The More You Know: National Caribbean American Heritage Month

Did you know that June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month? Neither did I until now. This year marks the 14th celebration of National Caribbean American Heritage Month.

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This idea came originated from Dr. Claire Nelson, Founder and President of the Institute of Caribbean Studies. This campaign caught the attention of Congress. In June 2005, the House of Representatives adopted H.Con. Res. 71 sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee recognizing the Caribbean people and their contribution to the United States. The resolution passed in the Senate and the Proclamation was issued by President George W. Bush on June 6, 2006.

My Caribbean Roots

I am the proud daughter of Haitian immigrants. Haiti Cherie!

The Rough Truth

To be honest, I was not about that Caribbean life growing up. I wanted to be as American as possible. I knew my parents spoke a different language. We had different food. We had different traditions. I wanted to eat McDonalds and American like food. I just wanted to be like my white friends who had the “right american” traditions. I stopped speaking Haitian Creole for a very long time. I had this mentality to be as “normal” as possible.

The Spark

In my senior year in high school, for our Christmas concert, my choral director wanted us to sing this choral piece called “A Haitian Noel.” Really!?! Singing Haitian Creole!?! I tried to keep quiet about my cultural background quiet but when some students were mispronouncing words I just had to correct them.

“Wait, Bianca you know this language!?!”

“Uhhh..yes. My parents are Haitian.”

The truth is out!

Then my choir director asked me to ask my parents to help us and teach the class this song. My parents were shocked and elated when asked; they made a cassette tape of the lyrics for them (I know I’m old). I was even teaching the class too. What I thought made me odd made me special. We practiced so hard till it was perfected…for a high school chamber choir.

My dad’s work schedule made him miss my choral performances but he took the night off for this concert. I was SO nervous because we would be performing this in front of my parents. But we did it! My parents said they loved it and it meant the world to them to hear their culture represented. My dad actually has the song on his iPhone and still listens it today. I had the chance to thank my choir director for the opportunity to showcase my culture and light the spark.

The Trip of A Lifetime

Only God could have orchestrated my mission trip to Haiti.

In January 12, 2010, our family, along with the world, was in shock over the earthquake that destroyed and killed thousands. We were calling family wondering if everyone was ok. For the most part, everyone was ok but there was damage. My mom already left in March 2010 for a medical missions trip. But there was still a hurt for a country I had never been to.

I finished my sophomore year of college. I was planning on summer school and being home for summer for a little. My campus pastor told me about a last minute short-term mission trip to Haiti. It was paid for by SendMeNow Missions through the Georgia Baptist Convention. All I had to do was get my vaccinations and say yes. My parents had told me for most of my life it’s too dangerous for me to go and when I am older I can go. So I made a deal with God that if He wants me to go, I need to have my parents’ blessing and support. And they gave me their blessing and support.

I went with a great group of people to do vacation bible school and sports camps for the kids. Still friends with them to this day.

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It was eye-opening seeing everything. My parents’ stories of Haiti hit me like a ton of bricks. The marketplace, school children walking miles to school, tap taps (their version of transit), dust, smoke, poverty, destruction from the earthquake, no sewer system, women carrying crops on their heads, churches with walls and tarp, and more.

It was then where I understood where my parents were coming from. They grew up with little but survived it. They came to the states with dreams and for their children to have access to everything from an education to clean water.

I had a renewed sense of pride to be a representation of a Haitian American.

The Realization

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I’m proud of my Haiti. No matter what the media or society believes, Haiti is a resilient group of people. We were the first black republic and first independent Caribbean country. Yup…Haiti Cherie!

I love my rice and beans, fried plantains, pate (Haitian patties), Diri ak djon don (black mushroom rice), soup joumou (squash soup eaten New Year’s Day), Legim (like a stir-fry of vegetables), Pikliz (like a spicy coleslaw), and many more.

I love my flavorful spices. I am allergic to bland food. I have been too blessed and spoiled.

And God still dwells in the Haitian people. Christian Haitians have such a light and love for the Word. If you think you will “save” them, you will be blessed by them. And no, not all Haitian people practice voodoo…just sayin.

Caribbean Contribution to America

Just to name a few Caribbean people and their value to the American experience…

Jean Baptiste du Sable (Haiti), the “Founder of Chicago”

Sidney Poitier (Bahama descent), first African-American actor recipient of an Oscar for Best Actor

James Weldon Johnson (Bahama descent), Author of the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing)

Oscar de La Renta (Dominican Republic), fashion designer

Malcolm X (mother from Grenada)

Harry Belafonte (Jamaica/Martinique), civil rights activist and singer

Colin Powell (Jamaica), first black U.S. Secretary of State

John Russwurm (Jamaica), first black editor of a U.S. newspaper and one of the first three blacks to graduate from a U.S. college

Alexander Hamilton (St. Kitts & Nevis), first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury

Dr. William Thornton (Virgin Islands), physician and architect who designed the U.S. Capitol

And the list goes on…

The Pride Is Real

No matter what Caribbean country a person is from, WE MATTER! We are part of the construction and greatness of America.

We are beautiful, smart, resourceful, and diverse. I love meeting and relating with my other Caribbean brothers and sisters. We have similar stories, struggles, stereotypes, concerns, and passions.

In the great words of God, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14).

And I know that full well.

Blissfully,

Bianca

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