Monique, a Brooklyn childhood behavioral specialist, lives in Brooklyn with her husband and toddler daughter. I was first drawn to her by her stories of breastfeeding and her stunning photos. We spoke about her Haitian roots and how her upbringing inform her motherhood today.
How do you identify yourself racially?
I identify as black, specifically Haitian American. A big part of my identity is being born to Haitian immigrant parents.
Where were you born and where have you lived?
I was born in Jamaica, Queens NYC. I was born in and grew up in Queens until the age of 18. I attended university in central Pennsylvania and upon my return to NYC I landed a teaching job in Brooklyn and have been living here for over a decade.
Did having a multiracial family factor into where you live now?
I moved to East Flatbush, Brooklyn because I fell in love with a beautiful brick house that was built in 1925. East Flatbush is a Carribean neighborhood very similar to Crown Heights where I lived for the last seven years. The biggest factor in our choice was the amount of space we would get and affordability. We felt very comfortable and welcomed in our former Caribbean neighborhood and feel comfortable here as well. Our block is diverse. We have neighbors from Jamaica, St. Vincent, Barbados, Panama, Costa Rica and an Orthodox Jewish family from Argentina.
How did your families respond to you being an interracial couple?
We were lucky. Both of our families welcomed us with open arms. My sisters are both married to Haitian men but, my parents were fine with me dating and marrying outside of my race. My parents are not ones to meddle or interfere with my relationship choices. Even when I was in my teen years and had a boyfriend that wasn’t the best match for me. They gave me the space to figure that out for myself. My father’s philosophy is this: at the end of the day, it is me who will go through the day to day with this person and learn to live with this person so he doesn’t feel he could ever tell me who to choose whether that person be a male or female, black or white. My husband is one of four children and the only one who’s married. My daughter is his family’s only grandchild and niece. They love us and have supported our relationship and have respected our wishes in so many ways.
Do you know many other multiracial families?
Yes, we do know many other multiracial families. It’s great that we are able to raise our daughter amongst friends who share her multiracial identity. Our neighborhood is mostly Carribean, but we live in Brooklyn and we are so grateful that we were able to purchase a home here and set down roots here.
Does your daughter speak the family languages?
I speak Haitian Creole. My daughter isn’t fluent, but I’ve been trying my best to speak to her in Haitian Creole. I’m also looking into French immersion programs for when she starts school. My husband speaks English and no other languages.
Have you explained to your child what her racial makeup is?
Our daughter is just two years old and we have not discussed her racial identity. She knows her colors and is aware that she has brown skin. She is also aware that mommy has dark brown skin and daddy has peach skin. She knows that her parents look different from one another but this is her normal.
Have you encountered any sort public conflict based on race or complexion?
Yes, I started to count how many times I was asked, “Is that your daughter?” It was so many that I lost count. I carried my daughter for 40 weeks and 4 days. I gave birth to her vaginally without any drugs and was super sensitive and hormonal postpartum and it was very offensive that strangers would have the gall to inquire any information about my child, as frankly it isn’t any of their business.
My husband was only asked once. As a white man with a brown child, for the most part people respected the boundaries. Maybe she’s his, maybe she’s adopted but they kept their thoughts to themselves. Only once, at Afropunk Festival here in Brooklyn. It was very crowded and he chased after her and a few women stopped him and asked if that was his daughter. They thought he was maybe trying to snatch her up and were being protective of her. It wasn’t even just out of curiosity it was for a purpose. It’s interesting because I think she looks like both of us. I think she looks more like me actually, but we live in a society that is very color centric and they don’t notice her nose which is very much like mine and her dark eyes. She even makes many of the same mannerisms I make.
How do you teach your child about her ethnicity and heritage through traditions or customs?
Since she is very young, we haven’t started any traditions, but something that is very important to me is for my daughter to know Haiti. When she is older, I’d love for her to spend the summer in Haiti and become fluent in Haitian Creole. I want her to experience eating tropical fruit and I want her to know about poverty. I want her to know that how we live in America isn’t everyone’s reality.
I went to Haiti for the first time when I was 20 years old. It was certainly a shock for me on so many levels. I’m proud to be from the first black free republic. I’m proud to be from a country where people live in communities and there is trust. This is a simple example but it stayed with me. I remember buying a fresh squeezed juice on the street. I immediately went to pay after the juice was handed to me. The man refused to take my money. He told me to go and have a seat and enjoy my juice. After I have finished the drink, I should come back and pay him. Yes, this man is trying to make money, but he also takes pride in people truly enjoying the product he is selling. In a nut shell, I’d love to share with her all the proverbs of Haiti and the dance and the intense way in which people trust and care for one another. I also want her to see how resilient, innovative and strong the people are. Whenever we had a problem to solve as children, my mom would say, “we are Haitian so we will find a way.”
How do you celebrate your holidays?
Both our families celebrate Christmas and we alternate back and forth with which family we celebrate. For us it’s a time to be with family that we don’t get to see all year. My side has lots of children so in the future I could see us spending more time with my family because it’s fun for my daughter to celebrate with her six cousins.
How do your families aide in developing ethnic identity?
My family aids in building her identity by helping us to raise our daughter. My mom cared for her the first two years of her life and she eats Haitian food and hears Haitian Creole being spoken. My husband’s family is further away in the South and perhaps as she gets older she’ll learn more about southern food, southern history and possibly visit where her grandparents grew up.
How does your culture factor into your parenting?
My culture factors into my parenting in the sense that it makes parenting complicated. I think about how my parents raised us and some things I liked and other things I didn’t. One thing that I like and I factor into my parenting is the child having a voice. Growing up, I was raised to believe that the only difference between myself and adults were that they happen to be born earlier. They were not my superiors and my voice mattered. This is something that is important to me that I consider in my parenting.