“It didn’t hurt,” he said of the surgeries.
New life in America
Now living in Miami’s Little Haiti in a small apartment, Peterson and his mother are among hundreds of Haitian families who settled in South Florida after the earthquake. The severely injured came by medical flights, others who could afford it escaped the destruction by catching flights from the Dominican Republic. These days, he’s focused on being a regular 12-year old boy.
“I started learning English in the hospital. Every word I heard them say I tried to learn them,” said Peterson, who prefers to speak in English rather than Creole.
“I want to keep improving,” he explained, though he seamlessly slips into Creole when speaking with his mom.
Peterson is headed to the seventh grade in the fall at Young Men’s Preparatory Academy, a Miami-Dade all-boys public school where the students wear ties and blazers.
This summer, he was accepted into Breakthrough Miami, an academic enrichment program for high-potential students hosted at Ransom Everglades Middle School in Coconut Grove.
While he walked the halls on the last day of summer classes, classmates called out to him “Peterson, hey man,” as they exchanged high-fives.
Those closest to him say Peterson is thriving in his new environment.
“As a 12-year-old, he already understands what’s important in life. He engages in a way that makes any individual interacting with him feel important. He’s so in tune,” said Charles Webber, associate site director at Breakthrough Miami’s Ransom campus.
Sitting on the worn white couch inside the two-bedroom Little Haiti apartment he shares with his mother and another family, Peterson wipes away the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. There is no air conditioner or fan.
Perhaps someday he’ll become a pediatric plastic surgeon, Peterson muses. Then he shakes his head.
“But that’s not what I really, really, really, really think I want,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I want to be an actor, a dancer or a singer. I want to be who I am, not like someone I’m not. I’m still a kid, I can change my mind any day.”
For Peterson, it’s a different transition than for his mom.
Jean-Baptiste, 49, is also enrolled in classes. Four times a week she attends adult literacy and education classes at Miami Edison High School.
“To learn how to write and speak English,” said Jean-Baptiste, who had very little formal schooling in her native Haiti.
It’s a daily and frustrating struggle for her to catch the metro bus to Miami Beach, Coral Gables and other neighborhoods looking for domestic jobs after class — only to be turned away.
In Haiti, Jean-Baptiste worked in the homes of well-to-do families earning $30 a month to cook and clean.
A housekeeper, a cook or a launderer are jobs she knows she’s qualified for, but the language barrier is a hurdle. Once, she tried bringing her English-speaking friends from church with her to an interview. The opening was for a person to wash and fold clothes at a laundromat, but her friends were not allowed to sit in on the interview.
“Three friends came with me and next thing I know it’s a white person who comes out. He asked who needs the job; they said I did. He said he has to talk to me,” she recounted. “The first word, the second word he said, I couldn’t respond. He said, ‘Sorry.’ ”