Editor’s Note: The following column by Marleine Bastien is written on behalf of Luscene Augustin and Chandeline Leonard, undocumented immigrants who are being held in a detention center in West Palm Beach. The couple was on a boat carrying up to 30 Haitian migrants that capsized about 15 miles off Boynton Beach. Nine people died on the journey. Two men who were on the boat have been indicted on smuggling charges. The body of Augustin’s and Leonard’s baby daughter, Luana, is unclaimed at the Palm Beach Medical Examiner’s Office.
Our names are Luscene Augustin and Chandeline Leonard. We are the parents of Luana Augustin, the 8 month-old baby who drowned on or about May 13, 2009 during the treacherous voyage that changed our lives forever.
Our baby has been freezing in a morgue at the Medical Examiner’s Office in West Palm Beach for almost three months now. Why, you ask? Don’t we want to bury our baby girl, hold her in our arms one last time? Since we arrived in this country, we’ve had a hard time sleeping. It is not because of the noise from the other detainees. It is expected.
We are living with hundreds of other honest, hard-working men and women who left our country! Many died. Nine bodies were found, including our baby girl, Luana.
Others will forever be buried in the womb of the Atlantic Ocean. Since our arrival, we’ve been detained. We yearn to be free to bury our baby girl. Nou tounen Zonbi nan kan–an. (Creole for “We’ve turned into zombies at the camp.’’) We can’t sleep, we can’t eat. Dlo nan je nou paka seche” (The tears are never dried from our eyes.)
Our cousin told us that the morgue called regarding our baby and three others. She needs to find a solution for these unclaimed bodies. They’ve been very understanding, very humane. But we understand. It has been almost three months!
President Obama. Madame Michelle Obama: We know you wonder why we chose to leave Haiti in those conditions, without any documents. Well, if you were in our situation, you probably would have done the same thing. Just imagine waking up every day and not knowing whether you will live to see another day! You might have an altercation with someone more powerful than you. Bang. You’re dead.
Who will go to jail? It depends on who committed the crime. If it is a gwo zouzounn (a powerful person), then you’re doomed. In Haiti, the wheels of justice are stuck somewhere. Did you know that some of my brothers and sisters have been sitting in jail there since 2004? No charges, no hearing. Well, I heard that they were supporters of President Aristide. Whether you liked the man or not, this is wrong. The seed of democracy cannot grow in a land of injustice. You either charge or release.
Can you imagine waking up daily and not knowing whether you’ll find a small piece of bread to feed your baby? You’re so emaciated. Your milk has dried up. Our family used to send us money from the U.S, but they stopped. Many no longer work because they are facing deportation! They have no driver’s licenses, no working papers. What are we to do? Is it a crime to look for a better life, a future for one’s children? Is it a crime to dream?
We dream of being in Haiti. Our house is full of people. They are saddened by the loss of our little Luana. They cry with us, they comfort us. They bring us pumpkin soup. They bring us bouillon.
They bring us pain patate (sweet potato pie). They hold us tight, they cry. We cry. The entire village is there. It is our culture.
Then they walked with us through a single trail down the mountain to the small cemetery. The road to it is so narrow! We ran past it as children. We didn’t want the zombies to catch us. My husband’s brother carries the little pink coffin on his head. Then he passes it on to my brother, then to a cousin. All the men in the village wait their turn to carry our Luana. The women cry. They pull out their hair. They are overcome by grief.
It’s 4 a.m. The bell rings. The guards bang on the iron door with a heavy metal. The noise is infernal. Who cares? We are not humans. Time to wake up.! Half an hour to shower then to the breakfast line. We can’t eat. Our throats are constricted by the pain. Make the line or go on isolation for misbehavior. It was only a dream. Back to reality. Our baby is dead for almost three months. We can’t bury her because we are detained by the U.S. government. What a tragedy!
Mr. President, Madame Obama: Our baby is dead, our baby is dead. Anmwe! Anmwe! (Help! Help!) Nou pa kapab anko! Nou pakab anko! (We can’t take it anymore!)
Our baby is dead! Anmwe!
Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.