Immigration is powerful. Immigration is beautiful. Immigration is painful. Edwidge Danticat brilliantly shows all three sides of this journey in her memoir Brother, I’m Dying. Danticat tells her family’s story, one of struggles and sacrifices, for they cannot. Her story, unfortunately, is not an uncommon one. Families all around the globe abandon their native country and language, pack up everything they own, and hope that somewhere across the sea, they can secure a safer, more blissful future for generations to come. In Danticat’s case, her family did not have much of a choice. Haiti was under attack and they knew that they had to either leave immediately or prepare for the worst. The decision to leave Haiti resulted in a life of pain, broken family ties, and alienation for the Danticat family.Order now
Imagine being a child whose parents live two thousand miles away. You are not allowed to visit them, and they are not allowed to visit you. Imagine being a parent whose child is across the ocean, and you’re unable to offer your love and care. Imagine saying goodbye to the only life you’ve ever known, and coming to a country that treats you like a criminal. For many immigrants, such painful scenarios have been all too real. Edwidge Danticat employs her simple storytelling to describe the personal and political sacrifices her family made as a result of their journey to this country. Joseph Dantica, Edwidge’s father, was an extraordinary man who fell into the wrong hands. He was the founder of a school and a church in Port-au-Prince. He survived throat cancer. He was a loyal family man, a husband, and a father figure to his niece Edwidge throughout her childhood. In life and in death, Joseph Dantica was a refugee with no real place to call home. When he began vomiting and collapsed during his interview, the medic on scene immediately said that he was faking, and never even bother to check up on him. Had she not refused to examine and treat him, the disease that later killed him could have been cured. In the eyes of the nation, he was nothing but a number. Alien 27041999.
This begs the question: how could everything go so wrong in such a short period of time? Danticat cannot recall the moment she and her family departed Haiti, rather, she only remembers “wishing as we soared into the clouds that my uncle had cried a torrent of tears, had thrown himself on the ground and made a scene, all the while forbidding us to go” (109). Danticat’s memoir shows better than anything else how the journey of those who emigrate from one country to another involves great loss, as well as imminent gain. Children of immigrants have a hard childhood, and are often taken care of by their grandparents or other relatives. While Edwidge lived in New York and her father lived in Haiti, they kept contact with each other through hang-written letters. She learned to love her Uncle Joseph as a second father. They loved not only each other, but their native country of Haiti, through thick and thin: “Then, as now, leaving often seemed like the only answer, especially if one was sick like my uncle or poor like my father, or desperate like both” (54).
Many immigrants, like myself, overcome the deep sense of loss they experience when they leave their home and move to a new territory. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know where to go, and you don’t know how to communicate with others. Some days, you just feel homeless. The only thing you do know is that you’re in a better place. Although the process is difficult, immigration often enriches the life of a family. Edwidge uses flashbacks to tell her family’s story. Her flashbacks are not told in chronological order, but rather in the order of which they were told to her, and sometimes one memory triggers another. This unique order of the flashbacks allows the reader the gain insight between the past and the present.
Immigration is a powerful journey. In Brother, I’m Dying, Edwidge Danticat demonstrates not only the pain and sorrow that her family experienced, but concluded with a message; a message of courage. Her memoir demonstrates, better than anything else, how much immigrants sacrifice along the way. Edwidge will be forever in debt for what her father and her uncle sacrificed and experienced for her well-being. Their selflessness provides a heart-breaking sense of that through all that was lost, everything was gained.