My interest in the topic of ethnicity grew from the current academic discourse on multiculturalism that is taking place on university campuses and is shaping the curriculum. The words "tolerance," "acceptance," "appreciation," and "otherness" are the leitmotif of this debate, and professors are frantically "diversifying" their courses to include perspectives from "the other." As I hear these words constantly being uttered, several questions fill my mind: Who needs to tolerate whom? Who needs to accept whom? Who needs to appreciate whom? Who constitutes "the other"? How does one learn about "the other"?
The debate on cultural pluralism brought back to my memory various observations that I made over the years at different stages of my life. First, when I arrived in this country in 1975, I could not help noticing that the Haitian community was a closed community, and that Haitians' lives outside work revolved around Haitians. I do not recall meeting non-Haitians at Haitians' gatherings, nor do I recall Haitians telling me about their attending the gatherings of "others." As for me, I did not have non-Haitian friends. Although I was a student at Hunter College which had, and still has, a very diverse student body, I did not really have time (or think it was important) to seek out "others." When I was not in class, I was working; when I was not in class or working, I was spending time with my Haitian circle of intimates. Haitians were not learning much about "others," nor were "others" learning about Haitians, although in many cases Haitians lived in neighborhoods populated by "others." I did not know at the time why this was happening; all I knew was that Haitians were happy to remain Haitian, to be among Haitians, and to focus their attention on Haitians' perspectives, not those of "others."
In 1981, I left New York, and went to graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington. Since I was the only Haitian during that first year, I became friends with the West Indian students who were, like me, in the French department, and the African students with whom I took many courses in linguistics.