It’s no secret that I LOVE my cultural background. I’ve been proud to be a Haitian woman since the day I could speak. I was outward with it when it was MOST unpopular. When there were check boxes on the blood donor forms that asked if you were of “Haitian descent” and I proudly checked “YES” – not knowing that they would tell me that in my blood sample they saw that I was low on iron… or that it seemed I had a “cold” so I couldn’t give blood “this time” … mmm hmm. Still didn’t change my answer. I’d be in a cab or in an elevator and hear a familiar accent and ask that person if they were Haitian. I dealt with years of my countrymen getting all shifty eyed and defensive and have to allay them with … “wait… I am too… it’s okay…” – And only at that point would we have a joyous reunion all held in Kreyol: “You’re Haitianne? Were you born here? Where are your parents from? What’s your last name? OH… I have Cantave in my family!!! or… I went to School with a Cantave” It’s the main reason I shrug off Wyclef being our so-called “saviour”. So many people say to me “Wyclef made it cool for y’all to be Haitian”. No other statement makes me want to invert myself more. Because I CERTAINLY didn’t wait for Wyclef to feel cool about being a child of Hispaniola. I didn’t even KNOW who Wyclef was as I was proclaiming my allegiance from the rooftops.
It’s during the holidays that I feel my heritage the most. It’s when everyone wants to make their home into back home. It’s when grandmas start making beignets for breakfast and caramelizing sugar for tablette pistache and boiling evaporated milk and whipping out the bottles of Barbancourt to make puncha crema and Cremasse. Someone calls saying that they just came back from the island and brought some Anisette and Creme de Menthe with a few pans of Pain Patate and some bags of AK-100 (ah-ka-cent) powder and are looking forward to joining us for dinner this afternoon (Haitian dinners are at 4:00PM) The orders go in for pâte – morue, viende et poulet. Dad brought home the jon jon and lima beans to make what Americans now know as “black rice” but what we call du ris ac jon jon and some prime pork medallions to begin the griot stewing. The French carols are wafting on the scents in the house and Grandma quietly hums along as we peel potatoes, yams and carrots for the bouillon on the stove. Il est né, le divin Enfant, Minuit! Chrétiens! and Beau Sapin were always some of my favorites. Cousins are just coming back from the mass of the day and greedily inhaling the scents and inquiring about the readiness of everything as they stick their noses in steaming pots to get a better whiff. Subsequently chased from the kitchen with wooden spoons and whisks in mom, auntie and grandma’s hands. More guests arrive. The men are watching sports… EVERYONE is yelling – the youngest kids are clanging plates as they’ve been ordered to set the table. The food makes it out of the kitchen in steaming casserole pots and embellished plates. Then everything gets quiet for a mighty long time. During the eating. After the eating with the digestion and the heavy sighs of contentment. The house gets good and quiet till it’s time to decide who is gonna wash the dishes. Then there are arguments amongst the kids. But the adults are fine. They’re playing board games or sitting with un tasse café et bon bon l’amidon and discussing politics, plans to go back home followed by the statement of how bagai pa bon lakay. The night wears on, guests begin to put on their coats and say 5 or 10 goodbyes. The truth is no one wants to leave. Kilè nous prale wè is whispered in hugs and promises to be back for Easter or the summer. Offers to come spend a few weeks in Haiti ac famille’ou in the year to come are offered. Then the house is empty again – but not really – everyone’s feeling REALLY good.
I haven’t had a Christmas like that in a long time. I really miss it. Grandma, Dad and a BUNCH of constant cousins have passed on. And everyone left over is too old or doesn’t feel like trying anymore. But my memories of those wonderful afternoons are sharp and clear. I often wonder to myself if I’ll have them when I have kids. It’ll be hard. I don’t live in a Haitian household anymore. It will be difficult to pass my language and culture on to my children and have it be more than just a footnote in their lives. It meant so much for me to feel like an American with strong Haitian roots for my children to mention it in passing that they have Haitian IN their family… rather than BEING Haitian in America.
I guess only time will tell…