The CASSANDRA Project
In ancient Greek mythology Cassandra was cursed by the god of reason and logic, Apollo, to always speak the truth and never be believed. She represents intuition, and her myth reflects western society’s devaluation of divine feminine knowledge.
The CASSANDRA Project is intended as a space for Cassandras in our community to speak their truth. It’s a space for female-identifying myth-busters to speak out and up for women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized peoples. While there are many columns and blogs that focus on women whose success is defined by the patriarchal values of wealth, power and prestige within the system, this column is dedicated to celebrating women for just being, a political act in and of itself in today’s world. It is a space to share the ways in which female-identifying people have maintained their relationship to the divine feminine forces of intuition and creativity outside the status quo, and in spite of male dominated industries and patriarchal systems.
This column is about, for and dedicated to all of the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn.
CASSANDRA #5: Caroline Aubry
Caroline lives in New Orleans and works in technology. She is from Haiti and moved after the Earthquake in 2010.
If you could go back and speak to a younger version of yourself what advice would you give her?
I would tell her to be more confident.
Sometimes you let other people tell you what you know or tell you how good you are/ what you are good at.
I think that inhibited me. If I hadn’t listened to some people and was more confident in myself, I would have been a better student, [I] would have experienced more in life, and I would have learned more about myself as a result.
What is your genesis to the United Sates and into technology?
I finished high school, and I was not able to go to the US for continued education like my older sisters had. I wanted to leave Haiti. A few friends were studying in the DR. I did not know any Spanish, but I decided to go there since it has better universities and is less expensive.
I started high school in the French and Haitian system but was not a very good student, and then about half way through I switched to the American system because it was easier. When you graduate from the French system there are scholarship opportunities if you have good scores, but I wasn’t able to tap into that. So my only option was the DR. I appreciate my experience there but I did not stay. I quit school and came back to Haiti and found an online school from the States. I took out a loan, worked full time and did classes online. Then the economy crashed, and I had to put school on pause because loans were put on hold.
I found a job working for Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine through government grants sponsored by the Center for Disease control (CDC) in Haiti. They partner with the ministry of health in different countries to give grants for health research. Our grant was about monitoring and evaluation of HIV data.
Then the earthquake happened, and my boss temporarily moved to New Orleans to the Tulane University main office.
My family’s house partly collapsed, but we could not go back in to grab some of our belongings. My sister had two kids – she had just given birth and the pediatrician encouraged her to leave if she could. The airport was damaged, and the American military had taken over so planes were landing anywhere they could. We found a contact – someone in Miami donated a private plane to bring people back and forth after the earthquake. You had to h ave a visa and be legal enough that the US customs would accept you. We did not even have working internet so we had to use Blackberry Messenger to send our passport information to the person to put onto a list for Immigrations. Once accepted you could take very little with you and then had to wait on the tarpit. Literally airplanes were landing a few feet away.
My father hid passports in his office with other important documents, and his office collapsed into a ravine. I had traveled right before the earthquake so I had my passport still, but my younger sister Joelle, who was 16, could not leave with us because my family had to search for her passport. People were coming and stealing our stuff every day. My older sister, her two children and I left for Miami.
After a week or two my family found my younger sister’s passport, but it was harder to fly by then because they were not letting many planes land and commercial airlines were back in business. So we had to buy a ticket with an actual airline which was too expensive at the time for us to afford. Also, there were very few seats available on planes. I remembered that when I lived in the DR the planes from the States were very cheap but the border was a mess. So I called my friend from the DR and asked her if my sister could stay with her for a while and bring her to the airport in the DR to fly to Miami.
I stayed in Miami for a few months working for Tulane. The need in Haiti had changed overnight from monitoring and evaluation of HIV data to everything.
The office in Haiti was not safe to go back into because the building was damaged and so the project decided to bring me to New Orleans. We did not know how long we would be there for because we were supposed to be in-country staff and we were not in country – clearly. So in May 2010 I took a plane to Louisiana. I did not know anything about Louisiana or New Orleans. People just kept telling me I was going to the deep south. My mom – who is very religious – had her friends call me to warn me to not let Voodoo and the devil take over. They were so afraid I was going to be a lost child. Earthquake and all this was the worst situation in my mom’s mind.
So that was my introduction to New Orleans. I wasn’t getting paid much, and I knew nothing about where I was going. I knew one person – my boss. I remember driving from the airport and seeing cemetery after cemetery and this large round thing with a bunch of lights (the super dome) and was pretty much ready to run back home.
While I was working with Tulane a person left and I was offered a better job in the project, and since I didn’t know what I was going back to, I took the position. However, I still had not finished school, but the economy had improved and I got my green card. I was able to apply for financial aid to finish school online while I was working.
The online courses had evolved and there were many concentrations. One was called technical management of business information systems. Basically how to handle the business side of the systems that developers build. I do this professionally now.
When I was working at Tulane my boss always told me that I learned fast with computers. I found myself interested in those tasks.
So I would work 9:00 AM till after hours at Tulane and then work till the middle of the night on school. I did not have internet at the time and so I would squat outside CC’s coffee house after they closed and stay outside continuing to do my homework into the last hour of the night.
Shortly after I finished school I got a job with a technology company and have been working there since.
In Haiti I didn’t feel like I had many opportunities. Even though there are things the US is doing wrong I feel even in all of this mess I still have more chances of making it – and when I say making it I mean my version of my ideal scenario. I have more chances of reaching that here, even though I’m alone. At home your family or friends know someone who knows someone because its such a close community; I could get a job pretty fast, but what I’m going to find is going to be limited and not going to give me what I have here because of my field of work and my gender.
Haiti is complex. There are specific people who own specific industries and depending on where you fall in the social sphere it can be difficult to access certain jobs or markets. It’s such a small community. Your market is limited and your clientele is limited. The clientele is not necessarily growing as fast as the number of people with skills. In the US there are different states and so many more people that you can still find opportunity.
Where do you find discrimination toward women or marginalized people suffering from injustices in your life?
I see it back home in Haiti. People living in the slums get raped all the time, and there are very few careers they can have, like being a nurse, or being someone’s maid or cook. The possibilities are slim and there are so few people who are doing anything to teach them skills.
Now it’s changed a bit with all the global feminist movements. There are female artists who are trying to create jobs for women. If you are a woman in Haiti and you like art there are more opportunities now than before.
There is also a system where children are sold by parents, family members, or from being orphans. So one poor family takes this child in and they do all the labor. That is very hard to watch.
If you look at more privileged examples it would be the inequality in business. There are not enough female executives or women in positions of leadership. Even with all the global movements it’s very limited. You could only work for someone else, but the positions are limited. That’s why when I finished college and was looking at my options I didn’t like that I didn’t have a choice.
If you start to talk about wanting to start a business for yourself the early conversations are still about how you will fail. I watched my cousin who studied education in Canada go through that when she returned.
The part of the population that suffers is the poor who don’t have money. The government has so many issues, and the private sector is not doing much to help. Many cannot read and they are not set up for success.
When you are very poor if you go to a university in Haiti you might be able to be a professional, but you will likely work for someone else. You might be able to provide more for yourself but still limited by the classism there.