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“Where in Africa are you from?”

The following is excerpted from Twelve Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child:

Years ago, when I was doing my residency in Chicago, I was making my way through the hospital cafeteria when a tall, slender, white attending physician approached. He looked me up and down, almost as though in resignation. “Where in Africa are you from?” he finally said.

Here we go again, I thought: once more I must be reminded that although I am a medical resident, although I have lived two decades in America, even though I have returned to Haiti just once in twenty years, I am still the other.

“Oh, let’s see,” I said, sounding casual. As a resident, my showing disrespect could come back to haunt me—but maybe I could have a little fun. “I was from Africa about four hundred years ago.”

He looked at me, incredulous. “What do you mean?”

“I was from Africa about four hundred years ago, but I have been living in America ever since.”

As he stood there confused, I looked to leave before I said something I would regret. “I am from the Caribbean, born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents.”

His face contorted, and I smiled and left to rejoin my resident group.

Where do I belong?

For people like me, whose lives have straddled several societies, the question of finding the true self while still feeling like the other no matter where we go is elusive, ever-evolving, and for some, never-ending. Since moving to the United States as a teenager I have been caught between assimilating fully as an American and trying to negotiate and retain other parts of myself that are indispensable to me: my birthplace in the Bahamas, and Haiti, where I spent twelve years of a simple and decent if checkered childhood. I cannot belong solely to any of these three places, but all three are essential to who I have been and who I will become.

As the great poet Maya Angelou, who was so comfortable in her skin, once said, “I belong everywhere and nowhere.”

Twelve Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child is due out May 22! Click here to preorder.

For another sneak peek (read the full first chapter for free), click here.

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