Recently I heard Annie Gaspard Lindor speak. She is from Haiti, and her bright personality enhanced her interaction with a group of high school students. A language teacher at the school invited her because of Lindor’s ability to speak three languages: French, Creole, and English.

Lindor is nurse at Regional Medical Center who is pursuing a degree at Herzing College in Birmingham that will allow her to become a nurse practitioner. Eventually, she wants to become a physician and work for Doctors Without Borders, an international group who travels to third-world countries to treat patients. As I listened to her speech, I thought how hard she must work to be a nurse and a student at the same time.

 I then learned she had three children and one on the way.

“When I came to America at age 14,” Lindor said, “I had culture shock. I thought all Americans were white and didn’t realize how many different cultures are here.”

She greeted the students in the class and told them her story about being an immigrant, first speaking in French and then in Creole, neither of which I understood; however, most of the students understood her well. She then told her story in English.

She grew up with a father who was a mission-oriented minister. He started a Church of God in his community and, later, helped establish churches in other communities. He trained a minister at each location and then oversaw a network of churches.

Lindor, along with her two sisters, attended a Catholic church once a month in order to qualify to attend a Catholic school. Their parents felt the Catholic school offered a higher quality education than their community’s public school.  

When Lindor was 14 years old, her mother, who had moved to America years earlier, came to Haiti to take her children with her. Sadly, Lindor left her beloved father behind but returned to visit him for the next three years until he died. When she first arrived in America, not only did she miss her father, but also she missed her friends.

“At first, I was mad about being brought here,” Lindor said. “I had been crowned as the queen of my school; and when I got here, the girls were jealous of my sister and me because boys liked that we spoke French.”

She and her sisters attended an English-speaking school in the Carolinas. They quickly learned to communicate in English – three months – and Lindor moved to Alabama after graduation.

Lindor’s memories of Haiti are warm and colorful. She said that, while Haiti is a poor country, the people are peaceful, loving, and steeped in culture. The food, and similarities in the way people look there, are more homogeneous than in the United States. Lindor is now a citizen here, but there are things she misses about her native country.

Haiti is a nation located on the island of Hispaniola and is 840 miles south of Florida. Haiti was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the same year America was discovered. Prior to that, Haiti was inhabited by settlers from South America. In the 1600s, France gained control of Haiti and seized thousands of slaves from Africa. The races intermarried, and the remaining Africans became free. After centuries of struggles for power, the citizens of Haiti gained their independence on Jan. 1, 1804.

Lindor was born on Jan. 1, a source of pride. In a telephone interview after her speech, she said she is also proud of the value Haitian people place on education and the respect its citizens have for each other.

She visits extended family members and friends about once a year. She is married to Jean Lindor, a former ambassador to Haiti. He is pursuing a degree in business administration and works at Consolidated Publishing Co.

One of Lindor’s favorite foods also affirms her love for her native country. It is a soup made from butternut squash, vegetables, noodles, and sometimes meat. It is called Joumou.

“The soup is eaten on Independence Day in Haiti,” Lindor said. “Because of my birthday, I always got special treatment on Independence Day, and I was served Joumou. I still love to eat it.”

I enjoyed meeting Lindor. I had never met anyone from Haiti before and was glad to learn more about the country and culture.

The issues regarding immigrants are prominent in current news reports, which Lindor said she didn’t have time to see or read. I am a newshound, though, and I recognize the fact that many immigrants, both those who are new to America and those of us with ancestors who have been here for centuries, make up our country’s democratic experience. Whatever our elected leaders do to resolve the current issues, all of us should practice and promote positive values in the ways we speak to and act toward each other.

Email Sherry at sherrykug@hotmail.com.