The Duality of Being Caribbean-American
Beach in Haiti
As Caribbean American Heritage Month comes to a close, I wanted to take the opportunity to share from my perspective the duality of being both Caribbean and American. Haitian, Haitian-American, and West Indian are all diverse ways to identify where you come from and your lineage. And though so often society seems to want to put labels on us, it’s only how we chose to label ourselves that should matter in this case I believe.
I myself, being first generation American, my family on both sides immigrated from Haiti, I see myself very much as Haitian and am very connected to my Haitian roots i.e. the food I grew up eating, language (languages) spoken at home, and traditions and values I grew up with. Though I was born and raised in Georgia, and considering the influence of my surroundings, music I grew up listening to, my friends, I’m very much American as well.
I love both horseback-riding, camping, and Tim McGraw, as well as laying by the beach, eating coconuts and dancing to Carami, if I could make a magic weekend of all these activities I certainly would. Living in duality has been a great blessing, growing up with a deep understanding of where my family comes from. Being exposed to the culture, and born in a country where a myriad of opportunities where offered to me, I had the best of both worlds so to speak. Code-Switching (code-switching involves adjusting one's style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of those being addressed) on both sides is for sure a thing, and sure over the years sometimes I’ve felt that I wasn’t American enough to fit in with my peers and not Haitian enough to fit in with my relatives living in Haiti but overall I feel enriched by the experiences that shaped me.
Celebrating my culture and being proud of my family heritage is important to me, and I’m always curious to continue to learn more about Haiti’s history and the contribution of Haitians internationally. I also know how fortunate I was to have the opportunities afforded to me growing up in the Sates. And loved the simplicity and fun coming of age in the south. Learning about and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jacques Roumain is one example of how I purposefully tried to be part of and immerse myself in both worlds. I didn’t want to feel left out, or unknowledgeable if I could help it.
Yet of course, not matter how hard I try I can’t hide my southern drawl when speaking Kreyòl, and even though I learned Kreyòl and French both as a first language as a young child, attending an English speaking school and only practicing at home I did lose some of it. I’ve had to relearn as I’ve gotten older, but to be fair whether or not I spoke Kreyòl or French (or even understood it) it wouldn’t make my any less Haitian, and it doesn’t make anyone less of what they are if they don’t speak the language be it Spanish or Brazilian. etc.
I share this to say, that is what I believe is so special about Caribbean American Heritage Month. I believe it prompts us to celebrate our Heritage, and discover and share more about the history of your or your family’s homeland. It can be a time of celebration, growth, and education. It also makes for the perfect excuse to travel to the Caribbean, and see what it has to offer if you’ve never been and aren’t Caribbean American yourself.
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