Edwidge Danticat’s 2007 memoir, “Brother, I’m Dying,” traces her family’s journey from Haiti to the United States.
Haunting the book throughout is a fear of missed chances, long-overdue payoffs and family secrets withering on the vine: a familiar anxiety when one generation passes to another too quickly. In the first chapter Danticat learns she is pregnant with her first child just as her father, Mira, receives a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis and loses his livelihood as a New York cabdriver after more than 25 years. At a family meeting, one of his sons asks him, “Have you enjoyed your life?” Mira pauses before answering, and when he does, he frames the response entirely in terms of his children: “You, my children, have not shamed me. … You all could have turned bad, but you didn’t. … Yes, you can say I have enjoyed my life.”
That pause, and that answer, neatly encapsulates an unpleasant, though obvious, truth: Immigration often involves a kind of generational sacrifice, in which the migrants themselves give up their personal ambitions, their families, native countries and the comforts of the mother tongue, to spend their lives doing menial work in the land where their children and grandchildren thrive.
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