Tuesday, January 24, 2017
"This isYour Morning"
by Asselin Charles
Ah, the fluid complexity of personal identity in these post-modern days! Enuma Okoro’s témoignage resonates for so many of us, nomads of the global south. To wit my own experience as a seasoned Haitian émigré:
-- Not once in my more than four decades in North America have I ever been identified as a Haitian, except in context, i. e. when I find myself in a crowd of Haitians or introduced as such by someone who knows me. I am usually asked by strangers whether I am from Africa, whether I'm Nigerian more precisely. (About three years ago, a Nigerian woman in a downtown Toronto store got very upset with me because she believed I was lying to her by claiming I was not from Nigeria).
-- I spent three years teaching in Nigeria, and I passed so easily (mistaken sometimes for a Yoruba and sometimes for an Ibo) that I often had to protest and insist that I was a foreigner. I remember once I had to proffer my passport to a Nigerian couple who really believed I was pulling their legs by claiming I was from the Caribbean.
-- A few years ago I spent a week in Haiti on an academic mission. As I am wont to do when I am in the tropics, I wore either a traditional Chinese shirt or a traditional Nigerian or Ghanaian shirt every day at the office. It was only on the fourth day of my stay that the receptionist blurted that she had mistaken me for a visitor from Africa based on my clothing, my body language (!), and my accent (this one was strange, given that I greeted everyone in my native Kreyòl).
-- Although my command of Mandarin Chinese (guo yu) is elementary at best, really just the survival Chinese I mastered over my four years living in Taiwan, although as a Black man I really stand out in Taiwan or China, I feel more at home on the streets of Taipei than I do on the streets of Port-au-Prince.
-- I crave traditional Taiwanese food as often as I crave Haitian food.
-- Must be something my Taiwanese friends see in me. Culturally and racially I am clearly not Chinese, yet I remember two occasions when Taiwanese friends exclaimed to me, “Oh, you’re so Chinese, Asselin!”
-- Like most Haitians I was raised a Catholic, yet I thrill more to the esthetics and spiritual atmosphere of a Daoist temple than to the old ritual of the mass in a Catholic church, more drawn to Matsu than to Mary.
-- Haitians, and Haitian intellectuals in particular, are in love with the French language; they literally get high speaking and listening to it. But I prefer the cadence and sonority of English and thrill more to Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter than to Racine’s alexandrin.
Am I still Haitian? Sure, in a way, faithful to my Haitian background just as Ernest Dowson was faithful to Cynara ("I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion."-- From Ernest Dowson's poem "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae"). And in many complex ways I am also American, and French, and Chinese, and Nigerian, and Canadian, and Asgardian… How about you?