Whenever I meet someone from Haiti, even for the first time, it feels like a reunion. There’s a sympathetic sensibility that bonds all of us who’ve come to love The Magic Island and its people.
Jonise Robert’s father received political asylum in the US in the 1990’s. A few years later he was able to bring his wife and two of his three children to the United States. Jonise grew up in Miami, graduated from college, dated women as well as men. She met David, a Marine, online. They courted and married. One night, lying in bed, he confessed, “I have something to tell you.” She replied, “I know. You’re a woman.” Simple as that. David is now Dawn. They’re still married. Jonise loved David, now she loves Dawn. Whatever comes her way, Jonise glides with the flow. So Haitian.
They moved to Denver by choice. “We lived in a camp ground for a few weeks until we got jobs.” They love the city, which she feels is more accepting of an interracial same-sex couple than Florida. Jonise was considering law school until she began working for Goodwill Industries, which contracts to the Denver Public Schools for special teaching services. Now, Jonise teaches eight graders at Place Bridge Academy, a refugee immigrant K-8 school, a transition course to prepare them for high school. “I teach them everything I wish I learned when I came to the United States. Not just academics, but mediation, advocacy, and self-awareness.”
Jonise and I met during lunch; she shared her diri et sos poi with me. I laughed that she prepared it American–style; she placed a piece of fish on top of the rice and bean paste. In Haiti, that would be an exceptional treat.
Jonise returned to Haiti last summer, her first visit since leaving in 2003. She realized it would be difficult to live there again; her mindset has become too American. “The international aid community keeps Haiti in a subordinate role in the world. The philanthropy keeps people fed, but also keeps them down. Although we are no longer slaves, we are enslaved. If you give, then give. Give without conditions.”
Jonise gave me a tight hug before her next class. Actually, during less than an hour together, she gave me three hugs. So Haitian.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I think there’s a lot of promise with the next generation. I have experienced a lot of compassion. I ask my students what they want to do to advance the world. They discuss GMO’s, transsexual rights, bias, issues we didn’t even now about at their age.”