My name is Edwige Danticat. I am a writer from Haiti although I now live in the United States. I have a home in Little Haiti, Miami. In the course of a single day back in 2004, I found out that I was pregnant and that my father had been diagnosed with terminal pulmonary fibrosis. I had an uncle called Joseph who owned a church in suburb located in Haitis capital city Port-au-Prince. In September 2004, Tropical Storm Jean struck Haiti, killing thousands of people a triggering a wave of violent riots. The riots spread to Bel Air, the suburb where Uncle Joseph lived.
In October 2004, Haitian riot police and UN peacekeepers mounted an operation to quell the riots in Bel Air. It turned ugly, forcing Uncle Joseph and my cousin called Maxo to make plans to flee to Miami, Florida. However, they did not arrive as expected; something that made me very worried. I then received a late night telephone call informing me that the two had been detained by customs officials at Miami Airport. They had arrived with no travel documents and were waiting to be transported to Krome Detention Center. I was informed that I could not speak to Uncle Joseph but he would contact me as soon as he got to Krome. I was angry because I felt that the two were being intentionally mistreated. Despite the fact that they were in possession of valid tourist visas and passports, I suspected they were being treated on a basis of a biased immigration policy from way back in the early 1980s. At that time, illegal immigrants from Haiti had started arriving in the state of Florida in huge numbers using boats.
My fathers condition was getting worse, and he set up an appointment with a doctor at hospital in Miami. He was sad to hear that his brother and nephew were being taken to the detention center. He knew Krome was a place where Haitians were held in detention for long periods of time and subjected to humiliation and suffering before being eventually deported. I later found out that once the two arrived at Krome, they are separated. After being subjected to a medical examination, Uncle Joseph was found to have high blood pressure and directed to a medical facility located inside the detention center. I had to call a friend of mine who is an immigration lawyer to try and negotiate their release.
Uncle Josephs condition deteriorated while at the detention center. At first, the centers medics ignored him, claiming that he is pretending to be sick. They changed their minds when he suffered from seizures, began vomiting and chronically become unconscious. Eventually, he was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he underwent a series of tests and examinations. About eight hours later, I received with great sadness the news that my uncle had passed away. I was devastated and went into depression; something that made me think might affect my unborn baby. Thankfully, cousin Maxo got released from detention to help bury his father. Given the volatile situation that was then going on in his hometown in Haiti, it was not possible for Uncle Joseph to be taken there for burial. As a family, we come to the conclusion that it would be better if he was buried in New York.
The ordeal that I went through right from the time my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness until my uncle died taught me a lot of things about life in general. For one, the experience highlighted the importance of family love and togetherness. In fact, I would not have taken time to narrate this story had I not shared the magnitude of love that sustained us through the ordeal. I felt very close to my family members, especially my father and Uncle Joseph, and that is what spurred me to tell their stories. When my father was diagnosed with terminal pulmonary fibrosis, it necessitated a family meeting that that brought my family together in our parents home located in Brooklyn. I particularly felt deep love and affection for Uncle Joseph given that he took excellent care of me when mom and dad relocated from Haiti to the United States. Thus, when he died and the appalling circumstances under which this happened saddened me deeply.
I also got to experience what it feels like to live in exile. Throughout my life, I was in exile for several spells at different times. As a child, I had to go through a period in which my parents were absent after they relocated to New York, leaving me and my brother behind in Haiti. As a grown up, I was again exiled from my family when I left New York and went to live with my husband in Miami. The decision by my father to leave as behind as he sought a better life in America had lasting consequences not just for him but for his family too. He was separated from my mother for a couple of years, and from me and my brother for almost ten years. Since we could not talk to him via telephone, we had to rely on letters as a way of staying in touch. Such isolation proved difficult for my father to extent that he even admitted that what he wished to tell us could not fit a piece of paper. Therefore, all he did was to write brief letters that informed us about small pieces of news while also assuring us that he would contact us soon. I must admit that this form of communication did little to calm our nerves.
Uncle Joseph initially stood his ground and refused to flee Haiti when chaos broke out in the country. He even declined to relocate from his rough neighborhood; something that turned out to be a recurring source of concern for me and my father. I at one time asked him why he never considered moving to New York the way my parents did. He explained that starting over in a new location was not easy since exile is just not for everyone. At least someone needs to be left behind to look after property and other things belonging to those who relocate. The fact that Uncle Joseph decided to remain behind to face unrest, political turmoil and extreme weather events made my dad a very worried man. This is despite my father knowing too well what immigrants from Haiti went through in the United States. It is bitterly ironic that my uncle eventually settled in America, but only as his final resting place. My father was saddened by the fact that his brother finally agreed to be exiled, but only when he died.
Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I'm Dying. New York: Vintage. 2007. Print.
Laferriere, Dany. Edwidge Danticat: A Reader's Guide. Ed. Martin Munro. University of Virginia Press, 2010. Print.
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