Thoughts about Language

I am Haitian-American, second generation. My mother moved to Brooklyn, New York from Haiti when she was 26. In terms of the diaspora, I consider myself a crest. I am the whitest part of the wave that crashes head first upon the newest version of these loose American shores.

Having lived in Haiti for four years, and doing 3 years of primary school there, my kreyol has always been fluent. But even after leaving Haiti to move back to the States, within my household, I spoke kreyol with my mother and sister equal to, if not more than, the amount of times I spoke English. I love to be able to say that I moved effortlessly from kreyol to English and back again.

The movement between these two languages would end up meaning more than I thought at the time. I’ve come to realize that kreyol is not solely a language that gives me access to stories of Haiti, or our untranslatable jokes. It acts a bridge to the different ways of my people. The hip check that comes with the exclamation of certain words. The tutting, the mocking giggles that fly in Haiti and yet can’t slip from my lips in English without feeling as if I’ve someone’s feelings, were all accessible when speaking kreyol. There is a freedom in kreyol which reflected a history rooted in my peoples’ acquirement of it. It is accompanied by my people’s ability to take both the good and bad of life and live among it. This language is the Blues.

I woke up thinking of language here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and decided I was going to spend my entire day thinking in kreyol. No one I work with speaks kreyol, and neither do the people I live with and but it’s not solely the language that I miss. The feeling of bereftness is not just in my hips, but my lips. There’s also an underlying sense of play within the language itself, and once upon a time I was able to easily occupy both spaces. Once upon a time, I was a pleasantly placed hyphen. Now everyday, I struggle to not let any of the Haitian sand slip through my fingers. Despite all this, now, even my kreyol thoughts have an American accent. What once slithered easily and had free rein in my brain now moves shackled by a new culture, and new cultural nuances. My hips don’t move as easily anymore, my laughters have softened, the hard “a”s have become soft.

I miss my people, my mocking, cackling, politicking people. I miss conversations that sound like arguments and a language that bites down hard on politeness and swallows it into oblivion. I listen to Haitian music now, so the language in the dark corners of my mind can feel purposely. Kreyol, you seem as if you are getting old. As if your body cannot move quite like it used to. Like you are not able to do as much work as you used to. Kreyol, if this is so, my entire self is dying for your words. Feed me your stories and take me back to dusty atmosphere days where the air glowed with possibilities and the skies sang with barefoot steps and jump ropes sweeping the ground.

 

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