One of the very reasons that I opted to work at Sant La is my desire to gain a deeper understanding of my Haitian culture. Growing up I took for granted the very thing that made me a Haitian-American, and struggled mightily with bringing the two together. For a long time I held the notion that it had to be one or the other but never both; most of the time, I was attempting to hide my Haitian side. I was one of the ones who tried so desperately to Americanize everything about me, even to the point of pronouncing my last name with more of an American accent saying Am-bew; rather than the French influenced pronunciation of Am-bo. I carried what I now can say was my ignorance and lack of self-worth all throughout high school, in Miami where there was no confusing that we spoke Creole & not Haitian, where Haitian Flag Day was recognized, and where Haitian food was available just about anywhere in Little Haiti, North Miami, North Miami Beach, etc.
Three hundred miles north of Miami, while away at the University of Florida, and where one rarely heard someone say "Sak Pase" and Haitian food was only found in the privacy of one’s home, I started to develop an appreciation for being Haitian. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a defining moment or event when I started to embrace my Haitian culture; in all honesty the process has felt more like an evolution of myself and a deeper self-awareness. I remember coming home during the breaks and the first thing to do, even before going home, was to stop and get a Haitian patty or some griot (fried pork) and fried plantains. During this time I started to listen to more Haitian music, purchased a Creole version of the Bible, and bought a small Haitian flag to hang on my rearview mirror. Although, I was farther away from Miami in Durham, NC; I was growing in love with Ayiti Cheri. This was the most culturally transformative years of my life. I realized that didn’t have to choose to be Haitian or American; but, rather the two co-existed in me, and understanding that helped me to embrace who I am.
I had been away for about 9 years, and was preparing to move back to Miami, one of the things that was most important to me was to be in an environment where I could learn more about my Haitian culture. Since joining the staff at Sant La I have grown tremendously as a Haitian-American. Truthfully, before working here the term “Haitian-American” was non-existent. My ears have developed to hear the nuances and accents of the Creole language. Also, for the first time I’m able to actually listen to and appreciate the story of the Haitian immigrant who against all odds is able to come to the United States with no money and limited education, but then is able to raise a family in the US and support family members back in Haiti. I have come to understand more clearly the obstacles and fear faced by many immigrants because of their legal status, and the challenges that they face for upward mobility. While my job is to provide guidance and advice to our clients to help them become employable and to adapt in the American work landscape, yet in their own subtle way they have taught me few things along the way, especially what it means to be Haitian.