5 Expectations for Visiting the Motherland for the First Time
As children of the diaspora, we are equipped with the task of acquainting or re-acquainting ourselves with the cultural identity that has colored our upbringing here in the States. Trinidadian-American, Mexican-American, or Pakistani-American, we give definition to that hyphen and decide which parts of us it will join.
I identify as first-generation, US-born-and-bred with Haitian-born parents. After twenty-one years of learning a language and growing intimate with a culture I’ve only experienced second-handedly, I was finally given the opportunity to visit this far-away land of coconut trees, magic mangoes, and *lougarous for the funeral of my grandfather. The emotions leading up to this trip were on a spectrum of everything from hype to horror, an ideal mix I’ve learned when embarking on something truly special. I’ve decided to compile a few tips for other children of immigrants who might also have to face this either imperative or inevitable journey.
1. BRACE YOURSELF EMOTIONALLY
This was the most essential for me considering the media exploitation Haiti has faced since forever. Did I immediately expect the disease-ridden shanty-towns that primetime news so readily featured? Those late-night specials with emaciated children reaching out to cameras with twigged, muddy limbs? Or an island paradise glowing with the pride of my family’s honor? Luckily, I was met with an honest in-between. Haiti is definitely a developing country where running water, electricity, and WiFi were things that you couldn’t expect at every hour of the day. Some people lived in absolute luxury in three-story mountainside homes with priceless views, but outside of their gates hunger and poverty ran rampant.
Despite the resilience, I found very characteristic of the Haitian people, the stark disparity I found in lifestyles there really took me by surprise. Prepare your head and heart to be taken places you wouldn’t expect them to go so quickly. It could be the humbling experience of a lifetime.
2. DISCOVER WHITE PRIVILEGE
To my surprise, my twice-removal from Haiti considered me “practically white” by many. Diaspora aren’t viewed as the “ones that got away,” but simply as the ones that couldn’t hang. Subsequently, the children they have outside of the homeland wouldn’t be invited to the party anyway. The resentment isn’t strong but there is an acknowledgment of abandonment, especially when togetherness was the energy that gave the country it’s independence in the first place.
L’Union fait la force.
This sort of white privilege here is a double-edged sword. I obviously used this to my advantage when tasting local fare unfamiliar to me, explaining the gaps in my Creole, and defending my straight teeth. However, many people such as produce vendors, *taptap drivers, and the unrelated civilian did not sympathize with my lack of knowledge. Speaking English and walking around in your nicest threads with an American passport in your pocket could be a recipe for disaster. Remaining vigilant and minding modesty is key to flying under the radar.
3 CONNECT WITH THE YOUTH
One of the most comforting feelings is realizing that 20-somethings in other parts of the world are dealing with the same things you are. Making money, the trials and tribulations of dating, university, and familial pressure seem to be universal tenets to all young adult woes. It could be a wonderful opportunity for learning and self-reflection by discovering how your global cohorts enjoy and take care of themselves. There’s a reassuring pleasure in finding similarities despite culture and distance.
4. FACE SOME HARD TRUTHS
I had this startling moment while looking into my grandmother’s bathroom mirror. The realization that this was the very place where every generation of my family name has thrived and loved in – before me. What can truly be difficult is realizing the sharp differences between what life could’ve been there rather than where your family has emigrated. The emotional revelation of my parents needing to leave the only place they knew for a bigger life would never not weigh on me now. Evaluating the opportunities for you and your offspring is no easy task. In turn, the person I am and the choices I have made (and would like to make) would not be a good fit there either.
Most important of all is to feel. Whether you’re realigning chakras or reactivating your five senses, take this opportunity to get familiar with the most basic parts of life again. Allow the sun to kiss you. Remember breath and focus on your rhythm. Nourish and feel yourself full. Move and feel yourself lightly. Identity building consists heavily of the conceptual tags we place on ourselves, forgetting often that we physically exist in a body that needs care and attention. Tend honestly to your temple, especially in the way of the elders.
**lougarous (n) Creole word for werewolves characteristic of children’s stories and tall tales. Now more commonly any outrageous person.
**taptap (n) pick up trucks used for share taxis. Ornately painted and decorated with religious and other wholesome slogans.