I arrived young and unaware, curious but also eager to quickly get what I had dismissed as an experiment over with. Haiti for a summer and then back to normal, to running water, 24/7 electricity and no darn mosquitoes. So imagine my surprise when my parents decided they liked being back home enough to stay. Fast forward through my six year stay to today and my mind often returns to that period. There are times when it is more present than my actual reality. I often dream of returning. This desire is always met with raised eye brows and looks of incredulity, the most comical of which come from our fellow Haitians, followed by the question: What are you going to do there? I always respond live. Live like the millions of others who inhabit the island live.
I don't know how to explain that I'm in love. That I could not leave you behind, boxed away in some dark corner of my mind as a time that was, a memory too infrequently unearthed any more than I could will myself to stop breathing. I am in love and like all real love I have accepted all of you: the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. And like all things beloved, when you have been apart too long the desire to be reunited becomes a gnawing, gaping, chasm between you and any real lasting sense of contentment.
More importantly, how do I explain the gift those six years turned out to be? My love, I would first have to explain how transformative it was spending some of my most formative years with you. How I know I am a better version of myself for having known you, experienced you. How I am much more self-aware, compassionate and better prepared for the uniquely wearying experience of being black in America. I know you wonder, how hard could living in America really be? I’m not sure I possess the words that would accurately convey what I feel without sounding overly sensitive, ungrateful and more than a little entitled but I will try.
Being born in America, if you are born black, gives you more than citizenship. And that something more is not a thing to be prized or cherished. You are handed labels without ever being consulted, you are branded different without ever being afforded the opportunity to define what makes you different. And if you are born a black woman, you are handed a whole other set of labels. At the age of 10, I was on the cusp of beginning to truly grasp what being black in America meant when suddenly we were uprooted and moved to Haiti. Those six year with you were a reprieve, a brief respite and I would later come to find, a shoring up of strength and self- worth so that I could better weather living black in America.
You are my comfort and shield against the sexualization, mammification, and overall dismissal of black women. You are my peace when I would rage against being followed in a department store or having my accomplishments be dismissed as affirmative action. You are the friend who understands how tiresome it is to play black ambassador, how tiresome it is to monitor your speech, actions, mannerisms, to be quiet when you would speak for fear of being branded the ‘angry black woman’. You are the lover who knows intimately all the ways I am different without questioning it, who knows I do not fit neatly into a stereotype, statistic or consensus box, that my blackness is not a one size fits all. You are the mother who knows I will not live down to anyone’s low expectations for I am the daughter of the First Black Republic. You are the father who knows why I say I am Haitian with such pride, and that this pride is not a rejection of black America.
Ayiti cheri, you are home. And how I long to return to you, to where I can simply be, to where I can simply live. Until that day comes, I carry you with me in my mind, in my spirit and in my heart.
With Enduring Love,