Although born and raised in Miami, I was brought up in a world of Haitians. I was surrounded by the colorful language of Creole from birth. I loved nothing more than the flavorful taste of a plate of brown rice and beans, fried pork, and plantains. I listened intently to the rich stories of the past, featuring family members that I had never met.
Restavek was a word that I had never heard before. I first heard it from the mouth of a news reporter, but it was a Creole word, and I knew Creole, right? The reporter explained that a restavek is an unpaid child servant, and by the world’s definition, was a form of slavery. I was filled with confusion, and as I continued to watch the television in front of me, the images that followed, filled me with shame, sadness, anger…disbelief. I didn’t know what to make of this information, but what I couldn’t understand was why I was hearing it from someone who couldn’t be farther removed from the culture. It was through this means, though, that I was able to learn that I didn’t know as much about the place of my ancestors as I thought I did.
So, I decided to do my own research, and before I knew it, I had realized that, although, the practice of this form of child labor is widely accepted in Haiti, it is quite the taboo topic amongst Haitians. The restavek system is one where poor families, mainly from the countryside, give their children away to families in the city, where they are thought to be adopted members of the family, in exchange for housework. In reality, they are seen, and treated as less than human.
I remember asking my mom if what I was seeing and reading about was true, and having her tell me that it was, sent the worst feeling throughout my whole body.
Restaveks are not only unpaid, but they are physically, mentally, and in some cases, sexually abused. I cannot tell you guys how many times I cried my eyes out about this. The only things that went through my head at the time were: How could this take place in Haiti?How could anyone be so cruel? Can’t they see that these are children? The dumbest thing on Earth would be to free yourselves from slavery only to enslave each other.
As a Haitian-American, I feel like I should do something, so for me, the first step is continuing this dialogue. I don’t want this conversation to die until something more is done. There are great organizations out there, one of them being the Restavek Freedom Alliance (http://www.restavekfreedom.org/), where they work on the ground in Haiti helping free restavek children from their days of forced labor. Many celebrities, like Common, have also joined the fight in ending this terrible practice.
I urge you guys, if you are reading this to at least go on their website and learn more about the issue, because over 200,000 boys and girls have fallen invisible within a society that they are supposed to be a part of. Even if you choose not to look more into this topic, keep them in your thoughts, and spread the word.