A Haitian-American Planted in Two Worlds ~ Written by Brenda Fadeyibi

brenda 2When I was younger, I went through a phase where I would proudly declare that I was “American.” My father would pin me with his steely eyes and say, “You’re Haitian-American”; those two words have haunted me ever since.

For the past twenty-eight years, I have attempted to meld the two cultures in a way that is authentic. What exactly does it mean to be Haitian-American? In my mind, someone who goes by the label should have a firm grasp of both cultures; however, this was not the case for me.

I grew up in a culturally diverse area north of Manhattan where a large percentage of Haitians resided. I attended a large church where services were held in French and Kreyòl. My parents kept the radio on two stations: Family Radio and the local Haitian station. My father was determined that we become well-versed in every detail of Haitian history. I recall evenings when he would park himself in front of my friends’ houses as he finished lengthy lectures on history and politics . . .

Despite all this, I still struggled to master Kreyòl with a fluent tongue. Instead, I spoke with a hesitant and clumsy one, throwing in phrases of English where my grasp of my parents’ native tongue fell short.

From a very young age, I was thrust in the middle of two worlds. I learned quickly that I was the English ambassador for my non-fluent-English speaking parents. They would look to my siblings and me to translate important documents, or make their needs known to the moun blan. At the same time, I was ordered to speak Kreyòl when I met any church elders or distant relatives. When I uttered the obligatory “Kijan ou ye,” I was immediately ridiculed. I did not speak the language like a native.

Somehow, I existed with my dual roles. Many of my friends were also Haitian-American and we exchanged Kreyòl phrases like we used to pass sexy urban paperbacks in high school. This was also when I learned how to talk about people, in front of their face. Being bi-lingual had its benefits.

Although I suffered mild derision from native Haitians, it was nothing compared to what I experienced as a young adult. I could take their gentle ribbing or calling me “Blan” whenever I ventured to hold a conversation in Kreyòl. In turn, I would poke fun at their heavy accents or mispronunciation of English words. Rather, it was the natives who verbally stripped me of my heritage that really upset me.

I worked in a large inner city hospital where I had the opportunity to evaluate an elderly Haitian woman who only spoke Kreyòl and understood French. I was able to hold a conversation with her in Kreyòl; other than a few verbal stumbles on my part, we understood each other fine.

Another member of the hospital staff, who was also Haitian, heard that I was conducting the evaluation and doubted my authenticity. After leaving the patient’s room, she feigned a conversation with me about the patient’s status. Little did I know she was silently judging every word that left my mouth. At the end of our conversation she declared, “I give you a C. You speak Kreyòl like my daughters.”

That was the last time I spoke with her in our shared tongue.

I had another patient who was Haitian and, of course, there were no translators present. The woman was overjoyed to encounter someone who could speak her native language. When I looked in her eyes, I saw only gratitude, not judgment. Once again, I was the ambassador.

As soon as the hospital staff heard that I could speak Kreyòl, I became a translator. Suddenly, it did not matter how well I spoke he language, it was just important that I could. It was one of the few times I didn’t feel inadequate as a Haitian-American and it made me realize that despite all of my shortcomings, there was a place for me.

I do not know what a Haitian-American is supposed to look like. Am I an American who can trace her roots back to Haiti? Or am I a Haitian girl living in America? Maybe this is it. Maybe it is a woman who has her feet firmly planted in two worlds. Somewhat imperfectly, but in some twisted way, it works.

Brenda Prince Fadeyibi, Occupational Therapist and aspiring author.

“Haitian-American: Planted in Two Worlds” was written by Brenda Prince Fadeyibi.

She is a New York City based Occupational Therapist by day and aspiring author by night. She also maintains a personal blog: cakeandeggs.com, where she chronicles everything from daily life experiences to reviews of her favorite books. You can also follow her on twitter @cakeandeggs.


SHOW UP & Support Alice Backer’s New Radio Show

alice backerLawyer by training, Alice Backer (@kiskeacity on Twitter) is a social media professional. In the cacophony of corporate media, international agency and NGO actors who monopolize the news cycle on Haiti, HAITIANS NEED TO HEAR ONE ANOTHER AND THEMSELVES. To that end, she offers on her personal blog kiskeacity. com (2005-present) a daily roundup of Haitian blogs entitled Kiskeacity daily. She is the founder of the site Haitianbloggers.com. Together, the daily roundup and the aggregator as relayed on Twitter and Facebook, constitute tools of empowerment and amplification of Haitian voices. (2010-present) She is the former Francophonia Editor covering French-speaking blogs of Africa and the Caribbean at Global Voices Online (2005-2006) where she later co-founded and managed (2006-2007) the Lingua community which today translates Global Voices content in over 20 languages. Alice holds a B.A. from Barnard College of Columbia University and a J.D. from New York University School of Law. She was an associate at the midtown NYC firm of LeBoeuf Lamb before transitioning to social and citizen media, her true passion. She has been interviewed on Al Jazeera, Télévision Suisse Romande, and the Voice of America on her citizen media campaigns in Africa, the USA and Haiti.
Our guest this week is Val Jeanty

Forrest Muhammad's photo.


Today at 9:00pm
You’re going