My Journey to a Wonderland Called the United States.
When I was nine years old, my parents took my family to the United States. It was very different than Haiti. Along the complex American highways, I would count 18 wheels on a semi-trailer and wonder if I had counted right. I had never seen a truck with more than six wheels. We visited Niagara Falls in December when it was 20 great degrees below zero. In Canada, we learned to skate with our cousins. I attended my first public movie—“Gulliver’s Travels.” In Chicago, we saw the world’s finest zoo, which was loaded with “firsts.” My parents took us around like a tourists, seeing the Capitol building in Washington, historic Philadelphia, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and many other things that they thought would help me understand our country and its greatness. It all seemed like a dream. The real wonders to me were the vending machines, where candy and gum fell down, along with elevators, escalators, telephones that worked, organized and smooth traffic, and multi-lane highways! I loved the speed of the traffic. But I never felt that I belonged to this world. It was excellent, efficient, clean, and well organized; but I could not find my place in it.
The people spoke of hospitals and doctors as far away, mysterious, untouchable things. In Haiti I had watched operations, doctors struggle to make a newborn baby breathe, and teeth pulled by the dozen. I had held flashlights and lanterns during blackouts so doctors could sew deep wounds. In the United States, I was intrigued at how the people tiptoed around funeral homes and whispered about death. I thought they were strange to consider death fearful and unreal – almost as though they tried to deny it. In Haiti, I used to pull from our containers the threadbare garments for burying the poor. I had learned that the stronger clothes must be kept for the living.
Driving through the countryside I saw “Dog and Cat Hospital” signs I couldn’t reconcile this with the worry I had seen on my parent’s faces in Haiti as they discussed children with tuberculosis or other illnesses, and no funds to buy the needed drugs. To me, everyone seemed rich, large, and unhappy. I was glad to return to Haiti where the people were poor, contented, and smiling. Friends offered to keep me in the USA and put me in an American public school. Happily, for me, my parents brought me back to my other world. My parents did not lead the narrow, conventional life of many foreigners in Haiti. We lived among the masses and spoke their language where Haitians were my friends.
I remember that my adopted grandparents, the Sanders, for whom I had been named, worried that I would see sights and hear talk not fit for children while in Haiti. True, I saw starving people, blind people, and disabled beggars surrounding our car whenever we stopped in Port-au-Prince. I also saw swollen children dying from protein deficiency and little ones abandoned before our door. Three hurricanes in 10 years devastated the mountain area. Instead of regarding it as too ugly to see my parents put me to work in relief efforts, I learned that trouble and suffering can always be relieved if God is with us. My parents made no distinction between peoples. Their closest friends were Haitians. We learned by example to judge an individual by character and integrity rather than by race or sect.
Where is my True Home?
When I was eight years old, the Sanders of South Carolina gave me a stamp album. Stamps and reading have always been close comforts as I have grown up. The knowledge of geography and history gained from serious stamp collecting was helpful last year when I accompanied my parents on a four-month visit to the Middle East and Europe. It was fantastic as travel can be for a 14-year-old boy constantly with his mom and dad in a car pursuing an adult interest. I enjoyed ten days in Egypt– Cairo, Luxor, and up the Nile to Aswan. Easter in Jerusalem with 40,000 pilgrims, Muslims, and Christians, was most enlightening.
In Europe my parents wanted me to be interested in the Louvre, the catacombs, etc. One day in Rome as we stood in an elevated park to see the view of the city, I went after a balloon man and bought a helium filled balloon! It was the first one I had ever seen. My parents forgot that while they were seeing historical Europe, I was seeing civilization away from the little Caribbean island of Haiti.
In Paris, the Metro closed before I was inside. My parents thought I was in the second car, but when they got off at their destination, and I was not there, my mom panicked. She supposed that I had failed to get off and would continue far under the confusing city of Paris. Babbling Haitian Creole, English, and poor French to the nearest policeman, she was waving her arms like a normal French woman in distress. Eventually, I made it on the Metro and found my parents and all was well.
In three years I’ll be asked to make a choice of citizenship. The United States does not recognize dual citizenship. Already, I am being schooled to be a full-fledged American, which is what I want because I admire the greatness of America. I love the peace and security she affords. I will wear her military uniform with pride. I will vote and thus feel a part of her government. The principles and rights for which she stands are great and just. I am proud to be an American – even now I feel that it is my country. Someday I will be back in Haiti, maybe as a missionary torchbearer among the people of my childhood, or maybe as a short-term visitor. But when I eat cornmeal and dried herring, speak Creole, and laugh at Malice and Bouki stories, I will understand the meaning of “Haitio American” fully. It will remain true that by birth and loyalty I hold dual citizenship.”