The Girl with the Tonton Heart

Years after the Haitian diaspora, Papa and Baby Doc's children are still wandering

2. Morning in America
During the early Nineties the INS was housing hundreds of immigrants in Miami motels owing to a lack of space at Krome. Those who were claimed by family members usually were promptly released. Marilise knew her half sister lived in South Florida but didn't yet know how to reach her. Cubans, because of their privileged status under U.S. immigration law, could count on minimal time in government custody, an immediate work permit, and virtually guaranteed permanent-residency status after a year. Haitians had no guarantees of any sort; thus Marilise was elated when a woman named Emite Ledice, or Umite Ledice, or Emit Lides (her name is spelled a variety of ways on official documents, but she couldn't be found to verify any version) arrived one morning at Marilise's motel (she thinks it might have been the Bayside Motor Inn at 5101 Biscayne Blvd.). Marilise believes it was a practice among certain Haitian residents in those days to visit places where immigrants were being detained and arrange releases for people who agreed to work for the residents in some capacity.

Ledice, a woman about ten years older than Marilise, lived in North Miami. "She put me in her custody if I would take care of her kids," Marilise relates. "I was paroled [by INS] and went to live at her family's house. Later I got a social security number and permit to work. I thought Emite was going to put me in school, help me learn English. But she said she'd have me deported if I didn't help her." Marilise did work at other jobs during the next few years, including waiting tables at a restaurant owned by Ledice's cousin. She lived at Ledice's home "on and off," she says, also sharing an apartment in Broward County with three other women. One day in April 1993, Marilise splashed bleach in the face of one of her roommates. She contends it was an accident, that she had been cleaning the bathroom and had neglected to screw on the top to the bleach bottle. Nevertheless she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and eventually dropped, but Marilise spent 25 days in jail. Soon after that incident, the INS ordered Marilise deported, but the agency apparently never was able to find her to notify her of her precarious situation.

In October 1993, almost a year to the day she left Haiti, Marilise's mother, father, and eldest brother, Davide, were murdered in Port-au-Prince. "They chopped them up and set the house on fire," Marilise recounts, again a dry recitation. Her clenched, ringed fingers rest on her tummy. "I got a cousin here who told me to call Haiti. When I called I talked to the man downstairs, and he told me what happened." She keeps her brother's and parents' death certificates with her, the thick blue papers folded together in a square. They are in French, the names and data filled out in blue ink in large childlike script, and they convey no terror or pain. The causes of the deaths are not listed. "They cut my mother's throat," Marilise repeats breathily, holding back tears. "They killed my brother who loved me. I'll never see them again."

It was after the deaths that Marilise came into contact with her older half sister, who had come to South Florida more than a decade earlier and was living in Broward with her husband and daughter. Marilise and Nadia (a pseudonym) have the same father, and Nadia instantly wanted to protect Marilise and help her succeed in the United States. "She's so much like my dad," Nadia marvels. "She smiles like him, sounds like him; same height, same face."

Nadia spoke with New Times but didn't want her identity revealed and was distressed at the prospect of an article about Marilise's private life. "She's not the only person who got off a boat and don't speak English," Nadia observes indignantly. "A lot of kids had it worse, underage with no family, but they go to school and make something of themselves. She choose not to."

For several weeks after she learned of her parents' and brother's deaths, Marilise felt barely alive herself. She cut her hand while working in the restaurant and spent five days in Jackson Memorial Hospital. "I didn't care what happened to me," she concedes. "I didn't feel nothing."

By then Marilise was pregnant. The father was her boyfriend, Pierre (a pseudonym), whom she had met at Ledice's house. Shortly before she gave birth to Barbara in January 1994, Marilise moved into an apartment in Fort Lauderdale with Pierre. In September 1994 she was arrested as she stood on her front step. Broward County Sheriff's Office detectives were executing a search warrant, according to the incident report, and saw Marilise drop a Baggie of crack onto the ground as they approached. Marilise claims cocaine had been planted outside her apartment and police tipped off by a drug-dealing neighbor, a woman who wanted her boyfriend. Nevertheless Marilise was charged with possession with intent to distribute, but the case was dismissed several months later.

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