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In light of his comments about us

| Tuesday, February 27, 2018

In case it was lost in translation, he said,

  1. “[The Haitian immigrants who received visas in 2017] all have AIDS.”
  2. “Why are we bringing people from s—hole countries like Haiti and African countries? Why can’t we bring more people from Norway?”
  3. “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

This is fact. He said these things, and the echo of these statements rings through the rooms and halls of my small house every day. They make everything we own feel colder. They make everything we do feel unlawful. They make every laugh we share feel detested. A happy Haitian family. They make us feel like we are a thing of someone’s nightmares.

Let me share with you the effect this has had on me.

I was alone when I saw #Haiti trending. … I thought maybe there was another earthquake. I thought there is no other reason why the world would be thinking about us. Still, I wasn’t surprised when I discovered the story behind the attention. The president had made blatantly racist comments about Haiti and “African countries,” thus arousing our nation’s blatantly racist population. I wasn’t surprised really, just very frustrated. Regardless, I went downstairs to tell my mother about the gem of a story I’d just read.

My mother, of course, already knew the story and was blaring the news reports from our living room television. I sat beside her and bit back confused tears. A few minutes into the news, she said, “I guess this is all we are to them,” and she began to cry. And when she left the room, I began to as well.

When the shock of the situation died down in my house, we took to laughing and utilizing our freedom of speech, and Anderson Cooper told us that the next day was the eight-year anniversary of the disastrous 2010 earthquake in Haiti. And then I realized: No one in the U.S. really pays attention to us. To Haitians. Allow me to explain.

As a child, I had resigned to a life of explaining myself and confirming the validity of my origins. When my peers would ask me about my ethnicity, I’d just say I was Haitian, which often led to my performance of the tedious task of explaining what Haiti was: “No, it is not in Africa. Yes, I swear it’s on the west hemisphere. I promise you’ve seen it before. Do you know where the Dominican Republic is? Yes? Then you know where Haiti is.” I had accepted the fact that we were not worth recognition.

When the earthquake happened in Haiti, I understood that, suddenly, Haiti was visible. You couldn’t turn on the news without hearing about Haiti. I hate to say it, but it felt like a natural disaster finally put Haiti on people’s maps. It only took an earthquake, but suddenly we were real. Suddenly, Haiti was “a Caribbean country that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic to its east.”

Later, when we’d learn about Haiti in middle and high school, I’d sit up straight. Now, people will know who we are. But we only ever learned about Haiti in the worst light. We would only learn about my country through the lens of destruction and immense poverty. Once, a teacher asked our class, “What is the poorest country in the world?” And everyone answered “Haiti” in what seemed like pre-programmed unison. And suddenly I thought, “Is this what people think of when I introduce myself? Is this all we are? A s—hole?”

So, when he made those comments, I was reminded of how no one ever pays attention to Haiti until it is in the worst light. No one ever pays attention to us until something awful happens to us. Until hundreds of thousands of us are killed. Or until the president says something atrocious about us. Because then they can reinforce the narrative they have written for us.

How many more times are we going to be seen in this light? When are people going to let us be beautiful? When can we be good? When can we be exquisite?

Will people pay attention to us when we laugh? When we sing and dance? When we write and build and create? Or do we have to suffer for people to see us? Do we have to die for people to love us?

When will people see in us the capacity to feel and to dream and to cry?

Theresa Azemar is a freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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