I originally wrote this post as part of my student internship with my school’s literary magazine, The Shenandoah Review, and it was featured on their student-run blog in November 2017. With our each current US Presidential administration, its content becomes more relevant every day:
The title of this blog post was meant to go with a completely different concept. Originally, I planned to write about how I’ve never been to my parents’ native Haiti in person—only through literature. I’ve imagined stepping onto the tarmac of the tiny Cap-Haïtien airport a million times; I’ve written about the beaches and the mountains as though the images in my head are from my own memories and not my mother’s photo album. I clung to every word in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Dew Breaker, half wishing that the words and experiences of a Haitian native might rub off on a first-gen Haitian American who has always felt like she was missing something.
That was the original outline—until a few days ago.
Until it was announced that the Trump Administration would retract the temporary protection that was awarded to roughly 59,000 Haitians who sought refuge from the 2010 earthquake.
Until I remembered that while I’ve always longed to finally breathe the salty air of the Cap-Haïtien coast and walk the streets on which my parents were raised, my visit to my parents’ hometown would be just that: a visit. For some, a flight back to Haiti would be forced exile, wrought with uncertainty and danger.
The estimated number of Haitians beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status in the United States has most likely surpassed “59,000” since the disaster. For the country’s returning citizens, stepping onto that same Cap-Haïtien tarmac would be a return to square one. For the ones who may have grown up in the United States—whether they’re Haitian citizens who came here as children, or American citizens born to Haitian immigrants— the “return” to their parents’ country might be even more daunting than merely starting over; the only ‘home’ they have ever known might be the same country that’s flushing them out.
They would be returning to a motherland that was never theirs.
It doesn’t take long for my American friends, classmates, and teachers to learn that I’m Haitian-American. I’m proud of my heritage, I like talking about the things I’ve learned but have not yet experienced, and I’m always willing to answer questions about cultural differences and Haitian customs. However, because several people have assumed that I was born in Haiti, they are surprised to learn that I have never been there. Then comes the dreaded, inevitable question: Have you ever thought of going back home?
I always know it’s coming; I can see it forming letter by letter, word by word. I smile, sidestep, shrug it off. I’m not offended; I’m not allowed to be. Still, it has the strange, quick sting of a needle that pops something in my mind and sends it reeling.
Home? I am home. This country has always been my home. Haiti was never mine.
Remember, I have privilege in citizenship. I was raised here, but I was also born here. Imagine how jarring that question must be to DACA or TPA recipients whose home may not be in their country of birth. Imagine how it must feel for someone else to tell you where your home must be.
My experiences are in no way comparable to theirs. I don’t know the documentation statuses of the state-side Haitian friends and relatives that I know of, let alone that of those I have yet to meet. I don’t know the exact statuses of the thousands of immigrants, Haitian or otherwise, who came to this country by way of Temporary Protection. I can only imagine what they must be going though. I am beyond blessed to have been born to immigrants who are now also American citizens. My parents earned their citizenship back when it was extremely difficult, not near-impossible. For millions of immigrants and refugees, the hope to be legal, secure, and visible in this country died with the promise of a new president. Each reversal to vital immigration laws is a kick to the carcass, another nail in the coffin.
I can’t speak for any of them, but I can empathize, advocate, protest. Why?
Because although I am not directly threatened by this change in legislation, it still affects me. Because this country as we know it would not exist without the communities, cultures, and contributions of its immigrants, their forced exile would affect all of us.