children of immigrants
by: Lenelle Moise
When I am a toddler, a child, a tween, a teen, and a young adult, I am
called an ancestral soul, a ti gran moun, a little old person.
Adults study me and decide that I am wise beyond my years, mature for my
age, emotionally ripe. I am told it is unusual to meet a
five-ten-fifteen-year-old girl who does not slouch or mumble or speak in
When I do the things that come naturally to me—when I hold my spine up
erect, when I wait my turn to speak, when I speak having listened,
carefully, when I enunciate, when I look grown-ups in the eye—I am told I
must have “been here before.”
"How do you know?" one college professor asks me after she has seen a
psychologically violent play I have written at age nineteen. "How do you
In high school, I charm my teachers. They encourage me to write speeches
about feminism that I recite for International Women's Day at City Hall
or deliver as part of conference panels at local universities. “If you
were older," they tell me, "we would probably be friends.” One of them
even flirts with me.
Among my peers I exist somewhere between amicably mysterious and
irrevocably dorky. The popular kids greet me in the hallways, but they
never invite me to their beer-drenched parties. I will never play Spin
the Bottle. I will never play Seven Minutes in Heaven. My mother tells
me she is protecting me from boys, but the truth is, after I do my
homework, she wants me to type up another family friend’s résumé or
resignation letter. At home, I am a bridge, a cultural interpreter, a
spokesperson, a trusted ally, an American who is Haitian too, but also
The children of immigrants don't get to be children. We lose our
innocence watching our parents' backs bend, break. I am an old soul
because when I am young, I watch my parents' spirits get slaughtered.
In Haiti, they were middle class. Hopeful teachers. Home owners. They
were black like their live-in servants. They donated clothes to the
poor. They gave up everything they knew to inherit American dreams. And
here, they join factory lines, wipe shit from mean old white men's
behinds, scrub five-star hotel toilets for dimes above minimum wage.
Here, they shuck and jive and step and fetch and play chauffeur to
people who aren't as smart as they are, people who do not speak as many
languages as they do. In the 1980s, they are barred from giving blood
because newscasters and politicians say that AIDS comes from where they
come from: Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, a black
magic island that spawns boat people and chaos, a place of illiterate
zombies, orphan beggars and brazen political corruption.
When I am a child, my childhood is a luxury my family cannot afford.
Their dignity is not spared, so my innocence is not spared. They are
humihated and traumatized daily, so I become a nurse to their trauma. I
am told too much, so I know too much, so I am wise beyond my years.
When I am six, my mother tells me she found out she was pregnant with me
at age nineteen, she “tried to kill the baby." She says "the baby," as
if it isn’t me she’s talking about; as if I am not the expensive,
scandalous daughter who forced my way into her world despite the
abortion-inducing herbal teas she drank and her frantic leaps off of
When I am sixteen, my father calls me on the phone to, inevitably, weep.
He says, "Living in this country, I have learned not to hope for
things. Only you are my hope. Only you."
So—yes, I grow up fast.
Greetings from Calumet. I am in town to perform in the Red Jacket Jamboree, an old-fashioned radio program that's taped at the Calumet Theatre.
I'm pretty tired tonight after a day of traveling and rehearsal. However, I found this poem that I thought said a lot about immigrants and children. Pretty appropriate for Trump America.
Saint Marty is still mightily disappointed in his country.