Even as a child, I have always been curious, drawn to learning about the world around me. Possibly because I was born outside Haiti—I came from the outside, so I was constantly aware of a world beyond my community and home. At my elementary school, my French and Canadian instructors exposed me to other worlds in my lessons. I wanted facts, not the hearsay that made its way through the community as though it were the absolute truth.
But information was not so easy to come by in Haiti, where there was no national or local public library system. During my time growing up in Haiti, the only place with public libraries was the capital, Port-au-Prince, which for most of us was a six- to eight-hour drive on bad roads. Otherwise, public places of learning were nonexistent, and access to books was rare unless you were fortunate enough to be part of an education program like the foreign-backed Christian Brothers school I attended. I must say that things have gotten better over the years for children in Haiti; while they don’t have state-of-the-art libraries, there are now many libraries sponsored by NGOs like FOKAL, often created by those of us in the Haitian diaspora.
My elementary school was the only school in the area that had a library at all, and I made the most of it. I always had a book under my arm. One of my favorite times was Friday afternoons, when we lined up outside the school library to get our hands on the latest Tarzan books, looking forward to spending the whole weekend reveling in his many adventures.
Years later, when I was uprooted from my community at age fifteen and sent to join my mother in South Florida, I clung to books as my anchor in this new culture and country. Here I was, in an unfamiliar environment, far from the people and places that had been constants throughout my childhood. The language was new, too. Even my beloved football had a new name here — soccer. I struggled to find community among the family members living here whom I hadn’t met or couldn’t remember.
The local library quickly became my safe space, a place where I could lose myself in information for a little while. At the same time, it was a place of wonder: I had access to more books than I could have ever dreamed was possible.
Then I discovered the sports section.
In my hometown in Haiti, I had been a rising soccer player, another part of my life I had had to leave behind when I came to the United States. But I had never seen a single soccer book, not even in my elementary school’s library. Soccer existed in a world separate from the world of books, I had thought, but now—now I could combine both of these pieces of home that gave me comfort in this new and intimidating culture.
I had joined the high school soccer team, and playing the game again brought me great comfort. So did reading about it. I buried myself in sports biographies, devouring information about Pele and other soccer heroes of the 1970s that my friends and I had admired and tried to imitate. Because I had never been able to read about my soccer heroes—we simply did not have books like that—I had contented myself with looking at posters that the older guys would bring back from Port-au-Prince, where they spent the school year. At the library in Pompano Beach, I did not have to rely on anyone else to learn about my favorite players. I spent so much time reading about the life of Pele that I even knew about his teachers, the names of his children, how many times he’d gotten married, and the time he got credit for stopping a civil war in Central America.
The library showed me a side of my own soccer heritage that I had only known through the possibly exaggerated stories and legends that floated about among my teammates and in the media. Did the sports books improve my game? Probably not, but they gave me something far beyond soccer skills: I was growing happier. I was learning more about the sport I loved. I was getting to understand the language better too, and access to newspapers was giving me a crash course in American societal and cultural norms. Assimilation became easier as I grew in confidence in my new home.
How have libraries impacted your community? What programs and resources make your library special? Share it in the comments!