Haitian Christmas in Dominican Republic

"My name is Islandia and my mother is Haitian. She left Haiti many years ago. She left running away, with great fear, from the terrible stories that even today when she remembers them, make her cry...would you like a coffee? She arrived in Dominican Republic pregnant with me. She came walking and I was born here. I am 24 and have two sons: Jackson and Johnny, 3 and 5 years old. We are an undocumented family (laughs). My mother, a refugee. Myself, with no country, I am neither Haitian nor Dominican, but you see, I do exist! I live here, this is my house and this is my body! And my sons Dominican-Haitians... with no papers, with no nationality recognized, with no identification card, without a right to education, to a dignified job, without being able to leave the country, to visit Haiti, the country of our mother, our grandparents, our culture, our language..." 


Talk to me about Christmas 

Christmas is less celebrated, as the years go by. My mother hums Criollan songs with no words because nobody understands them and (lowering her voice) many neighbours don't like listening to them, they don't like listening to Kreyol, you know? They are afraid... If only they understood them, if they understood their words, their poetry full of solidarity, poems full of love... but they are no longer sung... they are only hummed, remembering old days but forgetting our history... is the coffee good? A little hot and sweet as we like it!


And Christmas Eve, how do you celebrate it? 

On the 24, we go to midnight Mass together and we ask God to accompany us in our suffering, not to leave us alone. And on the 25 we stay home...People drink a lot and sometimes there are problems... so we prefer to stay quietly at home. 


Does any of the Haitian tradition still remain in the Christmas celebration? 

Yes! On the first of January, to celebrate Haiti's independence, the only meal in the day is a pumpkin soup. This has a great symbolic value among us. The French did not allow us to eat "joumou" (pumpkin) and when we succeeded in abolishing slavery, when we succeeded in being the first Independent Black Republic in Latin America we begun this tradition that reminds us that slavery is behind us... many years ago... but sometimes I forget. (It is the first time that her expression changes and she covers her face with her hands. After a few seconds, that seem an eternity to me, she withdraws her hands and a big smile comes again across her face).


And the Three Kings? 

The three Kings? No, no ... (pause) they don't come this way, (a big laugh).


Thank you, Islandia, for your testimony, your joy, for the eternal Christmas one can breathe in your little house full of love. Courage. Kourage! Nap Kembe!