Tessa Mars

Nou la. We are here.

There are parts of my country that look quite a lot like the landscape of Aruba. But as I don’t reside in those parts and I am always just passing through, the first couple days after landing, I kept wondering when I was going to arrive at my final destination. It is telling to me that I started feeling at home when I met Dieunie, when I heard that single “you’re welcome” answered back to me in unaccented French. Haitian. I have arrived.

Although I like to travel light and go off the beaten path, I am not really one for walking into the unknown. Dieunie’s presence here meant that my people were here. That Haitians before me had weathered this foreign country and survived. This land is known to us.


The Aruban landscape.

I room with Nowé form the Bahamas and Shanice From Trinidad. Oneika from Jamaica resides in the other room of the apartment. This place given to us we made our own. It is the silent witness of how easily we connect, share, empathize and commiserate. Of how we surprise each other, confirm or deny information, of how we learn.

There is a connection with each island I encounter here, with Frances from Puerto Rico, Humberto from Cuba, Travis from Curacao, David from the US Virgin Islands, Charlie from Bermuda, Dominique from Guyana, Katherine from Barbados, Simon from the Cayman Islands and Laura, Robin and Elvis from Aruba. Some connections to their countries are stronger than others, but I always wonder first about the number of my people that inhabit their corners of the Caribbean. How many of them struggle? How many thrive?

Tessa Mars presenting her work in the Black Box at Ateliers '89.

Tessa Mars presenting her work in the Black Box at Ateliers ’89.

Every day I see Dieunie. While she works, she tells me about her time here and I take pictures.  We speak kreyòl, we connect and share, and I ponder on how to translate this connectedness in my work.  I think about sorority, networks and new roots, long and short. I also keep a tally of the many Haitians that live in Aruba. Those I hear about, those I meet. Those I identify from afar with the unshakable feeling of recognition. We are here.

Being in Aruba is strange; the landscape reminds me a lot of the frontier zone between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As someone who doesn’t live anywhere near the border and is always just passing through, I know how difficult or easy it can be to cross over and meet with a different people. I am happy to see that we have all taken the necessary steps to do so, that the magic is happening at Ateliers’89. We are all here.

I am now considering all those places back in Haiti that I only ever pass through. Maybe those places too are calling for me to be just there.