Eric Barstow

A Family Affair, 2012
HD video, 60 mins
Full Frame Theater at ATC

 

Statement

The heart of this work began during my childhood as a young boy trying to understand my identity and family.

Imagine someone having to construct his or her own identity against the backdrop of mainstream America when that person is from two or more different races and/or cultures. This in and of itself can be a daunting task, embarked upon from the cradle to the grave. The cultural influences that are already present in the homes we are all born into almost automatically pre-destine the world views which will shape our place in society, even if we choose to adapt other views as adults.

Now picture how this task becomes even more problematic when there is a spilt in the home, the result of a separation or a divorce. When both parents are from the same cultural background, very little is lost by way of these ties even if this were to occur. Yet, if each parent comes from different backgrounds and heritages, the parent that is no longer present now becomes a closed door to an entire world which he or she embodies. A biracial child from a Black and Hispanic parentage may have access to only the Black culture of his mother and no way of really immersing himself in the culture of his father, due to his absence. Imagine what is lost when there is a lack of transference: the appreciation of language, food, religious practice, familial history as well as national history of that parent’s place of origin, just to name a few. All this loss can stem from a broken relationship between the mother and father of a child in this situation.

Now imagine how much more complicated this dynamic can become when that at-home parent, being a foreigner, chooses to neglect teaching that child about their own culture or even family history due to a trauma suffered in their own homeland.

What I have just described to you is very much the home life I have had to grow up in until I was an adult and able to pose these questions to get at some underlying and unrevealed truths. My mother, Marie Therese Bernadette Guillaume Barstow Blackwell was herself Haitian and my father, Adolfo Guzman-Zani, was born and raised in Mexico. My parents met in Mexico City where my mother was gaining her doctorate in medicine and my father was earning his bachelor’s in economics. When they split from one another, my mother chose to keep his identity, even his very existence, a secret explaining my light skin as the result of her “marriage” to a man from Scandinavia, which was never actually happened. She decided to share the truth with me after I was well into my twenties. Even worse, she has had to overcome the stigmas that bedeviled Haitian immigrants during the 1970’s and 80’s, which may have been a contributing factor in her secrecy about many details surrounding our Haitian culture.

Having been born here in the U.S. meant I was automatically dropped in the category of “black” and so I have identified as African-American most of my life. Yet I have become intensely curious about my Haitian roots. This coupled with my desire to finally meet my biological father has spurred me on a quest to learn the truth about myself so I can have something of value to pass down to my own two daughters, Serenity and Allegra, who themselves are in danger of facing the same hurdles in identity construction as I did growing up. They are biracial, their mother being White. Yet our own separation has put them in danger of becoming estranged from her, since I currently raise them as a full-time parent.

This film, shot in HD, is an attempt to understand and bridge the gaps of the past while striving to lay a foundation for the future where loss of family and heritage will, hopefully, no longer be a consequence.

Curriculum Vitae