Double Consciousness: I am a hybrid!

Nov 30, 2010 @ 2:53 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 0 Comments
“One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”W.E.B Dubois
I remember the first time I read the words hyphenated American or hybrid to describe ones nationality. I literally fell in love with those words and the the message it conveyed. I was writing a paper on Edwidge Danticat for my Caribbean Literature class and for the first time I found the proper words that really described me. I am a hyphenated American. I am a Haitian-American. I am a hybrid!
When I visited Haiti in the summer of 2008 I have never felt more alive and greater sense of community before in life. During my travel I purchased a statue which is the exact replica of the one in this photo. The statue in this photo is the symbol of freedom in Haiti. The statue is called “neg mawon” translated loosely maroon man, the unshackled slave proclaiming his freedom by blowing the conch trumpet. As I moved through the crowds in Haiti every beautiful Black face I saw in Port-au-Prince I felt a bond to. Everyone was a long lost uncle, aunt, or cousin to me. I did not feel like a tourist, I felt at home. Yes, I was born in Miami, Fl which is very much my home, but my new birth took place when my plane landed in Haiti that summer in 2008. I felt alive. I felt a spirit of belonging, truth is my awakening means nothing to no one other than myself, because most Haitians and even Americans do not consider me a “real” Haitian because I was not born in Haiti. Many Haitians act as if being born in America is both a gift and a curse that shuts me out of claiming any Haitian nationality.

Here in lies my eternal life struggle. I am always trying to assert and validate my sense if belonging in both American and Haitian culture. Haitians do not think I am Haitian enough and although Americans accept my natural born American citizenship, I am still looked at with great suspicion. I was born in America, but I was raised Haitian! For anyone whose parents are emigrants then you understand my dilemma. I indulged in American delicacy’s like cheeseburgers, fries, and hot wings, but at home I was reared on plantains, yams, red beans and rice, and chicken seasoned the Haitian way. I listened to American music like hip-hop, R&B, and jazz, but I also love to listen kompa which is a form of Haitian jazz.

Being part of two cultures sometimes is a beautiful experience that words cannot truly put into perspective. I have two distinctly different languages to articulate in. English is the language I speak to navigate through my American world, to assert my power, and also to prove my intelligence. I find this American society likes to boast and say it is a melting pot, but in actuality the Americanism usually ends up forcing emigrants to choose between being in the margin or the center of Americanism.  Then there is Creole the language my soul speaks. The language I speak to put those threatened by my Americanism at ease. I conduct serious familial and soul business in Haitian-Creole. Whenever I am out and about and hear Haitian-Creole being spoken literally my whole body smiles and I immediately feel more comfortable and at ease. On the other hand being a hyphenated American is often very lonely and more often than not I am treated like an illegal alien. African-Americans really do not view me as an ally, their equal in the struggle, or as kin to them. I am often viewed as an anomaly to African-Americans.

I am often told that I “don’t look like a Haitian,” whenever I hear that I am never quite sure whether to be grossly offended or accept the “compliment.” Also once people learn of my Haitian ancestry they ask me to say something in Creole as if we are back in elementary school doing a show-and-tell report. Its as if my Haitian-ness needs to be verified by people who don’t even speak my language. The tokenism is really bad. In an effort to appear PC everybody needs a white friend, Black friend, gay friend and then I come in as the Haitian friend which helps round out the coalition. African-Americans are not the only ones who insult me. Often when I am traveling through Haitian communities they often mistake me for a “pure American” and start speaking in Creole commenting on my shaved head which is not really respected in the Haitian community because hair is a woman’s virtue and by me choosing to shave my hair off religiously every week, then I am not virtuous and deserve to be viewed with contempt or it is often time a man who is commenting on my lady parts. In either case I must politely respond to the ignorance. There are  days when I feel more Haitian, then there are days I feel more American, and  then on those special ambiguous days I feel stuck in a very murky grey area and feel like a complete outsider to both cultures. Of course there are the times when I feel like the butt of a cosmic cruel joke that I was born into a heavily religious male dominated culture such as that of Haitian culture, I view my feminism as an American treasure that I am forever thankful for.

I accept the fact that I am a hyphenated American and I love my hybridity. I no longer feel the need to prove how American or Haitian I am. I was born in America, but I refuse to let go of my Haitian roots and I accept both of my cultures as completing halves rather than competing halves. I accept my duality and I will govern myself accordingly. Gill Scott Herron asked a provocative question, “who will survive in America?” and to that question I answer those who will survive  in America will be the ones who learn to embrace their double consciousness that W.E.B Dubois speaks of and who chose to build upon that duality  rather than view it as a problem that needs to be solved.

Are you a hyphenated American how do you view your duality? I also want to here from Americans and how they respond to hybrids or what is your thought on hyphenated Americans?


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