As a Haitian-American woman, I was raised with the expectation I would have to endure and was told stories of how my parents and grandparents have endured and overcome poverty and hardship. High levels of suffering were normalized aspects of life to my family and so was the expectation to overcome it. There was almost an indifference to suffering because it was expected from us. It was too common to even feel it was worth mentioning. As a result, healing was rarely seen as relevant, possible, or necessary. The need for and access to emotional support always felt distant, if not absent. My family was very supportive in many ways. They will give until their hand is empty. They will drive hours just to bring you food while their fridge is hollow. They were unafraid of struggle and believed the key to overcoming hardship was a close family unit. However, they were inexperienced and uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability and any communication about suffering.
When poverty is a part of a community for generations and generations, it becomes a fundamental part of the culture, which designs behavior. Poverty forces people to focus on physical needs and physical support for survival. As a result, emotional and mental needs are neglected. Physical support becomes the primary focus and everything else is moved to the background. Thus, when a family member has a crisis that requires emotional support, there may be no one experienced in or comfortable providing it and that person’s suffering goes unsupported. When the levels of our needs aren’t balanced by the levels of support we have, conflict is inevitable. Our needs evolve with time and change depending on the circumstances; if our support system has not evolved to support these needs, we are unprepared for crisis and vulnerable to its consequences.
Our culture is a factor in the perspectives we have and the habits we form. Resilience is such a significant part of Haitian culture. Our country was born from enduring and overcoming enormous obstacles and resistance. Whether it be overthrowing colonizers, surviving trade embargoes, enduring natural disasters, or studying through fierce hunger, the Haitian people remain resilient even when hope is low. We endure and we take pride in our ability to endure. We glorify our toughness and deny our vulnerabilities. We should be proud of how much we’ve overcome but we should also be proud to heal old wounds and grow in different ways. Our history is full of continuous trauma and we’re used to it. It has become normal to us. Healing seems like a luxury we can’t afford. However, healing has no price but time and suffering comes at a great cost.
What is the meaning and purpose of resilience? Is resilience about maintaining circumstances or transforming them? Do we endure to maintain the status-quo or do we endure to transform it? From my perspective, to be resilient is to be adaptive, to be able to pivot and move forward. I believe resilience is shaping ourselves to life rather than being shaped by life. Endurance is the ability to withstand challenges. Resilience is the ability to transform challenges. Haitians are resilient people, without a doubt. As we grow as a people, I hope our growth includes transforming our suffering into healing.