I’ve never seen my parents' home. There aren’t vintage photos or shaky handheld videos to watch together in the living room as a family. What I have are stories. Memories of the events that shaped my parents into the people I love have been passed down orally, rather than recorded. Listening is how I know the truth about the place they lived until they were adults. The place that shaped who they are today. And I'm homesick for it, especially these days. Homesickness can travel with you, even when you're standing still.
My childhood was shaped by my parents' stories of home. From them, I learned what it means to be a neighbor: When you walk to your neighbor's home in need of milk or sugar, they will open their doors. A Good Samaritan doesn’t turn their head away—they set their eyes on yours and act. I’ve seen proof in my own life, from carpooling with the neighborhood kids to school or receiving a steaming casserole in moments of loss, that neighbors like this exist. That we can trust the doorbell will ring. My parents taught me this through stories of their upbringing in Haiti.
It’s been over a month since a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing over 2,000 people. Then, the nation wasn’t fully recovered from the devastation of the earthquake that hit in 2010, so this intensified an existing crisis—and now Haiti is reeling from a presidential assassination and the impacts of COVID-19, too. All this is heaped on top of centuries of reaping for a freedom that Haitians rightfully earned. (In 1802, Haiti won independence from France, but as a nation of freed Black slaves they were subsequently oppressed and driven into debt by wealthy nations.) The home my parents have so often described to me threatens to crumble: structures torn to the ground, hunger, economic strife, political unrest, and roads literally split open by the earth beneath them.
For years, the humanitarian crisis has caused over 50,000 Haitian migrants to make the dangerous journey through South America and Mexico in search of asylum and refuge. And now more than ever are fleeing their fractured home. Some Haitian refugees even reach the United States, where the welcome has not been warm. I felt a familiar grief and anger a few weeks back as I watched the videos of U.S. Border Patrol Agents on horseback, abusing Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas. The moment went viral and all eyes were on Haiti— until the next news cycle bumped the video out of rotation.
Haiti waits for her neighbor. To come forward, to open their arms with empathy, to open doors with dignity. Instead, she has seen only brutal attacks, racism, and xenophobia.
There are children missing and families being torn apart as flights are expelled and detention centers are hidden away out of sight (and out of mind). There are tired and bruised knuckles knocking on doors because they know how America has treated asylum seekers; these rallies cries are for justice that is heard and seen, for an answer to the neighbor knocking at the door.
As a Haitian-American, homesickness has a way of reminding me that nowhere quite feels like home. When someone scoffs when I share my ethnicity, or responds with bigotry, I am reminded with each vicious “Go back to where you came from!” that there is nowhere to go. I can’t remember what my father’s home looks like. I can’t remember the luscious garden my mother described. But I do remember the sense of community, strength, creativity, and hospitality of the Haitian neighbors my parents grew up with.
Some of us don’t have photo albums and traces to our great great great grandparents—we have stories. And that is more than enough because there is power in the spoken word. It travels with us.
News headlines fade, but the memories remain. These are passed down to our children. As I watch hearts harden and doors lock, the picture of what I thought a neighbor was shatters. If your neighbor's home was on fire, would you look away? My hope is that the mats we lay at our doorsteps beckoning people in truly reflect our mindsets: Welcome. You are welcomed with dignity.
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