Learning to navigate two cultures is hard. I often wonder if parents from different backgrounds ever think about the difficulty it places on kids.
My parents are from Haiti. When we were growing up, we spoke creole in the home, went to a Haitian church, celebrated traditional Haitian holidays, ate Haitian food, listened to Haitian music and so on. Half of my siblings were born in Haiti and the other half in America. Our childhoods were drastically different. The four of us born here went to American schools, had American friends, spoke English mostly, and watched American movies and shows and was fully immersed in the American culture for the most part. There was this constant battle of trying to know when to be American and when to be Haitian.
I remember getting into so many fights in school because people would pick on us for being Haitian. They would say things like "get back on your banana boat and go home", and as a kid you feel hurt. I used to think to myself that this is my home. As a matter of fact, this is the only home I know, why are people telling me to get on a banana boat and go home? Don’t get me wrong, we always stuck up for ourselves. My moms’ rule was always, “you defend and protect yourself. You defend and protect each other. I didn’t send you to school to get picked on or beat up”. As a kid that was my green light to sock it to anyone that I felt was bullying me. It was also the greenlight to jump into any fights involving my siblings or cousins. You fight one of us, you fight all of us. There were some advantages to growing up with so many brothers and cousins because I was ready to throw down with any bully, male or female, anytime. They never let me back down from a fight.
Over time it just became draining. You go from one group of bullies to another, suspension after suspension and you almost become embarrassed to be Haitian. The constant negative portrayal in the media, the constant mockery by your peers, the constant fights. You just get to a place where you’re tired. Tired of it all. Tired of turning it on and off, tired of feeling the need to combat ignorance and stand up to things. I became such a rebel and fighting was a constant. I spent most of my sixth grade year in ISS (In-school suspension) or suspended at home. It got to the point I was being threatened with expulsion and my mom moved us to a new school, and when it was time for high school she split my siblings up as well to reduce how many fights we were involved in together.
We’d go to church every Sunday and 80% of the service was done in French and my siblings and friends would always sneak out and go play outside. We didn’t really have an active youth group so most of the time, we were out sitting with the congregation trying to figure out what was being said. Among my siblings born here, I would say that I’m the most fluent in creole and I had a hard time understanding the lectures so I could only imagine what it was like for my brothers. Yet we were expected to be there every Sunday. Church started feeling like a waste of time and a punishment most of the time. The only days I looked forward to going, was when I knew the church would have a party and the Woman ministry group would cook some Macaroni Au Gratin…lol.
I remember trying to tell my mom we didn’t really understand anything at church or that we were being bullied in school for being Haitian or looking a certain way. I remember the outfits and hairstyles and she simply didn’t care. It was important to her that we knew we were of Haitian descent and that we embraced everything Haitian and be proud of it. So the navigation continued into my adulthood.
I’m proud to be of Haitian descent and happy my parents never stopped pouring the culture into us. Today it's important to share my Haitian roots with my daughter. Although she was born in the US, both set of her grandparents were from Haiti, as well as her dad. The lessons are not presented in such a brute force way as my mom, but I have made it a priority to create an environment where she can always be proud of her Haitian roots.
We learn about the significance behind certain meals, historical events and now we're trying to teach her creole. I think as a parent that it is just as important for you to reduce some of the stressors and obstacles that you can in your child’s life. I know some may not agree, but being a kid, with limited resources is extremely hard. I don’t think my parents fully understood how much additional stresses they added to our lives by not caring about the impact some of what they wanted us to embrace would have. This is why I try to be mindful of every lesson or cultural norm I try to pass down. I don't think my parents were wrong in their teachings. They tried their best to raise us the best way they knew how. At the time of our upbringing and them still adjusting to the US way of life, it was natural to hold dear to the only way of life they remembered. Now as 2nd and 3rd generation offspring's, it's important that we find ways to teach our kids their roots, but also help them be culturally aware and provide them the tools to be successful in the actual culture that they live and spend the most time in. It's important to me that my daughter learns the Haitian way of life but I want it to be in a way that she can truly appreciate it and not burden her.