“Brother, I’m Dying” is an autobiographical novel and account of Edwidge Danticat’s diaspora from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to America. This novel and commentary on U.S. Immigration and world policies received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. Danticat is also the author of the National Bestseller, “The Dew Breaker.” What is special about Danticat’s account is that it is told from her perspective of what it was like leaving Haiti for the Americas, and the consequences that followed for her family.
Danticat paints a picture of Haiti unlike one that you can get from a visiting journalist or Fox News report. She unravels her experiences of different revolutions in Haiti, from stories her grandfather tells her to ones involving Woodrow Wilson and the National Bank of Haiti. In some stories she exposes the United States’ history of exploiting Haiti for its natural resources and corporate interests such as coffee, sugar and tobacco plantations. In some stories she tells of the horrors of the United Nations and how their “help” in Haiti seemed to only interfere worse with the people there. For example, in trying to rid Port-Au-Prince of their gangs, the MINUSTAH police (who represent the United Nations and the United States) take more innocent lives and cause clashes between good people. Danticat’s uncle was a victim of the MINUSTAH police after they raided his church and used the roof to shoot Haitians. Because 15 innocent Haitians were killed, many people didn’t know who to turn their anger toward, so they blamed her uncle who was a pastor and a good member of the community.
In having to flee for his life because of this anger, Danticat’s uncle flees to America to meet up with her and her family in New York. Because he was seeking asylum, he told this to the United States Customs, who racially profiled him and threw him in a prison where he had no rights. He was known as alien 270419999. The tragic story of her uncle represents hundreds of people from Haiti who try to come to the United States to seek asylum only to be held as prisoners and often die in prison.
Her uncle needed medications, which the Customs officers took away. During his hearing he began dying, and an American EMT claimed that he was faking his death. This tragic and preventable situation was aggravated by the racism of the United States Customs. What’s bizarre about the experience is that we believe America to be a place where people have an opportunity for freedom as immigrants in this country. That is what the Statue of Liberty represents, isn’t it? Danticat reveals in her commentary that this is not the case, and some people aren’t allowed into the United States as easily as other groups of people. For example, if you are from Sudan you immediately have rights and freedoms in the United States from Customs, but if you are from Haiti you are likely to experience more racial profiling and difficulty entering the country if you are seeking asylum.
Although the novel has sad aspects, it is fascinating to read a book that puts you in the shoes of a family from Haiti and the reader gets to experience Haitian life from the perspective of a young girl. What the novel offers is some enlightening history of Haiti and its relations to the United States, and sheds light on the United States’ intentions in other countries.