I grew up in a country that most of the world degrades and continues to dismiss because it is broken.
Several years ago, I had a revelation. I was trying to sort out a problem, when it hit me. I am not Haiti. I may have been born in Haiti and may resemble Haiti and have its characteristics: something of an enfant terrible, too proud, too black, too strong, too spiritual and too confident. But I am not Haiti. I am not as broken anymore and that scares people. Often we find it easier to love that which is broken. It can make us feel stronger… better about ourselves. We tend to be less threatened by that which is in disarray or needs us to feel whole.
When Haiti attempted to piece itself together two centuries ago (209 years ago on this January 1st), many among those in power at home and abroad took calculated steps to ensure that it would remain shattered. All of my life, I have lived various aspects of the shame of this heritage. I have also been continually reminded I was born in a small place that is devalued and is trampled upon precisely because of its weaknesses. I persevere holding on to knowing my little country dared. It dared to step out of line. It dared to stand up for itself. It dared to try to define itself. It dared.
In the last decade, while struggling to redefine myself in the all-too-hierarchical-world that is the academy, where you are only as good as the person you are better than, I have fought to dare, and not accept labels that were being thrown at me or etched onto me for others need me to fit into a category to be comfortable with me. I resist, insisting that Haiti needs new narratives to explicate its myriad contradictions. I continue to do so since the answer to the “why” of this question is simply not good enough. So, I look to the future, embracing what I can of my past determined not to recreate it.
Imagine, what Haiti would be like had it been supported and nurtured instead of disavowed and shunned in its infancy. Imagine what we would think of Vodou, had its imaginative spirit of resistance been recognized instead of dishonored.
When I look at people, I try to think of everyone as having a little Haiti or Vodou in them. That makes it easier for me to practice what I have learned growing up, loving Haiti and loving Vodou – live, let live and respect.
Gina Athena Ulysse is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies at Wesleyan University. She is also a performance artist; for more on her work, visit ginaathenaulysse.com
This article originally appeared in Haitian Times.