Monday, March 17, 2014

The Haitian American Divide

(Josiah and Yves, circa 2010)

A couple of years ago Nick and I went to a Willow Creek Leadership Summit. One of the speakers, I don't remember who, talked about the differences between tensions we resolve versus tensions we manage. Certain things that are tensions in life are straightforward to resolve. For example, imagine you are an employer and there is an employee who does a bad job and you don't like.  Easy, you fire him. That's resolving a tension. But maybe there's an employee that you don't like, but does a great job. (Or vice versa.)  You may decide that is a tension you want to manage rather than resolve. You have good reasons why you want him there, but the fact that he's there presents a tension.

We often get questions about what it's like to live with two cultures in one house. Specifically, Nick and I being both Americans and having 2 full-on American kids, 1 Haitian-American kid , a kid who is Haitian who we wish to make Haitian-American, and 8 Haitian foster kids.  There's a lot of ways to slice up the cultural diversity of our family. It is VERY tough to have more than one culture in a family.

But that is a tension we are managing rather than trying to solve.

There are a lot of not-fair things about the way our family is.
Here are a few-
  • It's not fair that our American kids get to travel to America but our Haitian kids don't.
  • It's not fair that our American kids don't get to grow up in their native culture.
  • It's not fair that the American kids sleep in the house with Nick and I and the foster kids don't. 
  • It's not fair that the Haitian kids get to go out to school and that our American kids have to be homeschooled. (And vice versa.)
  • It's not fair that Nick and I have to leave some of our kids behind pretty much anywhere we go because there are so dang many of them. 
  • It's not fair that our Haitian kids get to grow up around their extended families and visit them often and that our American kids have to go away to see their extended family. 
  • It's not fair that the American kids have to share their American grandparents when they visit with the Haitian kids, but the Haitian kids don't have to share their grandparents. 
  • It's not fair that our American kids stick out like a sore thumb everywhere we go and our Haitian kids can just blend in. 
  • It's not fair that we more often bring our American kids to Church on the Beach than we bring the Haitian kids because we need the American kids to practice English. 
I could go on and on and on. Our lives here are not fair. But NO ONE's life is fair.  And sometimes those non-fair situations create friction. Sometimes they create resentment or jealousy. But for us, most times they don't. Most times, we're just a normal family. (Well, not normal really, but you know what I mean.)

There's this Kreyol expression, “Gad nan pa'w.” Literally it means, “look in yours.” But the expression means to “mind your own business” or “worry about yourself.” And so yeah. That's sort of what we need to do. We all have different roles and jobs in our family, but everyone's place is important. Everyone is loved. And we are doing the best we can to try to create a good and normal future for each of the kids in the way that makes the most sense for them.

For example, it's not realistic to think that all (or any) of our Haitian kids will end up living in America. They might. But it's not looking likely. But that doesn't mean they can't have a really great, culturally appropriate life here. And so in many ways, (aside from the fact that it would be impossible and financially prohibitive to bring them all) it is for their own good that they don't go. On the surface, America looks like Disney World. And if they visit the States and everyone is making a big deal over them, and they are always meeting new, kind people who love them as an extension of their love for us, that creates a really unrealistic picture of what America looks like, or what it would be like to live there. After a trip like that, how are they going to feel about living in their home country? Will they be satisfied? Or will there be a lasting discontentment for what could be, when really, that's not what life is like when you live in America? (Nick and I say all the time, visiting a place is very different than living in a place.)

And then when you consider the amount of adjusting our American (read: traveling) kids need to do between cultures. Yeah, that's not that awesome either. Sure, there are awesome parts. But they don't feel entirely home either place. The differences between the two cultures is extreme. And their life is a yo-yo between buffet-style America, and no-second-helpings Haiti. Plus, there is a certain amount of guilt that they have experiencing great things without the Haitian kids.


I say all of these things not to complain. We have a great life. We really, really do. But we are always walking the tightrope between the two cultures. We are always managing that tension.  And quite honestly, I wouldn't prefer to do it any other way.  What we gain by living in two cultures is far greater than what we lose.  (Well, at least that's how I feel today.  Ask me again tomorrow.)

1 comment:

  1. What a great post! I love the expression "Buffet-style America and no-second helpings Haiti." It is a great way to express succinctly one aspect of the differences in the two cultures. You two do amazing work. Blessings to you and all of your family.

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