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  • Writer's pictureunheardvoicesmn

Elyzabeth Coriolan, Hatian American

I was born in Worthington. My dad is from Haiti and my mom is from Iowa. They started their relationship in Haiti, but my dad wanted his children to have a better life so when my mom got pregnant with my older brother Kevin, she moved to the United States and returned to Minnesota.

My parent's enrolled me in a private school for the first 8 grades at St. Mary's Catholic School. Attending private school was nice but the majority of the students that I was surrounded by were white. There was one Hispanic girl and she was my only friend. When we finally got another kid of color, again, he was the only kid that would talk to me. We had a very small class of 22. So, going from a private elementary school to public school was a very big shock. It was way different. I don't think I really understood identity or understood who I was as a person until I left school because I always felt like I had to play a role when I was going to school here. I was the only Haitian student, I had no one to speak my language to, so I kind of stopped speaking Creole. And now I don't know to say anything, I know how to read it but I don’t really speak it. A lot of the black girls always told me I was white washed, and the white girls told me I was too Black. I just had to find my space, but it was difficult. And so, I feel because of that, it helped me understand it a bit more about myself. I was very proud to be Haitian and I did a lot of research on my own to learn more of the history and everything that happened in Haiti, since the school system did not give me that education.

I wish we had more than just one event in the summer that celebrated our community. We have such a diverse environment around us and so many cultures we can appreciate; their art, food, language, their people. I wish we appreciated our diversity as much as we exploit them. There is a difference between appreciating and appropriating someone's culture. We use our diversity, so our town looks good. At the same time, we don’t have many teachers of color in our community, we don't have local government leaders of color. We don’t even have a person of color on our school board. That is very sad because we have a lot of educated people well rounded who could do the same exact job, do it better and be able to reach out to a larger community and be more inclusive.

Hopes for the community:

I hope that someday our school system will represent the students that are sitting in the classroom. I also hope that students get taught a wide array of history in their classrooms. For example, in history class they will teach you about Haiti but they might only talk about voodoo but won't tell you about how they were about to be brought to America to be slaves, but they fought back and created their own country. Spain tried to take them over and they fought back as a community. They even had a dictator, a Haitian dictator, and they fought back as a community, but you never hear about this history. If it's not voodoo, then the student only hears how poor Haiti is and so are it's people. On the flag they have L'Union Fait La Force, unity is strength, because they realized as a community that when they come together and don't take advantage of each other they can together fight for the common good. If we learned the history of other places, maybe the United States can realize that we need to come together as a people instead of fighting each other because of our differences.

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