“Tu es de quelle famille?”
As I moved onto my new college campus, I marveled at my massive new class of over 8,000 students (my high school’s senior class consisted of 10). I clung to my identity for dear life – how else does one stand out in this crowd? My flag hung proudly in my dorm room and I may as well have introduced myself to everyone with “Hello, I’m Haitian, nice to meet you!”
“But, you don’t look Haitian.”
There I was, already feeling like an outcast in the city I predicted would welcome me with open arms. There I was, accepting the harsh reality that I would be tasked with defending self and country at any given turn.
I ask: “What does a Haitian look like?”
The answer to that question is consistently met with a sprinkling of stammers and an apologetic “I didn’t mean it that way…” – or they paint a picture of the countless negative images they’ve seen of my beloved country; how all they have ever known of Haiti is that it’s a third world country with dirt poor inhabitants who live in shacks, have tattered clothing, and use their thick accents to beg for deliverance via foreign aid.
I could have, like others, neatly tucked away my Haitian-ness and no one would have been the wiser. I could have flown under the radar and been just “another” black girl. But what matters is that I refused.
“But where are you REALLY from?”
I like to think of myself as an unofficial ambassador for my country, ma patrie. I share my beautiful photos and memories of the Haiti I know passionately with anyone who will listen. And yet, people continue to feel sorry for me when I tell them where I am from.
Do not pity me.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in one of the most beautiful countries in the world; cradled by its majestic mountains, anointed in its crystal turquoise waters, and nurtured by the wholly pure fruits of its earth. I value the importance of family, community and solidarity. I’ve relished in the joys of mango and kite season, the unadulterated beauty of the countryside. I’ve tasted exotic treasures in the flesh – not as artificial flavoring; the sweet bite of sugarcane, the refreshing sip of coconut water in its shell, and juicy papaya from my garden.
Do not pity me.
My history is rich and my future is bright. I’ve lived through moments so beautiful they would spark envy, and moments that would make the average person cringe. So when my mother worries about me in the Big Apple, I must remind her…
I am your daughter; Capoise, fiercely elegant and strong enough to weather any storm. If they didn’t think I looked Haitian before, they will be sure to see it now – in my coffee-colored skin, the flash of my smile, the passion in my voice, the pride with which I carry Haiti in my heart.
The resemblance is clear as day.
I am Haiti, and Haiti is me.