Wake up and Smell the Smoke

By Valérie Déus

I’ve been thinking about the idea of ancestral memory and wondering whether this is how my ancestors felt at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution. If I’m an amalgamation of my ancestors, then I’m probably connecting with this moment in time at the DNA level. The first few days, the smell of smoke and fire sit on your skin and in your hair. The smell stays with you and with every person you meet. The way wood sighs and pops when it burns, the ash in the water.

Fighting for independence and the right to self-determination must have been equal parts exciting and terrifying, but not more terrifying than accepting French colonial rule. Living without freedom is equivalent to zombiehood, the living dead.

When I walk through my neighborhood, I see the rage and hurt of my community after being gaslit and ignored for generations. I see the skeletal remains of corporations who make money from us but will rarely hire us. Instead, we are expected to swallow the injustice and the indignity of security following us around while the suburban kids on a day trip steal.

But, I am also surrounded by beautiful artwork that tells the story of pain, survival, and community being experienced by all of us. We are tired, nou bouke, but we are loving and caring for each other. We need to remember these lessons of love when the cameras are gone and the streets are clear. I am greeted by neighbors who seem to say hi out of new solidarity instead of the regular baseless fear. I see a community strategizing and supporting each other, creating new bonds previously unimaginable that will change the way future generations perceive us, our people and our place in the world.

I am, for the first time, hopeful.

Now, I know better than to be fooled by America. I’m a stolen person writing on stolen land; those are the facts. America loves to have a moment of awakening then backslide on every and all promises. My hope is that all this tossing and turning will finally wake America up from its deep sleep. Until then, I’ll continue to find joy in the small victories and hope they bring long lasting change in the end. Even in the face of all this pain, hurt, grief, and trauma, we find our way to joy and humor. We are resilient human beings and when the country lulls itself back to sleep, we will still be here to shake it by the collar. Wake up; we’re done waiting.