After living in the United States for most of my adult life, I started asking myself: Who am I? Where is home? Where do I fully belong? Or do I belong anywhere at all?
I was born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents, who moved our family back to Haiti when I was a small child. I spent my childhood in Haiti; but when I was sixteen, I was sent to the United States, settling with my mother in Miami. The United States became my new home.
For years I never once asked myself if I was American enough, or Haitian enough, or Bahamian enough. But during medical residency in Chicago I started noticing that perhaps I was not as American as I had always imagined. Most of it was unintentional. Someone would point out my accent, asking, “Where are you from?” Or my classmates would say or do something that I did not understand. So I took my passport and went to Haiti, where I had not been since the day my uncle had placed me on that small boat to Miami so many years before. I thought this might be a place where I would not be reminded that I was “the other.”
And yet I had the same feeling while in Haiti, a sense that I was not quite Haitian either. People could tell that I had lived in the United States for a long while; I could tell in the way they responded and in the way I responded. When I attended social events at the Bahamian embassy, I felt the same way.
It was not until a few years later, when the Haitian earthquake tore apart my hometown, that my curious self-questioning became urgent, a necessity. I needed to find out who I was. I needed to know if I fully belonged anywhere. Where else to start but the beginning?
We all have childhood memories and experiences that have become central to who we are today. Some memories and experiences we want to keep vivid as long as we possibly can, even writing them down before they fade away. Others we push into the corners of our mind, afraid to shed light on them for fear of what we might discover.
I never planned to become a writer. I never wanted to expose my soul. But it was writing that brought back the memories, allowing me to revisit very important parts of my childhood and to gain a better understanding of my personal and cultural past.
As I journeyed through my mind back to my parents, my family, and the community that raised me, I began to see the values embedded in these memory-stories, values which I now understood had helped me navigate treacherous waters, especially during my teenage years in Miami. At the same time, I realized that I needed that knowledge of the past to better live in the present. How else could I face an uncertain future?
As a neuroscientist, I have come to realize that our future depends on how well we understand our cultural heritage and its traditions and values that still speak to us, guiding us forward. My goal is to share a collection of stories of my past, my parents, and my community, in the hope that this will inspire others young and old to explore and appreciate their own cultural heritage.
I offer the story of my Haitian heritage as a gift to you and invite you, the reader, to join me on this journey of self-discovery, not just to understand my cultural roots but to gain greater insight into the wonderful gift of your own.