ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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The bottom line is we’d like our immigrants to be disposable, to work when

 we need them, then disappear when we don’t. We don’t want them to

 have children because we worry that their children will crowd

our schools and we’d rather have them taking care of our own



Books by Edwidge Danticat


The Dew Breaker  / Breath, Eyes, Memory  / Krik? Krak!  /The Farming of Bones  / Brother, I'm Dying

The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States  / Eight Days Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490

After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti  /  Behind the Mountains

Beacon Best of 2000: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors

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Out of the Shadows

By Edwidge Danticat


A few years ago, I flew to Port-au-Prince from New York while my cousin Laris was flown in the cargo section of a jet from Miami. Once I’d slept past the initial fright of takeoff, I strapped on the free headphones and chose a song by the rock group Midnight Oil from the in-flight CD selection:

How can we dance while the world keeps turning?
How can we sleep while our beds are burning?

At the same time on one of the flight’s pretaped news shows appeared a clip from an old speech by Pat Buchanan, calling for a timeout on immigration. If America is to survive as a nation, he declared, we need to bring down the curtain on hyphenated Americanism.

Across the aisle from me, a man in a wrinkled brown suit shuffled a few papers on the tray table in front of him. He had been escorted by immigration officers past the security checkpoint, right through the gate, and into his seat on the airplane. He was a deportee. While looking over at him, I thought of my cousin Laris, who, in his own way, had also been cast off. At thirty, Laris had died of a mysterious illness that he’d been too poor and too frightened to seek medical care for because he’d come to Miami by boat and was undocumented.

I’ve been thinking about Laris a lot lately as I have watched the massive protests in support of the nearly twelve million undocumented men, women, and children currently in the United States.

Already forced to live, and sometimes die, in the shadows, they could have been driven further underground by the threat of draconian measures that would criminalize not only them but those who’d attempt to help them—the doctor who tends to the sick, the teacher who educates a child, the priest who shelters the dispossessed.

Much has been made of the types of flags waved and the languages in which placards were written and slogans spoken at these demonstrations. But much more notable is the courage of such a large number of undocumented workers to leave, for a day or two, jobs at which they have no protections, to make their presence known to the rest of the country and indeed to the entire world.

In post-9/11 America, where protests are easily pegged as anti-American, more so if the participants are not U.S. born, it is truly remarkable that those whose place in our society is most precarious would gather in nearly every major city of the United States for what in some cases have been the biggest demonstrations recorded to date. These protests are bringing at least some measure of dialogue between segments of the population that would wish to deny the existence of the others. And for once the exchange is not only between pundits and politicians but involves the concerned parties themselves, those whose children would be turned away from schools, who would be denied a doctor when sick.

True to the spirit of this nation as a land of immigrants, a community that is used to finding safety in invisibility has emerged to speak in its own voice. For at the center of this debate is the redefinition of America itself—and as in decades past, with immigration at the forefront of that process.

There is perhaps more discomfort now in the fact that a large percentage of the twelve million undocumented are poor and brown and from the developing world. For years, people like Pat Buchanan have bemoaned the fact that there was no melting taking place in the pot. They consider un-American what they see as the immigrant’s backward glance at their sometimes poverty stricken and politically heated homelands.

Monies sent back are equated with taxes not being paid. Newborn babies are health care thieves. And since good fences make good neighbors, especially when only one neighbor can afford to build or would seemingly benefit from the fence, images of barbed-wire topped walls with armed Minutemen on the other side dance around in wistfully nativist heads.

At the heart of these protests is also the obligation of a country that needs, yet despises, those who comprise a large percentage of its fundamental workforce. Should we desire in our midst a group of people only when they’re willing to do for less pay the work that our own citizens find too grueling, too demeaning, or too hazardous? The moral question aside, what does it say about our own societal structure that we cannot within our own borders make these jobs more appealing and more humane for our own citizens?

The bottom line is we’d like our immigrants to be disposable, to work when we need them, then disappear when we don’t. We don’t want them to have children because we worry that their children will crowd our schools and we’d rather have them taking care of our own. We don’t want them to get sick because we worry that they’ll fill up hospital beds alongside the other forty-five million uninsured Americans, at our expense.

We don’t want them to get old, at least not within our borders, because we don’t want them to have to touch the diminishing Social Security funds that many of them have been steadily contributing to.

But as our children have grown, so have theirs, and they see this country as their own. It was these children who were, for the most part, the ones walking out of schools with their friends, marching down the streets with the flags of their parents’ homelands, honoring the duality of their existence. These children, along with their parents, are now saying that they are tired of living in the shadows.

The immigrants who rallied are tired of losing loved ones to national tragedies such as 9/11 without receiving the comfort and compensation enjoyed by other families. Citizenship is the highest honor this country can bestow, and they know it. That’s why so many have fought and died in Iraq only to be naturalized posthumously.

I am sorry, Mr. Buchanan, but it is too late now to bring down the curtain on hyphenated Americanness. Perhaps it has always been.

For some, this is a matter of politics and rhetoric, but for many of those who marched and will perhaps continue to march in the weeks and months to come it is a matter of life and death.

My cousin Laris lived and died in the shadows. However, as these demonstrations have shown, others don’t necessarily have to. No matter where we go from here, thousands in cities throughout the United States have finally risen from their burning beds to demand not only recognition, but a fair and reasonable solution.

Source: Progressive


Edwidge Danticat--born 1969 in Jacmel, Haiti--moved to the United States when she was twelve. Her first languages were Creole and then French. She attended high school in Brooklyn and graduated from Barnard College and earned her MFA at Brown University.

Her much-praised first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memorya lyrical and austere portrait of the Haitian diaspora in their Brooklyn exilewas published in 1994, at aged 25. A year later Krik? Krak!  her first collection of short stories, was nominated for the US National Book Award. Her second novel The Farming of Bones recreates the events surrounding the Haitian Massacre of 1937 (15,000 slaughtered by Trujillio's regime in the Dominican Republic), examining the struggle "of two different people trying to share one tiny piece of land." The Farming of Bones was an American Book Award winner. She is also the editor of The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States  and Beacon Best of 2000: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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A Wreath for Emmett Till

By Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary—School Library Journal

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Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work

By Edwidge Danticat

Create Dangerously is an eloquent and moving expression of Danticat's belief that immigrant artists are obliged to bear witness when their countries of origin are suffering from violence, oppression, poverty, and tragedy. In this deeply personal book, the celebrated Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat reflects on art and exile, examining what it means to be an immigrant artist from a country in crisis. Inspired by Albert Camus' lecture, "Create Dangerously," and combining memoir and essay, Danticat tells the stories of artists, including herself, who create despite, or because of, the horrors that drove them from their homelands and that continue to haunt them. Danticat eulogizes an aunt who guarded her family's homestead in the Haitian countryside, a cousin who died of AIDS while living in Miami as an undocumented alien, and a renowned Haitian radio journalist whose political assassination shocked the world. Danticat writes about the Haitian novelists she first read as a girl at the Brooklyn Public Library, a woman mutilated in a machete attack who became a public witness against torture, and the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and other artists of Haitian descent. Danticat also suggests that the aftermaths of natural disasters in Haiti and the United States reveal that the countries are not as different as many Americans might like to believe..CaribbeanLiterarySalon  / Review and Interview by Kam Williams

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 29 May 2006




Home  Toussaint Table   Interviews   Mau Mau Aesthetics

Related files: The Dew Breaker  Out of the Shadows   How the U.S. Impoverished Haiti  No, Mister! You Cannot Share My Pain!  The hate and the quake  Jean Saint-Vil of Canada Haiti Action    

The Revolutionary Potential of Haiti  Nobody ever chose to be a slave   Haiti on the UN Occupation