Yolande Mangones

Yolande Mangones
in Port au Prince 1964

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yolande Mangones, Part Quatre

Whenever I'm at a crossroads in my life there's always cleaning involved. I recently cleaned out my basement to make room for my work PC and files that I will be using while transitioning from an office to working from home. I found my mom's resume among some papers. One sheet of paper summed up her 30-year career.

Education: University d'Etat d'Haiti, School of Nursing, Hospital Immacules Conception, 1964. Most women in Haiti at that time who could afford a continuing education were trained as teachers or nurses.

B.A. in Speech Communications, Northeastern University, 1993. Mom greatly desired a Bachelor's degree from an American University. I believe that she would've felt validated among her colleagues and peers who were neurosurgeons, dignitaries and PhD's. For years she struggled to attend night classes, type papers and take exams while raising three kids as a single parent. She never got her degree because we were always in triage mode for food, shelter, education and paying whatever bill is due. She just didn't have the time to finish.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yolande Mangones, Part Trois

Dad asked me to book airline tickets for him online. Even as a teenager and before the Internet I had always served as his travel agent. While searching for his flight, we talked about why he and mom decided to come to the US.

After nursing school, Mom was employed five years as a charge nurse at Port Au Prince's General Hospital. She made $70/month working full-time. Serving as a nurse in any developing country meant that you can find yourself performing minor surgery. For a brief time in the early 60s the Haitian Gourde was as strong as the US dollar so it was the equivalent of $2.50/day US. My dad made $3/day as a laborer in a sugar mill. At ages 24 and 31, my parents hit the top of their pay scales - $6/day was the most money that they could ever expect to earn if they remained in Haiti.

At ages 24 and 31, they hit the top of their pay scales - $6/day was the most they could expect to earn if they remained in Haiti.

My parents were also motivated to leave Haiti due to limitations imposed on them for not being Duvalier supporters. At the sugar mill where Dad worked, 10 machinists suddenly lost their jobs after having sanguinary off-the-clock discussions about the regime. As the 10 men were escorted out, 10 more men -- supporters -- were invited in. Whether Dad had said anything or not, his time there was ticking, and jobs were hard to come by.

Mom, on the other hand, was outspoken. She felt compelled to express her opinions about the injustices taking place around her. Her dad, a colonel in the Haitian army, had suppressed his opinions. He later died of a heart-attack at his desk. She wasn't about to let the same thing happen to her. Nor did she want to live life in fear that she would be kidnapped and tortured for her views.

She did not want to live life in fear that she would be kidnapped and tortured for her views.

My parents were motivated to leave for both political and financial reasons. If they stayed in Haiti, they would've gotten stuck in the quagmire of authoritarianism. Their timing to leave made all the difference. The U.S was at war in Vietnam, there was a shortage of nurses in the states. That shortage served Mom well because she had a job before she even set foot in Chicago. God bless the USA!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yolande Mangones, Part Deux

I called my sister the other day to wish her a happy 30-something birthday. "What are you talking about?" she said, "Everyone in Cali thinks I'm 29, and I like it that way." She's just like Mom.

We left her story on New's Year's Day 1968 when 25-year-old Yolande Mangones took up residence on Chicago's South Side. It had to have been one of the coldest days on record to date, whipping winds made it feel like it was 20 degrees below zero. On January 2nd she trudged through feet of snow to her first day as a staff nurse at Provident Hospital. Fortunately, her upbringing afforded her education in Haiti that included French, English, Spanish and Latin. Adapting to English wasn't insurmountable. While growing up, Mom insisted that we speak only English at home. She felt that it was the best way to integrate into American society and that it would help us with our studies. Yolande was a social and vocal person, so embracing the nuances of American humor, tone and timing in casual conversation was frustrating. Haitians have an animated, emotional and voluminous way of speaking that Americans perceive as shouting so she had to tone it down quite a bit when speaking with Americans.

She insisted that we only speak English at home.

Yolande lived with a family friend for months and endured a seemingly never-ending cycle of working and waiting, working and waiting. She had submitted her son and husband's Visa applications at the same time that she had submitted hers, but her husband was a tradesman -- a machinist -- so he had to wait for approval. Mom's frustration grew with frequent visits to the Embassy to get her family's Visas approved.

I recently found the letter Mom wrote to the Illinois State Lieutenant Governor, Paul Simon. She wanted to understand why it was taking so long to approve the Visas? She expressed her disappointment with the system. After all, she pleaded, one signature could alleviate her loneliness and heartache. She went on to say that it shouldn't take this long, and could the Senator use his authority to push their Visas through. Six months later her husband and toddler son were headed to the U.S on a 747.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hello World! Tribute to Yolande Mangones

I had the honor of telling my mother's immigration story to my daughter's 6th grade class. As I was talking, it struck me that we don't have her remarkable life archived anywhere so I dedicate this blog to her. I'll continue sharing life's her journey over time.

My mother, Yolande Mangones, was born in Au Cayes, Haiti in 1943 to a colonel in the army. Although she lived in his big house with extended relatives, she was cared for by a nanny, but they had plenty of food and domestic help. Her father could afford a good education so Mom was educated as a nurse, as were a lot middle-class women at that time. While in nursing school, she met my dad Jean Guichon. They married after graduation. Shortly after, they had their first child, a son named Ronald Jude.

Although Yolande was reared in a privileged class, she grew up watching her father's political opinion and voice silenced. He lived in fear that his opposition to the political regime would cost him either his freedom or his life. Jean-Claude "Papa Doc" Duvalier had been President for decades - having declared himself President for Life - and parsing power out to his henchmen serving as Ministers to the government agencies. They further corrupted the system and committed human injustices. Mom decided that life would be better in North America where she would have a voice to speak out and help to organize a more democratic system in her homeland.

Life would be better in North America where she would have a voice to speak out and help to organize a more democratic system at home.

Yolande was the first in our clan and among her friends to secure a working Visa to the US. Having left her husband and two-year-old son in Haiti, she arrived in Chicago in the summer of 1968, jumping from one political boiling pot right into another. Yolande landed on Chicago's South Side, during the heat of the civil rights' race riots, the Democratic National Convention brawl, and shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Welcome to America!