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The Youth Program Heure Des Ecrivains

 

The Youth Program: Friday, July 24, 1998
AMHE 25th Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
July 19-26, 1998

Being Haitian in America, a question of identify: A view from the panel
by
Marlène Rigaud Apollon

Under the theme, "Haiti, Sois Fière: Building Common Ground," Anastasie Sénat, Cassandre Rigaud Anderson, Claude Jacob and Marc Sénat of the Youth Program Committee brought together the children of all the "Alliances Professionnelles" who came to participate in the 25th Annual AMHE Convention held in Chicago from July 19 to July 26, 1998.
One of the highlights of the week was the panel discussion on "Being Haitian in America" which took place on Friday, July 24. As the parent of three grown children raised in the United States, my role was to represent Haitian parents and try to explain why we had been the strict parents our children perceive us to be.
Régine Talleyrand, Renée Mortel and Ayinde Jean-Baptiste represented the younger generation. Dr. Marie Claude Rigaud acted as facilitator and emphasized the need for Haitian parents to learn how to convey their message in non-threatening tone and gestures.
"I was 19 when I left Haiti in 1964," I told the audience of children, adolescents, young adults and adults. "A very young 19".
Like most people of my generation, I had no intention of staying in the U.S. but soon realized that I had to adjust to my new life if I wanted to survive. It wasn’t hard for Haitians to succeed, even in what was then a racist and hostile environment, because we had been told all our lives that Haitians had defeated the armies of Napoleon, the best of his time. Therefore, nobody could make us feel inferior. That’s the attitude that we Haitian parents had tried to instill in our children. And because we had to work hard, we want our children to do the same. To paraphrase Mr. Siméus, the Haitian entrepreneur, "(Haitian parents) tolerate 100% but expect much more." That’s simply part of our culture.
It was very difficult to raise children in what we considered a permissive society, especially without the support and the help we were accustomed to back home. "When my children were invited to sleep-overs," I told the audience, "I insisted on meeting the parents first." That comment brought a cascade of laughter from an audience who could relate to the experience..

Régine Talleyrand gave a summary of her findings on the survey she is conducting for her doctoral dissertation on Haitian identity and which seem to indicate that Haitian-Americans can relate better to African Americans than to Whites.

Renée Mortel remarked that she had been exposed to Haitian culture from an early age and had visited Haiti on several occasions. As a result, she had no problems feeling Haitian. She talked of her experience of growing up both Haitian-American and biracial, of having to defend her identification with her Haitian heritage and of having to explain Haitian food to her friends. Ayinde Jean-Baptiste, a 15 year old motivational speaker and the son of a Haitian father and Trinidadian mother related his experience and that of his older sister. He talked of the need for compromise on both sides and made the audience laugh when he remarked that his older sister had a harder time than him and suggested that his parents must have learned by the time they got to him.
The panel then took questions and comments from the audience. Two young women lamented the fact that their parents were more permissive with the boys than with the girls.
Then, in answer to a comment from a young woman from the audience that when her mother answered the phone her friends would ask, "Who was that? Was it your maid?" the young people on the panel and many in the audience affirmed that they were never embarrassed by their parents’ accents and would just tell their friends that their parents were from Haiti--and Trinidad in the case of Ayinde Jean-Baptiste. I read the following poem entitled "First Encounter of the Hurt Kind" from I Want to Dance.

Where are you from my dear?
You have a cute accent.
Are you French, Hispanic?
Are you from the Islands?
My friend’s maid is from there.

Tell me,
How’s life on an island?
It seems so . . . confining.
I know, if it were me,
I would want to escape
From the day I was born.

How long have you been here?
Do you miss your country?
Your family, your friends,
Any of them still there?
Why don’t they all come here?

Do you ever go back?
You’re so lucky you left.
It’s such a mess down there.
And all that poverty.
You’re much better off here.

It was nice meeting you.
Have a very nice day.
And, remember now,
Don’t lose that cute accent.

I also read "Buying Shoes" from The moon’s a banana, I am me, to illustrate the (Haitian) parent-child relationship:

"There's a hole in your sock," she said
With the look she takes
When I say a bad word

"So?" I said
With the look I take
When I want to play dumb

"Aren't we?
"Don't you know?
"We’re here to buy you shoes
"For heaven's sake!"
She said
With the look she takes
When she says she’s choking.

I know,
The salesperson,
The other customers,
The people passing by,
Will all look at
The hole in my sock
And will say to themselves:
"That woman sure is a bad mother."

"Sorry," I said
With the look I take
When I want to soothe her.

"How could you?" she started.
"Sit over there," she interrupted herself,
Pointing to the farthest seat in the store
With the look she has
When she is furious inside
But tries not to show it.

I sat in the farthest corner of the store
With the look I have
When I want people to forget about me.

"Here, put that on," she said a moment later
Handing me a pair of new socks.

I removed the ones that had offended her
Rolling them down carefully
So she would not see the other holes
And I slipped on the new ones.

"Ok?" she said
With the look she has
When she's pleased with herself.
"Now let's get you some shoes."

"Thanks, Mom," I said
With the look I have
When I want to please her.
I sure was glad we were not buying pants.


Finally, I told the audience of my efforts to encourage young people through my writings, educational games and various presentations to learn more about their Haitian roots and to let the world know about our successes and our "Whiz Kids.". I concluded by telling the younger generation that, as parents, we wanted to ensure that our children had the best education and were prepared for the real world and we went at it the best way we knew. As people in exile, we had no role model and no support. We’ve done better than our parents. It is now up to the younger generation to do better than us, as parents and as individuals.

A 10 year old boy from the audience impressed everyone when he advised us all with utmost poise and maturity that in deciding who we are, we must consider the various heritages we hold, be it African, French, Haitian or American. The past, the present and the future are part of our identity he calmly explained to a roaring applause.

In the end, everyone agreed that the "rencontre" had been enlightening and exciting and that there should be more such meetings so parents and children could voice their mutual grievances and learn to understand each other.

From the parents’ point of view, the finest moment came when the young adults on the panel and others in the audience admitted that although they used to resent their parents’ strictness when they were growing up, they were now grateful for the discipline they had received and which they credited for their success in college and in life. "Thanks Dad," Renée Mortel exclaimed exuberantly to the absolute delight of her father and, I am sure, every parent in the room.

Marlène Rigaud Apollon

7/27/98

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HEURE DES ÉCRIVAINS
By Marlène Rigaud Apollon


20 JUILLET 1998

J’ai quitté Haiti en 1964 à l’âge de 19 ans. Deux de mes oncles étaient fortement engagés dans des activités anti-gouvernementales et mon père s’étant senti en danger était parti pour l’exil l’année d’avant. Au début, toute la famille comptait le rejoindre. Mais c’était l’époque où il fallait attendre que votre nom "descende" et pendant des mois, nos noms ne sont pas "descendus". Finalement ma mère a décidé "d’envoyer" seulement mon nom et celui de ma soeur aînée et nous avons finalement pu partir en Septembre 1964. Comme la plupart de ceux qui partaient alors, je pensais retourner au pays dans peu de temps. Mais les circonstances l’ont voulu autrement. Je me suis mariée en 1967 et mes enfants sont nés en 1968, 70 et 74.
J’ai commencé à écrire aux environs de 1984. Mais c’est seulement après Février 1986 que j’ai commencé à soumettre mes poèmes à Haiti Progrès. Parce que je fais partie de la génération que le Dr. Léonidas a si bien dénommé "La Génération du Silence", je ne me sentais pas libre de le faire avant cela.
J’ai écrit mon premier livre, Cris de colère, Chants d’espoir, pour ma génération, pour qu’elle n’oublie pas les événements que nous avions vécu. Je sais que tout le monde n’a pas eu mon expérience d’avoir eu à prendre refuge chez des amis très braves et je ne cherche à blâmer personne. Mais je pense que quand une partie d’un pays souffre, tout le pays souffre.
J’ai écrit mon second livre, I Want to Dance d’abord pour la génération de mes enfants pour lui expliquer pourquoi nous ne sommes pas retournés au pays.
J’écris aussi pour les non-Haitiens pour qu’ils comprennent qui nous sommes, ce que nous avons souffert et leur parler de nos réussites et de nos "Wiz Kids".
Finalement, j’écris pour ceux qui sont restés en Haiti pour essayer d’établir un dialogue parce que, comme je le dis dans un de mes poèmes, "Il faut que l’on se parle."
Ma mission maintenant est d’atteindre le plus de jeunes possible pour leur enseigner la culture haitienne et les encourager à continuer à s’instruire là-dessus. C’est dans ce but que j’ai développé HAITI DOMINO et HAITI BINGO pour les familiariser avec les noms de villes du pays et que j’ai écrit HAITI TRIVIA, en français, anglais et créole.
Je vais vous lire quelques poèmes tirés de chacun de mes livres.

Drôle de paix (Cris de colère, Chants d’espoir)
:

On n'était pas en guerre
Pourtant on ne l'aurait pas cru
Tant était grande la terreur
Les ennemis de la patrie
--Vielles gens et enfants y compris
Etaient éliminés
Sans façon
Et sans rime ni raison.



On n'était pas en guerre
Pourtant on ne l'aurait pas cru
Tant était grande la panique
On cachait les jeunes filles
De peur qu'elles ne deviennent
Les proies d'hommes insatiables
Qui s'étaient fait de leur concupiscence
Une arme redoutable.

On n'était pas en guerre
Pourtant on ne l'aurait pas cru
Tant était grande la fièvre de s'enfuir
Des familles entières
--Ou ce qui en restait
Partaient hâtivement
Pour n'importe où et n'importe comment
Vers un exile de durée incertaine.

On n'était pas en guerre
Mais considérant toutes les vies perdues
Tous les chagrins et toutes les cruautés
Il aurait mille fois mieux valu
Être en guerre.


I Want to Dance
(I Want to Dance)

I want to dance
For all those bodies lying stiff in various common graves,
Those bodies heavy with lead
Who will dance no more.

I want to sing
For all those hearts stopped cold in the middle of their songs of hope,
Those hearts forced into silence
Who will sing no more.

I want to speak
For all those voices snuffled out on their first utterings,
Those voices newly born
Who will speak no more.

I want to scream,
Tirelessly and with all my strength,

For all the victims of our fratricidal massacres
So that their screams of agony may ring forever
In our memory.

I want to speak for them.
Scream for them,
So that my voice gives them a voice.
I want to dance
So that my life gives them life
And they don't remain dead.


Je n’écris pas seulement des poèmes tristes. En fait, mon naturel est de rire et d’être optimiste. Le poème que je vais vous lire est tiré de Si je n’avais que des regrets et s’intitule

Si jeunesse savait
.

Les vêtements qui rétrécissent
Les chaussures qui rapetissent
La peau qui s'amollit
Les rides qui s'appronfondissent

Le front qui s'agrandit
Les cheveux qui s'éclaircissent
La bouche qui se dégarnit
Les yeux qui s'affaiblissent

L'ouie qui durcit
L'odorat qui s'atténue
Les doigts qui se raidissent
Les bras qui s'alourdissent

Les genoux qui s'engourdissent
Les jambes qui ralentissent
Les seins qui s'affaissent
Les fesses qui s'abaissent

Le ventre qui s'arrondit
Le dos qui s'infléchit
Les reins qui s'endolorissent
La vessie qui s'amenuise

Les muscles qui s'atrophient
Les os qui se raccourcissent
La ligne qui s'épaissit
Les hanches qui s'élargissent

Le corps qui se flétrit
Les organes qui décrépissent
La voix qui faillit
Le coeur qui défaillit

La mémoire qui s'enfuit
Les passions qui s'émoussent
L'impétuosité qui s'attiédit
Les prouesses sexuelles qui se raréfient

Les enfants qui grandissent
Les vieux qui disparaissent
La cinquantaine qui perce
La dégringolade qui s'amorce.

..................
Je dois ajouter que j’ai écrit ce poème avant l’arrivée de Viagra.

Merci beaucoup.

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