Ou Pati

Artwork of Haitian grandfather sitting outside with child and woman in th background.

On January 23, 2023, I googled “haiti the land of:”

Haiti, the land of the dead.

My grandfather loved to tell stories about Haiti to anyone who would listen; the black sand; his beach house; taking his boat from one side of the island to the other; the sharks.

My grandfather stood tall at 6′1″ with a lean build and a clean-shaven head. His skin was the color of chokola, straight from the cocoa bean, and his face was long, nose wide. His eyes were dark and piercing. He had a strong jaw and a stern tone, but not with me. With me, his voice was softer and always accompanied by a wide smile and a belly laugh.

My grandmother was 5′3″ and as quiet as she was short. Her clothes were always covered in floral prints, and she kept her long black hair in one braid that went down her back — almost reaching her waist. Her skin was the color of mamba, smooth and creamy as if it were made straight out of the peanut shells. She had light grey eyes and a tiny mole on the curve of her upper right eye. Her smile was different, smaller, more polite, and it started in her eyes.

On Thursday nights, when I closed my eyes, Haiti is where my grandfather and I would sit outside looking out at the ocean from the porch of a two-story cream-colored beach home. We sat comfortably in dark wooden chairs, eating our kenep straight off the tree while my grandmother made fried fish with wild rice in the kitchen. The air was fresh, and the palm trees gave us privacy from our neighbors.

Then my grandfather, never too far from his radio, would start dancing as he turned the volume up. A melodic Kompa tune blasts from the same dusty old radio he’s had since the 80s. Suddenly, he is standing in front of me, swaying his hips, barefoot in the sand, laughing at me and telling me I can’t dance. I just roll my eyes and eat my fruit. I hear my grandmother laughing from the kitchen window as she’s cleaning the fish, scrapping at its scales with her knife. She starts to sing along, and her voice is soft, like always.

Those memories are real, even if I wasn’t awake.

If I close my eyes I can remember it all as if it is happening right now. I can hear my grandfather’s music and taste my grandmother’s food. I can feel a breeze on my skin brushing me softly just like the fan ceiling above my grandparent’s bed. I can smell my grandmother’s skin as I nuzzle myself into her neck when she engulfs me in a hug and pats my back.

I’ve never been to Haiti because my grandfather never allowed me to go. “It’s too dangerous,” he would say, but when I thought about Haiti I never thought of danger.

To me, Haiti was never what is described on the news. It wasn’t the poverty-stricken island that never met its full potential after becoming the first Black population to free themselves from slavery. It wasn’t a land in constant recovery from earthquakes, hurricanes and the lingering effects of colonialism. It wasn’t battling dictatorship and political warfare and the not-so-secret interference from the American and French governments. It wasn’t where Presidents get assassinated and gangs ruled the island. It wasn’t full of rejected refugees who attempted to find a better life in the Dominican Republic or the United States of America but were sent back for not being the “right” type of immigrant. It wasn’t an island where illness ran amok and the people were constantly battling a cholera outbreak. It wasn’t a land full of wealth disparity where the rich are viewed as a threat if they aren’t in support of the dictatorship. It wasn’t an island where children were taught to only speak their native tongue at home and to use French in public so they’re not viewed as uneducated and lesser. It’s not the island where its other half despises it for its darker complexion and kinkier hair.

Haiti was my grandfather dancing around the living room while he told the rest of us that we were all bad dancers compared to him. We’re too American.

Haiti was the smell of my grandmother’s cooking; the salty fish, the seasoned rice, and the chewy boi.

Haiti was the floral curtains my grandmother placed at every window and the singular braid she wore in her hair.

Haiti was my grandmother—a Haitian-Dominican-Taino woman born into poverty. When I was a child, and before I knew how inappropriate the term was, she was my real-life Pocahontas. Not in a derogatory way. At six and seven years old, it was the only way I could articulate how beautiful she was to me. She was a real Disney princess.

Haiti was my grandfather–A dark-skinned man who grew up with the wealth of a military man on an island full of the poor. A man fluent in Kreyol, French, English, and Spanish and attended boarding school in Cuba before joining the Haitian army.


On April 9th, 2017, my grandmother died.

On November 7th, 2022, my grandfather died.


Haiti is where my grandmother refused to return after being on the bitter end of the colorism and nationality divide that plagued the island of Hispaniola. Feelings of being unwanted led to feelings of isolation. Unwanted by the Taino for being too Black; unwanted by the Dominicans for being too Haitian, but the epitome of beauty to Haitians that saw her beauty first in her skin.

Haiti is where my grandfather was forced to leave his family behind to escape a dictatorship due to the government’s fear of his financial and military influence. Haiti is where descendants of the Italian enslavement became known for their power and ruthlessness. Haiti is where we get our last name.

Haiti is a land of a decades-long civil war.

Haiti is on the brink of state failure.

Haiti is a disaster zone where people are dying every day.

Haiti is unsupported by the rest of the Caribbean.

Haiti is unwanted.

When I google, “Haiti the land of:”

It’s all true.