For twenty years, it was as if I forgot who I was and where I came from. I was trapped in the midst of a whole new culture and language—and everything else that went with moving to a foreign land. I had no time for introspection. Any questions I had about my roots and identity, I stored in a file cabinet somewhere at the back of my brain.
I’ve often said that from the day I first set foot in Miami, I was running nonstop, trying to survive by adjusting to America’s complex culture. It was probably a good thing I did not know how many miles I would need to run or how hard it would be to keep going, because the process of finding my place in society has been long and challenging. For almost two decades I put Haiti firmly in my past while I dealt with college, medical school, and the intensity of medical residency training. It was almost as if I spent those years in a dreamlike state.
I’d started out as a boy with humble beginnings who came to America on a forty-foot Haitian boat. Despite the traumatic cultural shift during my teenage years, I had somehow seamlessly transitioned from the life of an impoverished immigrant to that of an American physician—yet with no real awareness of how much my life and my culture had changed.
During my residency I started to realize I’d spread parts of my identity all over the place, and with that came the understanding of why I fit only loosely into American society. I was firmly planted in two cultures: the United States as my current home and Haiti as the place of my childhood and upbringing.
I identify my roots as Haitian, though my birthplace was the Bahamas; my parents were native Haitians, and we moved back to their homeland when I was four years old. Many of my formative childhood experiences occurred there.
Before, I’d been so preoccupied with becoming acculturated to America and with my medical training that I’d never had time to consider rediscovering my roots. Now I felt a strong need to put ideas on paper, to record the memories and experiences I did not want to forget. These memories developed into a journey of their own, and I began the long and emotional process of sharing them with the world.