by DJ Sabine Blaizin, Jocelyne Dorisme, and Nadïne LaFond. Sunday, May 18, 2014 from Noon – 6pm at Parkside Plaza (Ocean Ave & Parkside Ave in Brooklyn, NY).    Check out the whole Haitian History Month lineup at http://haiticulturalx.org/selebrasyon

 

 

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May marks the beginning of Haitian History month, and as such we are sharing an insightful except from Marie-Thérèse Labossière Thomas’ novel, “Clerise of Haiti”, touching on a bit of Haitian History.  For more information on the book and how it can be purchased, please click on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Marie-Thérèse-Labossière-Thomas/e/B0048W7NLK/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1394674750&sr=1-3

marietherese cleriseofhaiti

 

[Clerise] knew that the mixture of races had started in Haiti in 1492, in the early days of contact between Columbus’ Spaniards and the indigenous population that the Europeans had called Indians. As the latter were rapidly decimated by illness and forced labor in the local gold mines, they were replaced by enslaved Africans. Thus began the infamous triangular trade where a live population of bois d’ébène, ebony wood, was abducted from Africa to be sold in the Americas, from where riches were then transported to Europe. Soon after their arrival in the then Spanish colony of Hispaniola, Africans started to revolt, and took to the mountains with remaining “Indians.” Thus they formed Maroon communities, from the Spanish word cimarron, or untamed. Those settlements became a refuge to freedom seekers, and fanned the flames of resistance throughout the history of the island.

For Clerise as well as the Juin children, the stories of the freedom fighters were sources of endless pride. However, in the context of his studies, Danny had some questions which required his mother’s expertise.

“My history book mentions ‘those poor wretches’ who were taken from Africa and put in slave ships. Are those people also my ancestors who fought the French? Or, are they only the ancestors of people from the countryside?” he asked, as he arrived with Clerise in Simone Juin’s room one early evening for his final recitation.

“It is a little complicated to explain,” his mother answered. “I think you are asking that question because you are at the beginning of your history manual, while you hear what your brother and sister study further in the book. Come here,” she added motioning to him, “you see that picture of slaves and affranchis, the free people of color. See how they are dressed differently,” she said pointing at the history book. “I am going to say a lot of what you probably know already, but that may help you understand better.”

Listening to her explanation, Clerise gained a clearer perspective of Haitian history. She realized that, during nearly three tumultuous centuries of inter-European rivalries, a group of affranchis, including the mixed-blood gens de couleur and free blacks had emerged in the land. Often wealthy since the days of piracy, when the survival of the early French buccaneers depended on their alliance with other segments of the population against Spanish settlers, many affranchis owned properties, including enslaved Africans. In the then French colony of Saint-Domingue, their freedom and tacit equality with whites was recognized by the Black Code of 1685.

“Okay, Danny. Do you follow me so far?” Simone Juin asked. Engrossed in the story, he nodded affirmatively, while looking at various illustrations in the book.

Clerise also continued to listen to Simone Juin, as she marked pages of assigned lessons in the remaining textbooks. She realized that, with an increasing European demand for sugar, plantations developed and the slave trade grew to the point where racial discrimination had to be enforced to insure the stability of the system. Then, as they tried to regain their civil and political rights during the French Revolution, the affranchis entered in shifting alliances with their African brethren against the white colonists. In a particularly painful episode, a group of affranchis shamefully abandoned to the revenge of enraged whites the enslaved Africans whose assistance had insured their victory in battle. Sealed by the infamous Concordat de Damiens, the Treaty of Damiens, that betrayal had profound historical repercussions.

“Are the affranchis my ancestors?” Danny asked, not looking at his mother.

“From that time, I would say mostly yes. But all affranchis either arrived here in slave ships, or descended from Africans who had come in those ships. Also, some of the Africans who were in slavery during that period became prominent later, and joined the affranchis who were already property owners,” Simone Juin explained, still flipping through the history book. “Clerise you can stay,” she continued as the young woman neared the door. “Since you help the children study, it is good that you listen to this.”

“Yes, Madam,” Clerise answered, as she thought, Now I know who my ancestors really were! Then, she stood by the door to hear the rest of the story.

The Africans took advantage of the struggle between affranchis and white colonists, and rose in a massive uprising. Their alliance with the internationally embattled representatives of the French Revolution insured official recognition of their freedom. As they won political power in the North of the country under Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who by then had become a general in the French army, they began to challenge the former affranchis for political and economic prominence. Ultimately, the Northern forces of former slaves faced Southern armies led from Les Cayes by the mulatto general Andre Rigaud, the leader of the affranchis, in a pre-Independence and bloody civil war whose flames had been fanned by the French. The Northern troops won, leaving deep and long-lasting scars. Many wealthy Southerners left for exile to France, Louisiana, other French territories, and nearby islands.

“Then, when Bonaparte sent his troops to destroy the freedom and equality that had been so dearly won, the former slaves and affranchis united. Under Dessalines’ leadership, they fought and proclaimed Haiti’s independence on January 1, 1804,” Simone Juin concluded, closing the history book. “Now, Danny, do you understand a little more about your ancestors?”

He kept his eyes on the book. “I think so,” he replied.

Rose-Marie, who had arrived in the room and listened quietly while she sat on her mother’s bed, had a question. “How come we, and many families that we know, have other kinds of foreign ancestors?” she asked.

“In addition to our common African roots, many of the people that we know also include various mixtures of French, Jewish, German, British, or Italian ancestry. That’s because young men from Europe who came to do business in the country often married Haitian women. One of the reasons may have been that laws dating from the time of Independence, and later repealed during the 1915 American occupation, forbade ownership of land by white foreigners, the former ‘masters.’ However, the Poles and Germans who had defected from the French army and joined the Haitian cause during the Independence war were exempted from those laws, and given automatic citizenship. Those same early Haitian laws also offered freedom and citizenship to any runaway slave who set foot in the country,” Simone Juin explained.

“Did any of them come to Haiti?” Rose-Marie inquired.

“Yes. Descendants of blacks from the U.S. whose ancestors were invited by various governments to settle in Haiti, as well as of Jamaicans, Guadeloupeans, and other islanders have integrated very well here, at all social levels. That’s why, most of the time, we don’t even know any more who their ancestors were,” she concluded.

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Ask yourself, How well do you know your parents? Do you know who they were before you were born? What were they like as teenagers?

My parents are middle aged now and the thought never crossed my mind to ask until I became a parent. Who are these people?

I think you would be amazed by what you find out. I realized my mother, in particular, was three people. First, she was the woman who raised me. Second, she is the most doting, “my kids can get away with murder,” loving, and compassionate grandmother.

Lastly, before me she was a woman with her own LIFE. Can you imagine? I always thought her life started when she had ME. This is very selfish on my part considering I am the youngest of four siblings.

I am reminded of the book and movie, “ The Joy Luck Club” about the relationships of four immigrant Chinese women and their daughters that were born in America. The theme is universal; mother and daughter relationships are complicated. Can I get an Amen? The movie truly is a must see for anyone who is a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend. It explores how life experiences shape not only you, but your children too.

Haitian mothers are no different. However, unlike in China, girls are held in high regard. We are coveted prizes; blessings from above. My mother tells the story that during her pregnancy with me (her last child and only daughter), an angel – yes the heavenly kind – telling her she was going to have a girl and to name her “Dina” from the bible which means “Vindicated.” True Story. So, girls are like God’s gift. I was (smile).

So much is made about every life event from the baptism, celebrating birthdays, communion, confirmation, hairstyles, the Easter dresses, graduations, wedding, birth of a child, etc. A huge “fete” would be thrown each and every time in our honor.

There you have the positives about being the girl in the family, however to whom much is given, MUCH is expected. Expectations for girls are high, very high, unattainable and designed that way.

As you got older, the rules and level of expectation increased exponentially. In my case, and perhaps yours, my mother had a group of friends that we will dub the “Joyeux Luck Club”. The group consisted of women with children, but more importantly a girl, that was my age. This meant that not only did you have these expectations, but now you were introduced to the “competition”. Like a boxer in a ring, you had to come out swinging.


Now, this has been my personal experience and may have been different for you. Growing up, there were two girls in particular, and we pretty much saw each other during parties or any other family functions. When we were young, our parents would compare school stories about how so and so made honor roll and lay out our mini resumes.

As we approached teen years, things got cranked up a notch. The level of expectation was much higher. I secretly hoped that my “resume” was comparable if not better than the “competition”. I didn’t want to hear “How come so and so is doing this and you aren’t?” on the ride home. By the way, it seems petty to me, but in hindsight it forced me to step up my game even as a reluctant participant. I remember once, I decided to cut my hair completely off without consulting my mother. This was during my rebellious, Public Enemy “ Fight the Power” stage. My justification was that I was grown, well I was 18, but 18 is grown when you are young. Do you know my mother refused to take me anywhere?!

That’s another thing. Haitian girls must have hair. Hair is status. Hair is liquid gold. You are nothing if you don’t have hair. I say all of that to say, The “short natural” look was not approved and totally unacceptable. My mother was livid. She felt it was the epitome of disrespect and I was forbidden to attend functions with her until I grew it back.

So what was it about my Mother’s past that she felt the need to place so much pressure on me academically and socially and was so hurt by a simple haircut? It was not until recently, that I sat down with my mom and this is what she shared:

My mother was born in the Haitian countryside in 1946. Her family was very poor. She lost both her parents within months of each other. Her father died in an accident a few months before she was born, and her mother passed away while giving birth to my mom. I always knew my grandparents had passed away but am only now did i know the circumstances. My mother was raised by a family friend who had no children and was beyond child bearing years but was given an herbal remedy which would allowed her to produce breast milk, thus saving my Mother’s life. She was an excellent student in school, Math was her favorite subject, but poverty did not allow her to continue. She was a fighter growing up. I mean literally, she would get into many physical altercations some due to anger, others to protect herself from unwanted advances. She once fell into a burning campfire and lost all her hair. As a result, her hair does not grow more than a few inches. She has tried different remedies, but to no avail. Remember, Hair is status, it is everything.

I share the story because it gave me insight into her life and how it influences my life. How many of you have had your parents react to something and you think to yourself, “What is the big deal?”.

I encourage all of you reading to engage your parents in a dialogue about who they were as children? Teens? How did their life circumstances shape yours? You may be surprised.

I now have a daughter and so I must instill in her the gifts given to me by Mother. My husband often tells me, “You never take ‘No’ for an answer” — that’s the fight in me, a gift for my mother.

Thanks Mom.

What were your experiences growing up? Do you know much about your parents? What did you find out? How has it shaped you?

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