4. These were our bedtime stories. Tales that haunted our parents and made them laugh at the same time. We never understood them until we were fully grown and they became our sole inheritance.
These words appear in “Caroline’s Wedding,” when Grace remembers her father’s favorite jokes, and they emphasize the importance of storytelling in passing on Haitian traditions. The jokes Grace remembers aren’t technically stories, but they capture the hopes and fears of the Haitian people as well as any stories would. The jokes are both lighthearted and serious: their subject matter is so grave that it must be delivered with a dose of humor. Talking about such things would be too difficult otherwise. The specific joke Grace remembers is about God fearing Papa Doc Duvalier, who would steal God’s throne if given a chance. Though the joke is meant to be funny, it is a poignant reminder of the ruthlessness of Haitian politics and the hatred the Haitian people have for their corrupt leaders. It is both funny and depressing because, in a way, the sentiment is true. Grace’s father could show his young daughters his great sorrow about his country without frightening them because he treated it as a joke. In a country where violence and poverty threaten to destroy everyone who doesn’t leave, such storytelling and passing on of tradition, even outside of the country, is necessary to keep its culture alive.
Though Grace didn’t understand her father’s jokes as a child, they subtly shaped her understanding of her own Haitian culture. She grew up in a household where her parents told stories about Haiti all the time, so she accepted the country’s importance without thinking about it. Her knowledge of Haitian politics originated in these stories, and as she grew older she understood more and more. As a young immigrant growing up in America, Grace might easily have lost all sense of connection to Haiti, but her parents’ stories kept that connection alive.