Dr. Juniper Ellis
March 28, 2015
Edwidge Danticat’s “Children of the Sea” and Elesa’s Children of the Class
In Danticat’s “Krik? Krak?”, there is the story of Celianne, a Haitian refugee as she gives birth to her child as well as gives birth to the ideal of endurance and strength to the young narrator. The character Celianne loathes how she is travelling to the United States on a raft for escape instead of economic betterment to the United States through an airplane. The narrator states, “Celianne is holding her baby tight against her chest. She just cannot seem to let herself throw the [child] into the ocean” (p 23). The mode of travel is detestable but the destination of the United States and safety is highly desirable. In addition to security, she wanted a new start for herself and her child born of an atrocity and her mother’s self-inflicted wounds. The narrator states, “Afterwards, the soldiers tied up Lionel and their mother, then they took turns raping Celianne” (23). Like the origin of her child, she hated the means of receiving her child but loves and accepts her child as the ultimate destination. The narrator states, “The same night, Celianne cut her face with a razor so no one would know who she was. Then as the facial scars were healing, she started throwing up and getting rashes. Next thing she knew, she was getting big” (24). The unwanted pregnancy results in the treasured child whom Celianne does not loathe but whose origin she repulses.
At Patterson High School, I had three Cuban American students at my reading table. Their names were Yasmin, Grierson, and Pablo. They seemed hesitant at first to communicate or even look at me and the other Loyola University tutor. They decided to utilize their common bond: Spanish language. They begin making jokes and mocking how political charged their homework readings were about legal immigrants. They were also discussing how stupid they felt reading To Kill a Mocking Bird and how learning about this random community does make them learn the English language quicker. What they did not realize is that I understood everything they were saying and was laughing hysterically. They looked at me shocked and asked, “Ustedes hablas espanol?” I responded, “Si, lo siento mi vocabulario es muy pequena porque tengo dos anos de lengua en la escuela” Pablo who is the most vocal of the students responded in slow paced English. “Woah, you took the effort to learn my language that’s cool” With all the regality of Southern gentlemen around a lovely lady, they patiently finished their packets on immigrants in United States and wrote how they felt To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout should have responded to Boo Radley’s notes in the tree. They went from using language to ignore me to using language to include me.
Afterwards they invited me to play “Four in Row” which I literally had not played in years. Yasmin, Grierson, Pablo, and I took turns playing the winner of each round. I won several times. They realized they could not use Spanish to have advantage so they started simply speaking to each other in English. “Su posicion….no wrong position”. I think they started to realize speaking in English is not as terrifying as once they once thought and even if they mess up on a vocal grammar mistake no English speaker would taunt them. I first thought they were all brothers but it turns out only Grierson and Pablo are brothers. Yasmin is simply Cuban but bonds with the two brothers because of that. This game reminds them of dominos which apparently a lot of Cubans guys like to play. They say it makes them feel like mucho men. They looked very sad when I had to leave. Yasmin told me I could be their “Baja Hermana” and bring them snacks. I felt a little gender stereotyped but I told him I would be happy to play with them again as long as he finished his homework. He agreed.
Similarly, Celianne cannot balance where in United States is her true place. The text states, “She found out about the boat [ to United States] and she got on. She is fifteen” (24). Considering most of my high school students were around fifteen or sixteen, I was shocked about Celianne’s response not to get rid of her child. Watching her brother being forced at gunpoint to rape their mother and then have soldiers multiply gang rape her to the point of conception is so traumatic. For her to take the first step forward and disguise her face through scarring so she could have a new identity and proceed to travel to the United States undocumented. To even refuse to kill the child born of an atrocity but treasure the child to the point of not wanting to throw her baby’s body overboard after death shows unbelievable endurance. She does resent her child’s existence and proceeds to follow it as a child-mother to heaven in the sea. The narrator states, “They [mother and dead child] went together like two bottles beneath a waterfall…the sea in the spot is like the sharks that live there. They have no mercy” (26). She willingly gave her life for her child, the strength and miracle left behind of the chaos.
I found it funny to think about how Pablo was shocked how I put effort into learning into learning Spanish. He’s taking the effort to learn American English in an afterschool program. According to one-hour translation.com, half the population of Europe is bilingual. Thirty-five percent of the population of Canada and twenty percent of the population of the USA are bilingual. Some why an American who has a conversational knowledge of Spanish considered going above and beyond what is expected. Spanish and English are the dominant languages on the Western Hemisphere but apparently English is needed to thieve in this country and thus the emphasis and importance is placed on this language. I wonder if immigrants think Americans are lucky or arrogant for only speaking one language. If most of the world is bilingual, then is it strange for a country’s citizens to be isolated and for newcomers to learn our isolated language and leave the original language or custom behind. I hope Pablo, Grierson, and Yasmin find a balance between retaining language and culture of a more familiar world and assimilating to be part of a new world not loathing the how circumstance brought them to this country. I hope they find the strength to appreciate and even like Celianne to protect what is left behind; their new lives as Cuban Americans in this country.
Danticat, Edwidge. "Children of the Sea." Krik? Krak? New York: Random House, 1995. Print.