My first identity crisis came with my Haitian background: both of my parents are Haitian and I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I experienced a lot of negative stereotypes and taunts—Haitian Booty Scratcher, Haitians smell, their socks don’t match—and decided to embrace my American-ness while denying my Haitian-ness.
All that changed on May 18, 1995. No, I didn’t wake up that morning enlightened. It was more like a cold bucket of ice water was thrown on me.
I was a senior in high school and was selected to be part of a program called Close Up. The program brings high school students from across the county to Washington, D.C., to get a behind-the-scenes look at how our government works.
On May 17th, I looked at the program and noticed that the following day we would be talking about international affairs and the country of focus was Haiti.
I did what any brilliant scholar would do, I called Mommy and Daddy to get a few questions to ask so I could sound smart.
The day came, but the main presenter couldn’t make it so there was a substitute. The pinch hitter totally dodged my first question and went on to share how insignificant Haiti was. He said, “We could bomb it anytime we wanted to. There are no trees there.”
I experienced a lot of negative stereotypes and taunts—Haitian Booty Scratcher, Haitians smell, their socks don’t match—and decided to embrace my American-ness while denying my Haitian-ness.
I raised my hand to ask a second question but was ignored. My hand went down and I started to cry. For the first time in my life, I was Haitian. After denying my Haitian-ness all these years, it took someone bashing the country of my ancestry on May 18th—which, incidentally, is Haitian Flag Day as well as my mom’s birthday, no less—for me to appreciate my roots.
When I made it back home, my sister’s boyfriend at the time told me something very profound: “You can take an orange seed and plant it in an apple orchard but that doesn’t make it an apple.” So true.
My experience forever changed the way I looked at my Haitian heritage and how I identify with it.
I’ve come to find out that this was only the beginning of many discoveries around identity.
What part of yourself are you denying?