“Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck.” ~ Orson Welles.
Mother-daughter relationships are tricky. I am not one of those who can say my mother was my best friend. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but it never occurred to me to ‘tell my mother everything’. As a matter of fact, I made sure to tell her very little about things I went through as an adult. I was once able to use this fact to comfort a friend who had lost her own mother at an early age. The friend recognized she was angry with her mother for having her at a later age, when she already had developed health issues, as if her mother should have known she would not have lived long enough to see her to adulthood. It was the potential ideal mother-daughter relationship she mourned. I pointed out that there was no guarantee that would have been her experience.
In the case of the relationship with my own daughter, I found that to be tricky too. We were living in Miami, in a culture and time that seemed far away from my own upbringing in rural Jamaica, in a town where the whole village watched and reported on ‘Parson pickney’. But quite apart from the culture, my daughter’s personality was quite different from my own, and I wasn’t always prepared for her challenges. Whether it was her personality, or just the female-female dynamic, I found my sons to be completely different. When I would come home from work, the youngest two would arrange themselves around me, one on my lap, one between my back and the back of the chair I sat on as I tried to unwind from a busy day, reading the newspaper. After a while I would fling them off me in desperation for some space. I used to joke that you could yell at your sons, fling them across the room and five minutes later they would crawl right back into their comfort spots. With my daughter, if I looked at her wrong she would be upset for a week!
My daughter was also the eldest, and in no time she became the spokesperson for her brothers, the defender of injustice, the challenger of her father’s stern Caribbean rules of parenting. In time I used to tease her (threaten her?) that I would only rest when she had a daughter of her own, so she would understand what it is like to try to raise an opinionated, verbal, rebellious teen. Well, I got my wish! Nine years ago, my daughter was rewarded with an opinionated, verbal, rebellious toddler who continues to challenge her even more every day! And so of course, one day she found an appropriate meme to send me, one echoed by daughters of mothers everywhere: “Mom, I’m sorry for all the things that I did when I was a kid. Will you please take off the curse that my daughter will be ten times worse than me? I can’t take it anymore!”
Of course, the big challenge about raising daughters to be strong, assertive, kick-ass women, is to make sure they don’t practice those skills at home! So while my daughter is pulling her hair out at the latest ‘attitude’ her daughter has caught, I am secretly (perhaps not so secretly!) applauding and cheering in the background!
Some years ago I met up with a schoolmate, who like me, had been taught typing by my mother when we were in high school. My mother was an excellent, if exceptionally strict, teacher. She took the art and science of typing very seriously and expected her students to be just as devoted to ‘speed and accuracy’ as she was. She was a perfectionist who wanted everyone to take pride in their work. The friend approached me and begged me to ask my mother to take the curse off her! My mother had apparently told her, after my friend gave up the class in disgust, that she would live to regret the day that she did not persist in learning keyboard skills. My friend said that everyday as she sat in front of the computer, she remembered those words!
This week as we try to process what is happening in Haiti Cherie, I found myself thinking of curses. I do not pretend to be an expert on the history of Haiti. I just found out that the name is actually an Arawak name, like Jamaica (originally Xaymaca). They retained the name bestowed on the island by the original inhabitants who were wiped out by the colonizers. After Haiti was ‘discovered’ by Columbus in 1492, the French arrived in the 17th century and Haiti became one of the richest colonies, thanks to the use of enslaved Africans. But those enslaved Africans revolted, and the country won independence from France and by the beginning of the 19th century, it became the first country that was founded by former enslaved Africans. Slavery was abolished in Haiti in 1794, much earlier than elsewhere in the region.
Being the Caribbean’s first independent state came at a high price. Haiti had to pay reparations to France, to compensate the former slave owners. This was known as an ‘independence debt’, a debt they were still paying up to the 20th century. Most people who are sympathetic to the plight of the Haitian people today, would tell you that Haiti is still suffering due to the curse placed on them for having the audacity, the temerity and the nerve to have stood up to their ruling masters and demanded freedom.
Just in the past decade or two, Haiti has endured a disastrous earthquake; the ‘peacekeepers’ sent to assist with infrastructure brought cholera and killed nearly 10,000 people (in addition to the 200,000 who died from the earthquake). Hurricanes continue to lash the island, and the people remain some of the poorest in the region. And now we see the President of the country assassinated, leaving the country in further disarray. It reminds me of the words of the song: ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.’
I do not pretend to know what it would take to lift the curse for Haiti Cherie, or for the persistent systemic racism and oppression that leads to such disparity for people of color worldwide. Just as it took me having a daughter to begin to understand my mother a little better, we can start with empathy, with trying to understand the path that another has trod. Reparations can be more than money paid back, they can be demonstrated in dismantling the economic and systemic structures that continue to make it impossible for ‘all people to be created equal’. Or, as they say in Haiti: ‘L’Union fait la force’: Union makes strength. Or better yet: ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!’
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!