Letters from Home

Listening: “The Water Child” by Edwidge Danticat

Ours is an immigrant existence, here in America, whether we want to admit it or not. This morning I am thinking about Haiti, which of course we’ve most of us pushed to the back of our minds because we are thinking about Egypt.

Edwidge DanticatThis morning I am thinking about Haiti because I am listening to Edwidge Danticat’s short story “The Water Child”in which the protagonist is a Haitian immigrant working in a hospital in New York City, sending money home to her parents in her native island.

So many of us so-called “Americans” (by that, I mean white people whose “people” have been here awhile. We think we are the “originals”) pretend we are separeate from these people in distant lands and their suffering.

But the distance is a hair’s breadth.

They are our brother’s mother.

They are our sister’s cousins.

They are the family of our neighbors, the people who draw our blood, the people who rescue our spinning tires from the snow. Inside they are us, further flung.

They suffer sadness. They are tired of running on the wheel.

Home is immediate and home is nowhere.

They were born a child and will die old if they are lucky.

What else could be more American than that?

6 thoughts on “Listening: “The Water Child” by Edwidge Danticat

  1. I made the mistake of reading the comments at the end of an article here in Canada about immigration. There were a large number of comments along the lines of “Unless they are willing to respect our traditional Canadian values, they shouldn’t be allowed into the country.” The whole vibe here is about multiculturalism (you could argue whether or not that ideal has failed or not) – we’re a mosaic; a country that was built by and today only grows as a result of immigration. It’s maddening how many people believe that if you’re white and your grandparents (parents? great-grandparents?) were born here then you get to claim your values as authentic Canadian ones. Toronto was named by the UN as the most multicultural city in the world (if you’re white and you were born here you’re a minority) and Vancouver and Montreal (two other large Canadian cities) aren’t too far behind. So any demands that the “immigrants” adopt to our white small-town ways is nothing more than very thinly veiled racism. My great-grandparents came here from Scotland and Ireland and I no more speak for this country than does Salim with whom I work and is a 3rd generation Canadian. It would serve us all well to remember that shockingly few of us are truly from here…

    1. Brad, what a thoughtful comment. My husband is Canadian (from Vancouver) so I know the mosaic experience crosses the border. Colin’s cousin Sean has a white (Irish descent, I think) mom and a father from Trinidad who is of Indian descent. (In T+T they also have a very mixed cultural history, btw.) Sean married a woman who is Canadian, but whose family is Korean. So their children are what? They are Canadian, of course, with that mosaic experience you speak of and many powerful cultural influences in their lives.

  2. I read a book by Alistair McLeod called No Great Mischief and broke my New Year’s resolution not to read depressing and/or difficult books.

    There was a line that really resonated with me. An Irish immigrant says, “In Ireland I had no money and a home. Here, I have money and no home.” I probably screwed that up somehow, but that’s the gist of it.

    1. Patti, I was listening to this today and suddenly realized why I want to go back to Iowa so much. That isn’t my home either, since I’ve been away so long, but at least my family is there.

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