This post is also available in: Kreyol
No other season makes me feel more like an in-betweener than election season. “In-betweener” that’s what I call people like me; us immigrants or children of immigrants living in a developed country that has come to shape us just as much as the country our families left behind did. I’ll admit, I didn’t coin this term. I stole it from an Afropolitan blog I used to enjoy back in college. It refers to the limbo we diaspora members feel belonging to two cultures, two forces pulling at you, a marriage or a dichotomy–depending on how you look at it. It’s a term perfectly summarized in Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Diaspora Blues:
“so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.”
Oftentimes, belonging to both ends up feeling like never fully belonging to either. It means that I have a foot in each place, but never stand firmly anywhere.
One might think that belonging to two countries could result in having more culturally than you would have otherwise. And yes, I am both Haitian and American in many ways. But oftentimes, belonging to both ends up feeling like never fully belonging to either. It means that I have a foot in each place, but never stand firmly anywhere. It is being “the Haitian girl” when I am here, and being called blan when I’m in Haiti. Being an in-betweener doesn’t always mean having a seat at two tables, sometimes it just means that you’ve managed to peek through the windows of two houses long enough to capture glimpses of what life is like on the inside.
The beginning of 2017 brings about the inauguration of two new presidents for my two semi-homes. Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20th, and this coming February 7th, the sash is set to be passed on by the current Haitian transitional government to the newly elected Jovenel Moise. While this hasn’t been my first presidential election cycle while living in the United States, this particular one was especially awkward for me for a few reasons. Mainly because, after the previous Haitian government’s failure to hold timely and fair elections, the presidential elections in Haiti were rescheduled, landing them around the same time as the American elections.
Here’s the thing, I am now twenty-[redacted] years old and I have never voted in any election. Anywhere. I live in the United States where I am not a citizen, and there are no provisions for Haitians abroad to vote in Haitian elections. (Sure I could fly home to vote, but the way my bank account is set up…). The very thing that, one could argue, is the ultimate act of citizenship, exercising the right (whether symbolic or literal) to choose your own leader is something I have never been a part of. Even exercising the right to abstain as a form of protest isn’t something I have been a part of.
I am not a politician, but I can point to major changes in my life that were either caused or shaped by political events. My parents moved to Philadelphia for graduate school when I was just a baby, but were unable to return once they graduated because of the embargo. This is why I ended up spending the first part of my childhood in the United States. When Jean Bertrand Aristide returned to Haiti from exile in 1994, our family returned home too. Then a hero in my parents’ eyes, Aristide’s return was triumphant, and so was ours. Years later, as a high schooler, after Aristide was no longer considered a hero in our household, he was exiled for a second time. The ensuing chaos in the country made my parents send us to live in the United States again, this time without them.
I was in college when the United States elected the first Black president and cried tears of joy in my dorm room. I watched my friends go vote that day, many of them voting for the first time in their lives. I encouraged them to vote in my place since I couldn’t. I was there, elated by the significance of it all, nervous by the anger of a large number of my peers at my tiny, conservative, mostly white alma mater. But still, not really a part of it.
I was there in Haiti visiting over the Holidays in 2010 when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit parts of Haiti. I was inside my childhood home as it crumbled to the ground and managed to escape unharmed. I was there in the weeks that followed, volunteering by translating for groups of foreign doctors. I returned to the United States and watched what felt like the most important presidential election cycle Haiti would ever have. This would be the president of our country right after a natural disaster that left so many dead and more homeless. I watched as a man who I had known as the President of Konpa my whole life became the President of Haiti. I watched from my laptop screen, in disbelief at it all, scared, but still not really a part of it.
And again this year, two men whose policies will affect my life and those of the ones I love step into the offices of president. Women marched all over the United States a few days ago for women and other marginalized people’s rights that have long been violated, and that the new government poses new threats to; rights that I need too. The next day, the Haitian president-elect stood in the city of Les Cayes and in a bout of mixed up priorities, announced that Carnival will be held there instead of the capital this year. This is the city where my father was born and raised, this is a city where Hurricane Matthew wreaked major havoc leaving many homeless, dead and without crops just a few months ago. The president-elect promised a carnival to the citizens of this city, a city where my aunts and uncles are still trying to rebuild their lives. Once again, I was not a part of the process that appointed either of these governments.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t write this to get people to feel sorry for me. I am completely aware how privileged I am to have an American education and live here legally. I don’t take lightly the fact that my parents had the means to send me away when things in Haiti got too dangerous. However, I do think it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the special yet precarious position us in-betweeners hold. With our English laced with random Kreyòl words and our Kreyòl heavy on our Americanized tongues, we teeter between our two homes watching, listening, and speaking when appropriate. Being an in-betweener is a never ending journey of finding new ways to participate, new ways to engage, new ways to belong.