2 weeks ago
Monday, July 14, 2008
I have long wanted to read the autobiography of Jean-Robert Cadet, Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American
I finally got the chance and what an emotional journey. My senses are still reeling and I've had a few days now to process it.
Jean-Robert or Bobby, as he was called, lived his entire childhood as a restavec. According to his own definition, " a slave child". He states that restavecs are treated worse than slaves because they don't cost anything and their supply seems inexhaustible. Poor families in far away villages think this is a way for their children to have a better life. Often education is promised but rarely delivered.
Jean-Robert had a wealthy father and a poor mother who worked in one of his factories. After his mother's death he was left with his father's current lover to raise. A baby. Defenseless. Treated worse than a slave.
His story is one of cruelty, hatred, and fear. Hated by those around him. Cruelly forced to work at an early age. Sporadic schooling. Never allowed to interact with the people around him. And always wondering if he would be beaten to death like others he knew or taken to the police for some infraction.
After each horrific episode of his life is recounted, I just felt despair for all the Haitian children caught up in this life, and loathing for the Haitians that accept this as perfectly acceptable. But I soon realized that the North American way is not a rosebed either. We have our own prejudices and faults which Cadet faces when he follows his "family" to the US.
Here he finishes high school and finally separates himself from his restavec status. But the damage is done. He is physically and emotionally scarred. With perseverence against incredible odds, he finishes high school, joins the army, becomes a ranger, finishes several college degrees, and gets married. Ah, life should be perfect, but along the way, he is rejected by white and black peers, paid less than white peers, unable to maintain healthy friendships, and consumed with rage.
Jean-Robert Cadet's accomplishments are remarkable. However, I think his ability to face each day, to just put one foot in front of the other, is the most remarkable accomplishment of all.