Haitian By Another Name
By Jessy Beauvais | July 27, 2020
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Genesis 1: 26-28, 31
I have been traveling since I was a child.
Travel unfurls a yearning deep in my soul for more. I travel to experience God. I travel to discover previously unknown facets of the character of God. In every interaction, in every conversation, in every meal, in every market, in every palace, castle, museum, or artifact, I encounter a unique component of the Creator. And yet, whilst traveling through countries, cities, towns, and through this life, I also carry a unique component of who He has created me to be. Inevitably, the question is always posed, “Where are you from?” And with conviction, I always respond, “I am from Haiti,” despite my possession of a blue, American passport.
I am from Haiti – the first slave nation to successfully revolt from its captors. I am descendent of fierce, proud, resourceful, and resilient people. I was born in Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I am descendent of a weakened people attempting to rise from the yoke of slavery, corruption, greed, and both manmade and natural disasters. I am Haitian. After creating me, on the final days of 1979, on an island, to two eminently complex and fascinating individuals, God said, “[she] was very good.” And everyday, I choose to believe Him.
I was two and a half when I traveled to America. 1980s Miami was a frightening place to my immigrant parents. They had traveled for more; they came for opportunity, and they were determined to seize it for themselves and their children. Faced with the war on drugs and innumerable images of mostly black males breaking the law and being incarcerated, my parents drilled into our psyche, “you are not African-American (in the literal Kreyol, “you are not Black American”), you are Haitian.” The lectures about our comportment were never ending.
"After creating me, on the final days of 1979, on an island, to two eminently complex and fascinating individuals, God said, “[she] was very good.” And everyday, I choose to believe Him."
Your face is your passport,” they said, “it will open and close doors accordingly.
You must choose which doors it will open for you.
You must speak ‘good’ English.
You must always be above reproach.
You must respect your elders.
You must greet all people.
You must know who God is for yourself.
And always, always put God first.”
My brothers and I learned these lessons and tried to honor our parents by weaving them into the fabric of our lives. Out of love and fear, my parents enveloped us in a cocoon of safety and fought to ensure that the opportunities for which they had traveled so far, would not be denied.
Like all Haitian kids of my acquaintance, the 3 Ls reigned supreme: legliz, lekol, lakay – church, school, home – and that’s it! But that wasn’t it. We had to live and interact with the very world from which our parents sought to protect us, and we soon learned in that world we were not regarded favorably. That world told us Haitian was the worst thing you could be. That world told us Haitians were poor. That world told us Haitians were dirty and we all had AIDS. That world told us that our accents were laughable, our clothes too bright, and our food unappetizing. Interestingly, that world looked just like me; those who pointed out my otherness, those who bullied me and told me I simply did not belong, were African-American. “You ain’t African-American,” they said, and I did not belong. Yet with my brown face, I did not belong in the white world either, and all I wanted was to belong.
We all reacted differently to this world. Me? I embraced my Haitianness all the more, and I reveled in it. I learned the lessons that my parents taught well. I was always mindful of my appearance. Though I learned proper English, and do not have even a trace of an accent, I speak and write fluent Kreyol. I strived to live above reproach. I chose God and I chose to believe who He said that I am. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
“In shrouding myself in my ethnic identity, in my Haitianness, I had also built a barricade around my heart that kept feelings of compassion, empathy, or sympathy from breaking forth against injustice.”
I also learned well what that world had taught me: I am not African-American. Thus, rather than be defined by the world that told me I was other, I sought my own definition and chose to find the meaning of my life in God and in His Word. However, in making that decision, I found that I had grown callous to the plight of African-Americans in America and the injustices heaped upon them for centuries. I, as a follower of Jesus, now find myself in a place of humility and repentance.
If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
In shrouding myself in my ethnic identity, in my Haitianness, I had also built a barricade around my heart that kept feelings of compassion, empathy, or sympathy from breaking forth against injustice. Because I have been a benefactor of these systems of oppression, I have been negligent in my duty to those created in “[His] image.” As the cry, the plea of Black Lives Matter reverberates in my heart, I had no choice but to honestly confront the countless times black lives did not matter in my life, but Haitian lives did. I had to ruthlessly examine the untold number of times I, as an immigrant, have benefitted from the low esteem with which African-Americans are held. How many times have I been complicit and complacent? How many times has a white person said, “but you’re not like them,” and I have turned a blind eye? How many times has an Asian person said, “not you, you’re a better black,” and I have turned a deaf ear? How many times have I basked in approbation at the expense of African-Americans? My silence has spoken, but I wish for it to speak no more. For far too long, I have travelled unencumbered by this responsibility to my fellow man, but no more.
“My silence has spoken, but I wish for it to speak no more.”
In humility and repentance, I acknowledge my wrongdoing and I cry out, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51: 14-17
None are without sin here; we have all contributed in some way to this grave injustice playing out on the American stage. We all have it within our power to right this wrong; we can decide now that we will no longer perpetuate, bolster, nor sustain the systems that keep all men from living in dignity. For in the Kingdom of God, we are neither Haitian or African-American, we are simply His.