WBGO commentator and Seton Hall professor Mildred Antenor grew up in an immigrant community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She witnessed and experienced the hardships that immigrants in her vicinity faced everyday.
In her new book The Gladioli Are Invisible: A Memoir, Antenor vividly and honestly talks about the adversity she saw, such as drug abuse, mental illness, alcoholism and domestic violence.
She recently sat down with WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to discuss her emotional journey through her memoir.
Mildred says those in her community are the gladioli in an invsible society. Some members of the gladioli were able to survive and thrive despite the difficulties, while others did not.
Antenor worked many years on her memoir.
"I want to say eight years. I stopped counting after seven. It took about a year to get published. In terms of writing, it took about eight years. I wrote everywhere. I wrote at home. I wrote at Starbucks. I mean whenever you go to the coffee shops you see people commandeering a table for three hours. I was one of those people. I wrote in New Jersey. I wrote in New York. I can honestly say I know every coffee shop in the East Village."
Antenor dedicates a chapter to each of the individuals who shaped her life, including her mentor and second father Fritz. Fritz was a family friend who knew her loved ones back in Haiti. Eventually, Fritz would guide Mildred's passions for journalism and knowledge.
After finishing the book, Antenor admits she simply cried for about 25 minutes.
"I do a lot of self-examination in the book. I do a lot of thinking about where I want to go, especially toward the end of each year. I'm very goal based. As I was doing this years ago, I realize that I am the sum of everything that I've experienced. These people were instrumental in the person that I became so I decided to organize my thoughts and put it in a book."
The Gladioli Are Invisbile opens with Mildred's grandmother, Mama Lucy, deciding to escape from her abusive relationship and leave with her young baby girl in search of a better life. During the interview at WBGO, she read the opening paragraph.
Mama Lucy tiptoed into her bedroom to find Raymond fully aseep. These beating rituals always tired him out. As quietly as she could, she pulled out the dresser drawer and packed what little she could manage: bras, panties, and a bed sheet that she could use as a blanket. She stuffed them into a burlap shoulder bag. Raymond's wallet was on the bedroom dresser. She picked it up and opened it. "Only twent gourdes," she thought to herself. She looked back at her sleeping husband and mumbled "Cheapskate" under her breath. She swiftly folded the money, put it inside her brad, and tiptoed out of the bedroom. She left Raymond fast asleep, snoring away to his own content and comfort. She picked up Martha from her crib without waking her, and quickly but quietly made a dash for the door. The year was 1923. Mama Lucy walked briskly and decidedly, knowing tha tshe would never return.
"My grandmother Mama Lucy was not formally schooled. She didn't have all the things that we would think are necessary for success in this day and age, but a few things she did have. She had a raw intelligence for sure and she had determination. With all of the challenges stacked up against her she made a decision that she was going to survive this and she went ahead and did it. It's just remarkable what she did in her life."
Several people, including this newsman, found Mama Lucy's story comparable to the journey of the slave who would become Harriet Tubman.
Mama Lucy's young child that was mentioned in the opening of the book was Mildred's mom Martha. Mildred described her late mother as a complicated woman.
"She did suffer from mental illness. The mental illness was never diagnosed while she was living. She was diagnosed post mortem. She transitioned about 15 years ago. In Haitian culture...because Haiti is such a complicated country, there are many problems, problems with the government, problems with the economy, problems with the infrstructure, problems with jobs and all the rest of it. There are so many problems that are stacked up against the people they don't have time to look at mental illness. Mental illness for them is like a luxury. Mental illness was never talked about in my family. But when I look back as I got older and I started seeing things that she was doing I realized something is wrong. As a matter of fact, I noticed it early on in my life but I couldn't articulate it as a little girl. As I got older I was very certain that something was wrong."
You can feel and taste the violence in this book as Antenor does not shy away from some frightening moments in her life.
While the author had two teachers who were instrumental in helping her progress at school, she also admits she was bullied in Crown Heights.
"We've always had bullies. We've always had victims of bullies. But it's really turned the corner I would say in the millenium where the victims of bullies are taking it to another level. There's a huge number of suicides with these victims that you did not have back then. I think it has to do with how we raise our children. I think it has to do with social media. We don't have enough confidence in our kids, I think, to allow them to feel the pain. And I'm taking about my generation, Generation Xers. We're raising them in such a way that were coddling them. It's almost as if we're afraid for the soles of their feet to get dirty. God forbid the soles of their feet get dirty. What are we going to do? It's important for children as they get older to experience some difficulty, because it's through the difficulty that you grow a backone and you get stronger. And I think it's through the difficulty you grow the backbone to allow you to deal with adversity in your adulthood. We are not allowing our children to deal with adversity and that I think is going to be a huge problem in our society as we progress."
Antenor, an award-winning commentator on WBGO who frequently addresses women's rights and social justice issues, hopes her memoir will help others.
"Some of the topics are hard to swallow, but I think at the end, it ends on a hopeful note."
The book is available at www.amazon.com.
Click above to hear the entire interview with Mildred Antenor, including the tragic story of her childhood friend Pouchon.