The Identity Series: A Cultural Anomaly

Judith George/Staff Writer

It was Haitian Flag Day during my senior year of high school. I wasn’t decked out in Haitian Flag day gear, unlike my fellow Hatian students who wore bandannas, chains, wristbands, shirts and even giant capes. It just wasn’t my style. I was more subtle, preferring to simply wear the colors that represent my family’s homeland. Even then, a lot of Haitians didn’t really pick this up. I had a few people try to guess where my family is from, and was mostly mislabeled as Bahamian. On occasion, someone would think I was either Jamaican, Trinidian, or just Black.

When I corrected them and said I’m actually Haitian, I got some strange looks. I even remember one Haitian girl telling me, “You don’t look like you could be Haitian.” 

I simply countered, “How does one look Haitian?” and never got my answer.

This memory has bothered me from time to time, and despite growing up in the Haitian culture, sometimes I still feel like an outsider. 

I had the classical Haitian kid childhood, part of which consisted of the three L’s; “Legliz, Lakay, Lekól” which means church, home and school. I can go to any church event or school field trip but any other time, I would find myself at home. I hardly ever missed a school day.

Feeling sick? Go to school.

Take Your Child To Work Day? I’m at school.

Senior Skip Day? That’s cute — go to school.

My main priority was to earn good grades so that I could get into a good college, and then go home. If I hadn’t put my foot down occasionally, I wouldn’t have even been able to join after school clubs. Even then, I could never stay long to really participate. I missed out on a lot of experiences in school because of how my parents were.

Church was the only place I could be active. It was rare for me to ever miss a Sunday. I would help set up and attend 8:00 AM service, as well as Sunday school. Depending on what Sunday it was, I would volunteer to work with the AV team or serve as an usher during the 11:00 AM service. I would usually stay until 1:00 PM, assuming we didn’t have a guest speaker who couldn’t read the time. 

On Tuesdays, I would tag along with my brother to Bible study, and Fridays mostly consisted of me attending choir practice (which would occasionally roll over to Saturday mornings). Every New Years Eve, I would sit on the benches listening to the older adults passionately speak — or should I say yell — into the microphone about what God has done for them during the past year while I did my best not to fall asleep until midnight.

As a result, when I wasn’t at school or church, I was at home reading, cleaning, doing homework or watching TV. I rarely asked my mom if I could go out to spend time with friends because I knew that her answer would be a resounding “no,” unless my older brother came along. 

My “friends” mainly consisted of the kids at the church I attended because they would never do anything that went against the word of God, or least that’s what my mother believed. I had to hold my tongue to prevent myself from telling her otherwise. 

I had expectations set before me. I was supposed to excel in school to enter a profession where I could make a lot of money, stay out of trouble, be an active member of the church, behave like a proper “lady” and learn how to maintain a household. I was expected to be loud, extroverted and confident, be able to read and speak Creole fluently and so on.

I tried my best to meet those expectations, but it ended up taking a toll on me. As I got older, I realized that expectations are what make people accept you. But truth be told, I’m okay with the idea of not being accepted.

I grew up earning A’s and B’s. Anything below that made me feel like I didn’t do enough, and I beat myself up over it. After failing a class in college, I’ve come to learn that failing is a learning experience. 

If I’m an anomaly, even within my own culture, then so be it. I’m still me, and that’s good enough for me.

I have no interest in becoming a nurse, doctor, lawyer, engineer or anything of that sort. I understand the rewards from those professions, but I know I could never be happy doing them. An older Haitian man from my church told me: “You work in something that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That advice helps fuel my drive to study psychology, in hopes of becoming a counselor, and doing art as a side hustle. 

Growing up, I had my personal issues dealing with social situations. As I started to learn about myself, I understood that I was an introvert with a resting face and who has social anxiety. I possess an intense fear of bringing attention to myself for a few reasons — embarrassment and rejection being my biggest concern. That led me to separate myself from a lot of people, even with the youth group in my church. But I eventually found my own close knit bunch of friends, no matter their background. They even seem to accept me for who I am, no matter how sarcastic, petty, or serious I can be.

I was that girl who preferred comfort over fashion, that included wearing more masculine clothes and wearing my natural hair. Something my mother hated and criticized me about, which crippled my self-esteem. Nowadays, I find myself comfortable and confident in my own skin, no matter what look I have because of my desire to be comfortable in my own skin.

Despite growing up listening to Creole all my life, I rarely speak the language for fear of being mocked because I butchered a word or sentence. Now, I feel okay talking and asking for help from some of my family members, which helps me connect with them more.

For many years of my life, I’ve been a people pleaser. The moment I do something that is true to me as a person, I’m told by people that they don’t understand me, or that I’ve changed.

Recently, I found a quote by Paulo Coelho that answers that best: “Not everyone deserves to know the real you. Let them criticize who they think you are.”

If I’m an anomaly, even within my own culture, then so be it. I’m still me, and that’s good enough for me.

This article is the fifth in a series focusing on cultural identity.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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