Refugee History

Ellen Brown met Andre Lexima when he first arrived in Roanoke in 1993 as a young refugee from Haiti. She encouraged him to self-publish his remarkable book, Knowledge Never Overshadows Wisdom, K.N.O.W. (excerpt below). If you would like help telling your refugee story, please contact me.

My Journey to The America
Excerpt From Knowledge Never Overshadows Wisdom, K.N.O.W.

I was born in a small and secluded community on the island of La Gonave, Haiti. My mother always said mine was an easy birth. I popped right out, no stress and no pain. In our culture when a child is born, each new birth required a ritual, a way to rightfully introduce a child into the world. Everyone from extended family to neighbors attended. As soon as the cord was cut between me and my mother a prayer was recited asking the creator to bless my life in the world; days later I was given a bath in herbs to protect me from the ills of the world. Life is a gift, and it is held sacred by those who know it as such. Since birth I always carried a sense that life was sacred and that I had a great purpose for being in this world.

As a child my life was driven by an unknown force, as if I was being guided by something other then myself; and I think all kids are driven in the same manner. I was naturally active and curious; the saying goes… “Be ye as a child and ye shall enter the kingdom of the Creator.” Today I sense what this means. A child is pure in heart and mind, so he doesn’t worry, have anxiety, or dwell on things unnecessarily. A child doesn’t have thoughts of evil or corruption. Most importantly, a child has no attachment to a world of materialism, and he is present in each moment, moving from one moment to the next without holding on to past experiences. A child has no fear or doubt as to the unknown; he surrenders to all things, and is open to every experience life offers. Now this is only true for a child born into a natural environment, not a technological world where every child has a cell phone.

The world in my eyes as a child was fresh and new, everything vivid. I was bursting with spontaneous energy and always silly. Silliness was the nature of spirit when in motion. I often wish I could go back to being a child, I urge for it at times, because I remember how peaceful and joyous life was as a child. I feel that if I don’t bring this feeling back inside of me, now that I’m a young adult, I won’t be able to enjoy life. Is this the same feeling that drives people to have offspring, to reconnect with this child inside? How I lost myself in this way is puzzling, but I must gain back that state of mind. I must humble myself and live in the present.

My childhood in Haiti seems to be the most precious and memorable part of my existence. There was a feeling of being free to live and to be, where laws and institutions of cruelty were far from my mind, but instead only nature and the life given to me by the Creator. My father had 15 children, 10 by my mother and 5 by my step-mother. In those days having a lot of children was economical for a parent, since more children could help to work the land and increase the chances of wealth. In our community we lacked many necessities and we were poor, but that didn’t mean that we had to be in despair. Being poor offers lessons only those in touch with life can perceive; poverty breeds experiences of strength, dignity, and virtues indispensable to the soul of man. You see, even though man is poor in terms of physical necessities, he is rich as long he has a healthy body and a knowing mind. With these two, fulfillment can be gathered even in the most broken environments. But poverty is a condition no person should ever have to face. When food is scarce and hunger is hard to satisfy, this becomes a painful predicament. Even worse is when poverty is influenced by oppression, exploitation, and violence; then it takes on a form of suffering that stunts the growth of human beings. The rise of political violence in Haiti during the 1990’s caused my father to go to the American embassy for aide, and a visa was granted to him and his family to enter the U.S. as refugees. My father wanted greater opportunities for me and my siblings. As poor and uneducated as my parents were, they knew that learning would give us greater opportunities in life.

My family arrived in the U.S. and moved into a poor neighborhood in April of 1993; I was 10 years old at the time. It took some years to adjust to the lifestyle but eventually we got used to some things; but never could we get used to the cold winter. I always wished I was in Haiti during those days. From our front porch we observed the new environment. For much time it seemed like my family was being observed, as if we were an experiment, or a scene in a circus; the whole world knew of us and we knew nothing of them. From time to time we would have visits from the refugee workers and other Haitian families in the local area who would speak to us about the country and their experiences in it. I became sick with chicken pox the day the city newspaper came to do a story on us, we sat on the front porch and photographs were taken.

To get adjusted to the new environment my parents planted a late garden in the back yard, a hint that no matter where you are, the earth is still your mother and it will take care of you. My father took his first job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. Being dedicated to everything he does, dishwashing was no different. My father recognized that he was giving his children an opportunity and he worked hard to make sure we knew it.

For the first few months we were entertained by a white kid who lived across the street. He would throw rocks at us and call us niggers. Since we spoke no English and we didn’t know what he was saying, we just laughed at him, thinking he was crazy. When we went to school in the fall, my sister and I found ourselves being teased because we were foreigners, but when the other students hit and spit on us, we retaliated with the same. We eventually learned English and made many good friends. We adapted as best as we could in our new environment; we all went on to get an education and made many accomplishments along the way.