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A Piece of My Mind
October 26, 2011

With His Hands

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Division of General Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia (dmalebr@emory.edu).

JAMA. 2011;306(16):1741-1742. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1543

When I was a child, my father, a practicing surgeon in upstate New York, would reminisce fondly about Haiti, the small Caribbean island that raised him from the 1930s to the 1960s before he emigrated to the United States. Raised in the town of Anse-à-Veau, a rustic province in southwest Haiti adorned by pristine beaches and azure water, my father often spoke of the majestic beauty of his native country: as the first independent black republic in the world; of its abundant resources and fertile land; and of the resilience of the Haitian people despite decades of repeated social, economic, and political hardships. These remembrances, always told in his rich accent and with a vibrant joie de vivre, starkly contrasted with the uniformly depressing media narratives of Haiti as merely an island of poverty, HIV, political corruption, and natural disasters. My mother, a beautifully phenomenal woman of Ukrainian descent whose family had been in the United States for generations, worked alongside my father as his nurse and business manager for many years before their retirement. Despite our parents' amazing job of raising us, my sister and I had a curious time navigating what it meant to be biracial in the United States during the 1970s, much less figuring out what it meant to be bicultural as well. Between my father's hectic work schedule and my mother's native tongue, we never learned Haitian Kreyòl during our youth, and, because we were raised in the United States, we were somewhat distanced from identifying as Haitian American.

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