It took my mom and I six frustrating years to get a Visa to come to America and reunite with my Dad who was already there. I was thirteen when I saw him again. It was like meeting him for the first time. I knew it was a sacrifice my parents were willing to make, even if it would take a toll on their marriage. Why did we go? The movies and TV shows told us it was the promise land - that everyone was welcome and all you had to do is find a way to get there.
Our plane landed in JFK on my birthday - a very cold wintery night. I didn’t feel the cold on the drive to our apartment on Long Island because I was in awe of all the intertwined highways- there was no one walking on foot. It felt like Alice in Wonderland. I went to a school that was 85% white and middle class. I didn’t understand why we had to switch classrooms every hour. I didn’t fit in with the black or white students. I’m sure they made fun of me but I couldn’t tell you what they said since the only English word I knew was ‘Yes’. I was only comfortable with the universal language of math and I also liked gym a lot. Because we Haitians love martial arts movies, I thought I could take on anyone who would make fun of me. I remember getting off the bus to fight with a more hip black kid. I took my Jackie Chan stance and the fight never got on. I wished that I had what most of those kids had (money, nice clothes, a house) yet I never felt inferior. We had defeated the French (Napoleon), so we had high self-esteem - whether real or not
I learned English quickly because I watched after-school cartoons and at least one movie every day. I wanted to become what I was inspired by. All types of art fields were an inspiration for me - whether it was dance (Michael Jackson), fashion, art (Bob Ross), music (Prince), theater, movies, music videos, and so on. America was going to fill that void that I hungered for all my life. Art is what I remember most in Haiti before coming to American. As a kid growing up on the island, my family lived in a half-finished hotel owned by my Godfather, and it was inside that place where I imagined what life was and what my life could be. The unfinished part of the building felt like being in a Roman antiquity building. I would ponder the sunlight streaming in empty rooms, illuminating the dust in the air. I thought about God and the demons and angels all around me. I listened and watched voodoo dancers enthralled in their ceremonies. I slept with a blanket over my head (even though it was a tropical island) so I could keep watch for evil spirits that could eat me alive. I looked forward to rainstorms and would run, sometimes naked, into a foot deep water on the terrace which would act as our wave pool
When I first got here, assimilating was paramount. I had already gone through puberty so I couldn’t erase the accent, but I could dress differently and instead of putting on cologne, I could use anti-perspirant, choose to only speak English and only listen to American music. Many years later, I realized I can’t escape who I am and that there is something special about being Haitian. Like most immigrants, we came to America to get what America had to offer. Unknowingly, we were also giving back by parceling some of our culture into this great nation’s fabric through the arts, language, food and workforce.