Friday, November 02, 2007
Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat
Category: Biography & Autobiography, Haiti, Immigration
Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
On Sale: September 4, 2007
Publishers: Random House
I just finished reading Edwidge Danticat's gentle tribute to the two most important men in her life, her father Mira and her uncle Joseph, and I am sad, angry and heartbroken. Read on and you will understand why.
In 1973, constantly hounded by Duvalier's "Tonton Macoutes", “a battalion of brutal men and women aggressively recruited from the country's urban and rural poor,” Edwidge's parents immigrated to New York, leaving her and her younger brother, Bob, in the care of Uncle Joseph, their father's older brother who was the pastor of a Church in Port-au-Prince. Joseph and his wife Tante Denise were the children's surrogate parents for 8 years and Edwidge grew to love them like her own. They were not the only kids the couple looked after...they also brought up Marie Micheline, the daughter of a Cuban friend who just disappeared one day and never returned, as well Tante Denise's brother's daughter. I mention this so that you get a glimpse of how large-hearted, generous and kind the couple were.
(Danticat has written an essay about the Marie Micheline in the June issue of the New Yorker, you can find it here.)
Although her parents were away, her father's literary presence was always felt by Dandicat who faithfully received a three-paragraph letter from her father. It was those letters which instilled in Danticat a gift for the greatness of story.
In October 2004, there was political upheaval in Haiti. For the first time a UN force was sent to help stabilize Haiti. Rebels seized towns and cities and some entered Uncle Joseph's church compound, threatening his life. Joseph, who was then 81, escaped Haiti in disguise and flew to the US to visit his dying brother (Edwidge's father). However he landed in a deadly detention center in Miami (the Kome detention center) where the immigration officials treated him as an unwelcome refugee (just because he indicated he might like an extension on his visa on account of the trouble in Haiti) rather than the temporary visitor that he was.
To read Danticat's lacerating description of how the officials at the detention center treated her elderly and sick (he had suffered cancer of the throat and could only speak with the aid of a voice box) uncle filled me so much anger, frustration and shame. Unlike Cuban refugees who are processed and released to their families after landing on American soil, Haitians are routinely imprisoned, then deported. Within days of his detention, Uncle Joseph took ill. Accused of faking his illness he was denied his medicines and received minimal medical attention...handcuffed to a hospital bed he died alone because his family was not allowed to visit him.
Along with Danticat I ask, why this discrimination against Haitian immigrants? Why wasn't her uncle who was both, old and sick, not allowed to die with dignity and with his loved ones around him? Why couldn't the world's greatest country have shown more humanity? Because of the trouble in Haiti it wasn't possible to take Joseph's body back for burial next to his beloved wife Denise, instead he was buried in Queens, New York. When Edwidge's father heard about the burial arrangements he remarked, "If our country were ever given a chance and allowed to be a country like any other, none of us would live or die here."
Truly, that remark speaks volumes, after all, who really wants to live in exile? Who wants to be a foreigner all of his or her life? But refugees have no choice, it's run away or be killed and it is good for us to realize that in our dealings with them. Danticat’s father died about six months after her uncle from pulmonary ﬁbrosis that had ravaged his body for more than a year. Danticat writes “This is an attempt at recreating a few wondrous and terrible months when their lives and mine intersected in startling ways, forcing me to look forward and back in both celebration and despair. I am writing this only because they can’t.”
"Brother, I'm Dying" is a heartbreaking read. In many ways it is the archetypal American immigrant story -- parents from the home country struggle and sacrifice to afford their children a better life- but it's also uniquely Haitian in the struggles depicted. Do buy yourself a copy!
On October 4, Edwidge Danticat testified before the U.S. Congress' Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law. Her powerful testimony can be found here
I have been awarded the 'Schmooze Award" by Lalitha or Starry Nights of "Across the Miles" Thank you so much, Starry!
About the award :- This award is for the bloggers who “effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship.”
In turn, I would love to award it to:
A Reader from India
Everyone on my blogroll deserves this award but I wanted to use this opportunity to express my thanks to these 14 bloggy friends for their frequent visits to my blog despite how busy they are...thank you, it is much appreciated! Please forgive me if you are frequent visitor to my blog and I have forgotten to nominate you...you have my heartfelt thanks too and feel free to use the schmooze award!
The Guardian First Book Award Short List (thanks, Sanjay)
I was so happy to see Tahmima Anam's "A Golden Age" on the list. I really enjoyed the novel! Another book that looks like a very worthy read is "Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu