Diaspora and Shame: Stories Under my Tongue

By Anne-Audrey Remarais

my tongue

moving in different ways




left, right

the way it moves around

dances around, in my mouth

the choreography initiated by you


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_

Deeply Rooted: Healing and Reclaiming Traditional Knowledge Through the Land

By Elizabeth Farinango

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the third in the series.

The sounds of people covered up my nervousness as I approached the farmers market where Nelly sells her goods. As an introvert, I am always shy about meeting new people and this time was no exception. My cousin and I spotted her from far away and we sat drinking our milky corn drink, while I thought of ways to approach Nelly. After a few sips I finally gathered enough courage to get up and say hello. Nelly came over with a big smile and asked me why I had taken so long to get there, it was 11 am, the best produce was gone and it was almost time to pack everything up. I liked this familiarity and felt like I was meeting an old friend. She introduced me to three other women who were selling everything from fresh carrots to fermented drinks known for their digestive benefits. At that moment, I was glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. This project has been in the making for years and I’m so grateful I didn’t let my social anxiety get the best of me.

Minutes away from Ayora, the community where Nelly Morocho lives with her family. Pictured is the Cayambe Mountain.

On the ride to her house, she began narrating her story and how empowered she felt by being connected to her land and helping others make a living out of reclaiming their traditional foods and medicine.

At 54, Nelly is one of the most active and socially involved people I have ever met. Aside from being a leader of various women’s organizations in her community she is involved in running the farmers market, and training other women who are interested in learning about organic farming. She is also the granddaughter of healers, or Taitas from the Kayambi community of northern Ecuador, and through her work she advocates for the reclamation of traditional foods and medicine as a way of resistance.

Nelly Morocho welcomes me into her home as we are greeted by her chickens.

As we walk into her house, the dogs are barking and her chickens follow us up the dirt road. Nelly greets all her animals and points over to the biggest tree on the property, she explains that this tree – el floripondio blanco, a tall tree with large white flowers – is the energetic guardian of her property. People in her community have been planting these trees to guard off negative energy from those who visit since time immemorial. My heart is beyond happy to see that these traditions are kept alive, and I kneel with Nelly as she asks for permission to enter the land.  While we make our way through her farm, she shows me all the plants, fruits and vegetables she cultivates, teaching me how to prepare teas that treat all sorts of illnesses from anxiety to cancer. From something so familiar as mint to other plants such as the marco (for warding off bad energies), tilo (for reducing anxiety), mashua (for cleansing the reproductive system and prostate) and aji rocoto (a hot pepper used to treat cancer), I learn more from the two hours I spent with Nelly than I would from any book or class. She is a natural-born teacher who has made it her life’s work to take care of this land, share the wisdom and use plants to care for our physical and mental health.

Floripondio blanco t. Brugmansia arborea. In the andean region it is known for its energetic properties.

This work to reclaim ancestral foods and medicine is part of a larger movement amongst indigenous women all over Latin America who are being empowered to live lifestyles that instill pride in indigenous medicine, food and traditions. In Ecuador, every year various women’s organizations gather all over the country to trade ancestral seeds, organic produce, information and provide training on new production methods.

Nelly Morocho shows me the paico a plant used to heighten attention spans and increase productivity.

One of the things that stands out about the work being done in the Kayambi communities is the idea of reciprocity and communal learning. In addition to training women in pre-production, food handling, packaging, and customer service, many of these organizations also discuss many different aspects of social justice. Organizers such as Nelly, view a strong connection between social issues, food sovereignty and cultural survival.

My search for plants to help with depression and anxiety frame my conversation with Nelly as she begins to share different plants to help women heal themselves with things they can grow at home. She explains that one of the most common things people ask her about are menstrual cramps, for which she tells me people can use fig leaves boiled into a tea, or boiled ruda flowers. While we walk in the farm she grabs a colorful purple plant –Amaranto– and gives it to me asking me to boil it with tamarind to make a tea when I am having an anxiety attack. I grab the plants and continue our conversation about family. At this point Nelly had began telling me about her grandmother and how she had always nurtured her curiosity by taking her on healing appointments in her community. She smiled as she remembered the woman that taught her all she knows and asked me about my grandmother who has been living with me for the past year. I told her about my gratitude for my grandmother and expressed my worry for the pain she always feels in her bones. Nelly quickly walked over to a green bush with pretty purple flowers and explained that I should boil the wagra ortiga leaf into a tea and the flor filanjilla when fevers are involved.

flor filanjilla. Used to treat fevers and pain.
Wagra ortiga. Used for spiritual cleansings and in a tea for bone pain.
Ruda. Used for energetic cleansings and to treat menstrual cramps.

As my time with Nelly concludes, she shows me the wealth of seeds she’s been able to grow over the years and has invited me back to her house to learn about planting them so that I may also have my own garden with medicinal plants. This sharing is part of the work that Nelly and her organization do. For Nelly it is her life’s work to learn and pass on the wisdom left by her ancestors, and in the process, teach other women to be self-sufficient and empower them into caring for their families without pharmaceuticals.

Nelly Morocho proudly showing me her aji plants.

While visiting her, we bonded over our love for mysteries of the moon cycles, laughed while her grandson chased off the  bees, and rejoiced over the idea that we can live out healthy lives by investing our time in getting to know the flora of our lands. Getting to know her has reaffirmed the need to work collectively to heal trauma starting from something as simple as opening our doors to a stranger and sharing what we know. Before I left she reminded me to: “…be conscious that we are a reflection of the land. Take care of the land you live in and support organizations that are working hard to reclaim traditional knowledge and ancestral seeds.”

Eli Farinango is a Kichwa photographer and writer. She is currently working on exploring the ways in which healing takes place through herself and the women in her family. In the past, she has worked in journalism and with digital media as a tool for personal and community empowerment. Through photography, she seeks to explore herself, her culture and find new ways of resistance and resiliency. Her work has been featured in Red Rising Magazine, St. Sucia Zine, teleSUR English, Waging on Violence and Remezcla.  For her latest work: @elifrng