The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danitcat is a collection of stories, one of which is about the Bienaime family. The Bienaime parents immigrated to the United States from Haiti. Ka, their daughter, was born in Brooklyn and has never been to Haiti. Ka and her father are traveling to a famous Haitian-American actress who is purchasing a sculpture from Ka. This sculpture depicts Ka’s father during his time in prison. On their journey to the actress’s house Papa goes missing along with Ka’s sculpture. After a few hours Papa reappears and brings Ka to some water where he tells her he disposed of the sculpture. Ka is extremely angered by this. Papa later explains that he is not as innocent as Ka sees him. He explains to her that he was actually a perpetrator of violence back in Haiti. Ka had always known Papa as a victim of violence back home and this new knowledge rocks her world a bit. After finding this out she understands more about her father and mother and their place in American society. Ka has never understood why the family didn’t have many friends and why they never spoke of their time in Haiti, she now understands.
Is he going to explain why he and my mother have no close friends, why they’ve never had anyone over to the house, why they never speak of any relatives in Haiti or anywhere else, or have never returned there or, even after I learned Creole from them, have never taught me anything else about the country beyond what I could find out on my own, on the television, in newspapers, in books? Is he about to tell me why Manman is so pious? Why she goes to daily Mass? I am not sure I want to know anything more than the little they’ve chosen to share with me all these years, but it is clear to me that he needs to tell me, has been trying to for a long time.Page 20, The Dew Breaker
This is a classic story of a generational divide. So many families immigrate to the United States in hopes of a life that is different than back home. Many come here for new opportunities or to escape something in their past. However, many of these families find themselves with a divide between themselves and their children. Parents who have decided to uproot their lives and immigrate somewhere else have a harder time assimilating to society in comparison to their children. Immigrant parents often have a highly developed sense of culture and morals based on their home country. These morals are often passed down to their children, but in addition to the morals and values of their own society. There is often a generational divide because these conflicting cultures cause tension in the family. The tension can be a result of conflicting political opinions, religious beliefs, and many other things.
Problems often ensue when the children arrive, grow up and embrace Western social mores. They may want to date; a son or daughter may come out as gay; a daughter may want to wear short skirts, drink alcohol, stay out late with her boyfriend or cohabit with him; the children may eventually want to be in interfaith marriages. This can often cause tension in the families, with the immigrant parents experiencing sadness and anger. Sadly, though, the second-generation Americans have it even harder — they can often feel angst, frustration, and a few end up doing things secretly to avoid disappointing their parents.tennessean.com
In the case of the Bienaime family we can see a generational divide between Ka and Papa because Ka has been sheltered from the truth. Although Ka and Papa have a close relationship, their inner dialogues are nowhere near similar. Ka has her own viewpoint of her parents reasoning for coming to the United States as does Papa. It is revealed that Papa has a past Ka is not aware of. Because of this, Ka’s view of her parents’ life is a bit skewed. She wonders why her parents isolate themselves so much and why Papa does not like his picture taken. We understand now, while Ka is understanding, that Papa feels shame for his past and that this has shaped him into the person he is now and why he acts the way he does.
“Ka, no matter what, I’m still your father, still yourPage 24, The Dew Breaker
mother’s husband. I would never do these things now.”
And this to me is as meaningful a declaration as his
other confession. It was my first inkling that maybe my
father was wrong in his own representation of his former
life, that maybe his past offered more choices than being
either hunter or prey.
I think this is a lesson that many immigrant children end up learning. That their parents have their reasonings for immigrating and they may or may not share these with them. Immigrant parents never bring their children to a new country to start over for no reason. And typically this reasoning is hidden behind something a little prettier. However as we can see in this story, sheltering your children from the truth can lead to a disconnect between parents and children. When children grow up with a skewed viewpoint of their parents, the opinions they form can be detrimental to their relationship. In the case of Papa and Ka, Ka doesn’t understand why Papa is the way that he is because she hasn’t been given the whole truth, which makes her question why her father acts the way he does sometimes.
This is an age old issue for immigrant families and is a very tough issue to discuss. On one hand you feel bad for the children because they do not have accurate perception. But on the other I fully understand why a parent would choose to keep some information from their children. I think many immigrant parents feel as though they are moving and starting over, and therefore the reasoning they provide their children is not as important as their future is. However I think that transparency within their family is something that not only will help the children rationalize the move, it’ll make their family relationships stronger. Ka and Papa’s story is not a new one, but it gives us an inside look into the dynamics of immigrant families. I think that uprooting your entire family in hopes of a new life is one of the hardest decisions a parent can face. It is extremely difficult to immigrate to the United States specifically and it is even more difficult to leave your home behind. I think because of this immigrant parents reserve the right to share as much or as little information with their children as they see fit. However I do think that by letting your children in on some truths to the move, or ideally the whole reasoning, would be very helpful in keeping the generational divide as small as possible. Hopefully one day our society will be a point where immigrant families don’t struggle as much to assimilate. And we can make it easier for those who did not grow up here to live a happy, fulfilled life where they can practice their own cultures and assimilate to ours without shame or regret.