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Diaspora and Shame: Stories Under my Tongue - this is worldtown

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Diaspora and Shame: Stories Under my Tongue

By Anne-Audrey Remarais

my tongue

moving in different ways

spirals

jumps

slides

left, right

the way it moves around

dances around, in my mouth

the choreography initiated by you

and

sustained by me

under the umbrella of shame

shame building stages where my tongue can dance,

where my tongue can be showcased,

outside of me.

there is no chain tying up my tongue.

at my own mercy,

i carry this shame in my tongue,

in the way it moves to please you,

in the way it awkwardly dances in my mother tongue,

in the way i stop the dance when the lights are on,

lit by my mother,

lit by my father.

how hurtful is it to see the pain in your eyes when our tongues don’t move at the same rhythm.

how hurtful is it to see the pride in your eyes when our tongues move at the same rhythm.

Caribbean Sea. The Ayiti they don’t showcase. View from the 500 steps in Koto.

Growing up in Montreal, when I was a teenager, I would always feel at home with friends of colour, especially Haitian friends, with whom I felt I could relate even deeper. We would laugh at some of our parents mannerisms. When we spoke French, we would throw in Kreyol words. When I would return to my parents’ house, I would hide that side of me. Responding to my parents in French only, ashamed my tongue would twist in the wrong ways. I felt in between worlds, not Canadian enough, not Haitian enough. Internally struggling as I proudly said I was Haitian, only out of my home. I was looking for my place.

My parents immigrated to Canada for different reasons. My mom came from Haiti as a teenager for better educational opportunities while my father came as a young adult to escape the Haitian Duvalier dictatorship at the time. They left behind their homeland, families, friends, culture and lifestyles. They had to start fresh, relearn everything, and face new forms of racism.

Road in between my dad’s family house and my sister’s house, in Kanperen, Ayiti.

I say all this because I carry their stories within me as I navigate this world to create my own stories. My dad would tell me how as a young adult he never knew if he would be able to come back home as a lot of young folks were getting arrested, kidnapped, or killed by soldiers. He never realized how his life was holding on to a thread until he stepped foot in Canada. My mom actually never went back, after 44 years, feeling the pressure of the shame to have abandoned her country and the trauma to come back to a homeland that doesn’t feel like home anymore. My interests have an origin. An origin of struggle. As a child of diaspora, navigating my identity has never been easy. Always on a search to define who I am and who I am not, caught in-between two worlds, and sometimes more. Going against whoever comes to bash Haiti and its beautiful people. Stuttering when people ask me where are you from? No but, really?

I went to Haiti last summer for the second time, accompanied by my father. The purpose of the trip was to learn about Haitian drumming, research locals’ beliefs and practices around Voodoo spirituality, and reconnect with the land and the people, especially family members. The challenges that surfaced on this trip shed light on how I was romanticizing Haiti and my connection to it. I was thinking about all the beautiful moments I would living without any obstacle; the food, the music, the conversations. But trying to fit in my ancestors’ homeland is a process that takes time, and the privileges I hold as a Canadian-born body blur my identity. When a family conflict happened in Haiti, I knew I had a ticket to leave and go back to Canada eventually. I have the privilege of mobility. Another struggle was also questioning, and being ashamed of questioning, relationships; wondering if they’re sincere or if people are simply expecting gifts, an access to migrate to Canada, or money, in exchange. Heartbreaking. I don’t blame them, nor myself, I blame all the –isms, the systems exploiting our land, people and resources. Migration, whether forced or chosen, always has some deeper implications relating to colonialism, imperialism, racism, capitalism, and/or all other oppressive –isms.

Avocado tree in my family’s backyard planted by my grandfather I never met. It is over 50 years old, having provided avocados to 3 generations and counting.

I didn’t choose where I was born, I didn’t physically migrate from one place to another, but my ancestors did, my parents did. This movement is in my blood. Carrying their stories, also means carrying their trauma. Even when it manifests in different ways. Ashamed of the way my tongue dances between languages, the journey continues. I leave shame behind, as I commit to compassionately allow myself to use the language that was so beautifully crafted by my ancestors.

Family of chickens living freely in my family’s backyard.

Throughout my stay in Haiti, I realized what drew my attention a lot was nature, whether it was the actual land, animals, the sky or families of chickens, banana trees, kabrits, and the list goes on. This attraction taught me a lot about my search for connection, with my own people, whatever that looks like, and with the land of my ancestors which links me to a deeper aspect of my identity. Becoming aware of this longing, I see now how it translates to all aspects of my life; the friendships that became the extended family I never had access to, my community and art interests. For me, it’s seeing how existential questions relate to my communities, where I create & sustain safer spaces for/with my communities, exploring roots and traumas, and always wanting to learn about the stories that make up someone’s life. What stories hold the foundation of the ground on which you stand?

 


Anne-Audrey is a black queer woman of Haitian descent, 2nd generation. The layers of her identity are explored through the art that she creates and the community she strives to be a part of and build. The main themes being diaspora identity, healing, land, queerness, trauma, and migration, and how they all interact with one another. She loves creating, whether it be theatre, djembe drumming, poetry, or cooking; trying to break the boxes she was taught to exist in. Channeling her self-discovery journey is a healing and revolutionary act where she reclaims the power of authoring her own narrative. Currently based in Montreal, she studies Performance Creation at Concordia University, and facilitates i woc up like dis: self-discovery, a workshop series for women of color, using theatre and photography for healing and transformation. @findinglyfe_