Embracing my Haitian culture

A student discusses how she balances her Honduran and Haitian identities.


It was my first day of sixth grade, and I was nervous to meet the new kids. I sat in my assigned seat, excited and prepared, and then the dreaded moment came — roll call. 

“Maryanna Beaver?”

“Mary-ann Bovwar?”

“Mayannah Beauvoir (MY-ANNA BOOV-WAH),” I’d correct them. My name reflects the cultural blend of my Haitian father and my Honduran and Curaçao mother.

I started to hate my name around that time. Even as an adolescent, everywhere I went — classrooms, job interviews, doctor’s offices — I prepared myself for the sad attempt to pronounce a name I think wouldn’t be so hard with a little more cultural awareness. 

My mother always reassured me that my name was important because my father named me. My first and last name were a testament to his memory. He died the day after I was born, so it was very hard for me to connect with my Haitian identity without his presence. The only memories I had of him were old photographs.

It was an odd experience looking at the sepia-stained images with his handwriting on the back. He wore Hawaiian shirts and light-wash jeans, his hair in long dreadlocks. I loved looking at these images. It felt like looking into a mirror — it was someone with the same face, nose and eyebrows as me. But in many ways, it also felt like staring at a stranger. 

After my father’s death, I spent most of my time in my Honduran grandmother’s house, Martha Martes. She raised her children and grandchildren to embrace their Honduran ancestry and be proud of it. She displayed Honduran flags with three blue stars all over the house. She showered us with love and affection and made sure we knew about our history and followed the news in Honduras on Spanish news channels.

I often felt out of place as the only person at home with a different last name. Everyone had my mother’s Hispanic maiden name: Martes. It’s easy to pronounce, rolls off the tongue and even means Tuesday in Spanish. I felt ostracized because there was no one to share the name Beauvoir without my dad around.

I grew to hate having a name to which I felt no connection. But there was one name I always loved to be called at home: Maya. I think my little cousins came up with this nickname because it was easier for them to pronounce.

I don’t spend as much time with my Haitian family as I would like to. I call them on holidays, see them around my birthday and get check-ins every once in a while. It’s not that I’m distant from them but I didn’t see them as much as the Honduran side of my family. I didn’t always like the food they made and I always wished that we were closer. I knew about Haitian culture through books that my mother encouraged me to read. 

Before leaving for Temple, I visited my Haitian grandmother, Virginia Beauvoir, and spent time with my aunts and cousins. After being apart for months, I remembered just how good it felt to hear them call me by my nickname. 

As I started a new chapter of my life, I decided to further embrace my Haitian culture.

I read up on Edwidge Danticat, arguably the most prolific Haitian writer of her generation. Her short stories about being a Haitian immigrant growing up in Brooklyn, New York — like me — was inspiring and made me want to write my own. 

I made a lot of friends with Haitian parents in the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness meetings and we discussed our shared experiences. While I’m not fluent, I’ve picked up some Haitian phrases I have proudly perfected, “Wap kon Jorge” being my absolute favorite. I’ve kept up to date with Haitian news and I try to bring Haitian patties and other foods for my friends whenever I come back to Philadelphia from Brooklyn.

Now, on my first day of school, I demand the proper pronunciation of my name. I correct them and ask to be called Maya Beauvoir — a name that reminds me of my family and allows my father’s legacy to live on.

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