If you spend enough time in our home you will hear my husband and I go back and forth about one topic.
I’ll say – “I’m Haitian!”
He will respond with “Nope, You’re American!”
I’ll respond – “No, I am not! I am Haitian.”
He’ll say – “Okay, Kings County Born Haitian.”
I’ll give him the death stare and then we’ll both crack up.
Regardless of my husband’s hateration, one thing he can say is that I am very proud of my ancestry. Yes, I was born here in the United States of America and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. However, I can say that my parents made it a priority that I knew my heritage and appreciated my Haitian culture.
Growing up, it was not always the in thing to be Haitian. As a matter of fact, I remember that some of my classmates in high school would deny any affiliation with Haiti until Wyclef Jean and The Fugees had everyone on the “I am Haitian” tip. Suddenly, Jean-Phillippe was Haitian after saying for years he was not. (side-eye and sarcasm intended)
From our food to our music topped by being the first independent black republic in the western hemisphere, there’s a lot to be proud of.
Now as an adult, I am following suit with my children. My daughter will tell anyone who asks her that she is half Haitian and half Dominican. The other day she was in the kitchen with me and I told her that we would celebrate Haiti on May 18 with a full day of Haitian Recipes. She was so excited. Then, she said Mommy, I want to go to Haiti. I looked at her, smiled, and replied – Soon!
I went to Haiti as a little girl. As a matter of fact, I went when I was my daughter’s age – 8. It was my first time and I still remember it to this day. We landed in Port-Au-Prince and stayed at a family friend’s house for the night. From what I could remember there was a beautiful courtyard in the middle of what to me was a palace. It’s not what I expected when we were headed to Haiti, but it blew my mind. It was a huge home and I felt like a princess.
First Trip to Haiti, circa 1988
So let’s talk about how much I loved this red dress. It was my fave and I swore it was the most fashionable.
Ya betta not be laughing at my cute (blurry) picture.
Haiti was such a fun experience. It was where I learned not to wear a white dress when having – Kenép. It was my first time having the fruit and the stain on my dress let everyone know how much of a novice I was.
I rode my first Tap-Tap from Port-au-Prince to Port-de-Paix. A Tap-Tap is a common mode of transportation in Haiti. It is mostly made up of brightly painted buses and pick-up trucks that work like shared taxis here in the states. We boarded the bus and headed up to my parents’ hometown – Port-de-Paix. The drive up to the northern part of the country was mountainous but so beautiful. The Tap-Tap was speeding and at one point had me fearful of falling off the cliff. However, once we arrived, all of that concern dissipated and I was ready for my adventure.
We made it safely to my Aunt Jackie’s home in Port-de-Paix. She worked as a lab tech and everyone in the community knew and loved her. We toured the house and then sat for lunch. I don’t exactly remember what we had for lunch. However, I do remember that we had the best chicken I have ever had in my life. It was good down to the very bone. I’m telling y’all no one has come close even up to this day. Yes, it was that good.
There is one other thing that I will never forget. My being born in New York City meant that I never saw how chickens were killed before. All I remember was a poor chicken with its head in a metal tin can being knocked around until it stopped moving. I stood there in shock. How could they do this to the poor chicken? I was this close to becoming a vegetarian just by that experience. Of course, that feeling lasted for a short while. Once lunch came around and I had a taste of the chicken – it was all good.
The next day, I remember getting into my swimsuit and heading to the beach for the first time in my life. How lucky am I that my first beach experience was in Haiti? That water was so blue and felt so good. The best thing about it is that my dad brought along this huge container of mangoes and the family surrounded the container and devoured it right in the middle of the sea.
I just love me some Haitian mangoes!
Growing up Haitian has left a positive influence on my life. It has influenced how I view family, education, faith and life as a whole. I have learned the value of each day, each dollar, and so much more.
To this very day, you can still find me singing French hymns, Kreyol worship songs, and reciting scriptures in French during my time of worship. Just the other day I told my husband it’s odd that I feel more connected when I sing and pray in Kreyol. It’s as if it is my soul’s language. Guess what? It is! When I want to take my prayer and worship to the next level – I switch to Kreyol and it never fails.
This Sunday after our usual virtual church service, I played one of my favorite youtube playlists – Bridging the Gap – Overflow. As my daughter watched the videos, I could tell she was pulled right into what makes Haitian worship so special. She started teaching herself some of the words and jamming to the beat.
As she danced, I shared with her that around this time every year my old elementary school used to host a Haitian Flag Day program at Wingate High School. We paraded through the streets in our red, blue, and white. We performed cultural dances. We put on full skits in French and so much more. I even shared with her that Grandma had a video of me playing the role of Catherine Flon. Ahh, the memories!
When my schoolmates and I made our entrance into the auditorium at Wingate High School, we felt like celebrities. Dressed in white sporting our red and blue sashes, we were a sight to be seen. Haiti’s Anthem would play and we would sing at the top of our lungs.
Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres,
Marchons unis, Marchons unis.
Dans nos rangs point de traîtres!
Du sol soyons seuls maîtres.
Marchons unis, Marchons unis
Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres,
Marchons, marchons, marchons unis,
Pour le Pays, Pour les ancêtres.
The pride I feel when I sing this song is because I know the history behind it and I have personally been there. That knowledge has never left and continues to fuel the love I have for my culture. It is why, prior to COVID-19, I take my kids to see my parents often. I don’t want that connection to be lost and I want them to appreciate and cherish their heritage.
I have great memories of Haiti and of growing up in a Haitian household. A trip to Haiti is definitely on our family’s bucket list. The hope is to allow my kids to make their own unforgettable memories.
So in honor of flag day (May 18th), I celebrate my heritage.