Showing posts with label identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label identity. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"This is Your Morning" by Asselin Charles

"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?