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#4095: Cadet a voice for children (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

C I N C I N N A T I   P O S T
Cadet a voice for children
Ellen Lord, Post staff reporter
It has been nearly 30 years since Jean-Robert Cadet was a restavek, but the
memories from that time still haunt him.
Cadet, 45, who lives in Madeira now, told his story in Restavec: From
Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, published two years ago.
(''Restavec'' in the title of Cadet's book is the French spelling.)
By writing and publicizing his book, Cadet has broken a national code of
silence and has brought international attention to a system some Haitians
would rather ignore. He has also faced his own history of emotional abuse
and realizes he may never fully overcome it.
''Bobby,'' as Cadet was called as a child, was a toddler when his mother, a
poor Haitian cook, died. His father was a rich white coffee grower who
refused to be associated with a mulatto son. He gave Bobby to another of his
mistresses, a woman Cadet calls Florence in his autobiography, t o be her
''At five-thirty in the morning, I picked up my bedding from the kitchen
floor, filled the bathtub, collected Florence's chamber pot, set the table,
and made a trip to the bakery,'' Cad et wrote. ''During Florence's
breakfast, I cleaned the chamber pot, watered the plants, and swept the
Either Florence or her son Denis beat him almost daily for wetting his bed.
He was not allowed to eat at the table with the family, could not initiate
conversation with Florence and had to wa sh her menstrual rags.
''Every night in my bedding under the kitchen table, I wished that either I
or Florence would never wake up again,'' he wrote.
Unlike most restaveks, though, Cadet was allowed to attend school after
doing chores. Ultimately, his father paid to send him to the United States
where he finished high school while working at night, served in the Army,
went to college in Florida and eventually got a master's degree in French
literature from the University of Cincinnati. He has taught in Madeira and
Cincinnati schools.
That a former restavek could go on to write such a book is remarkable, says
Myaiam Sylvain Torchon, manager of Asterix, a book store in Petion-ville,
part of Port-au-Prince.
''There has never been anybody who lived the restavek system before who
lived long enough or was educated enough to write about it,'' she said.
To Cadet, writing the book helped him explain to his 9-year-old son Adam why
no relatives vis it during the holidays. It brings back to life his boyhood
friend, Rene, a restavek who was beaten severely by police at his owners'
request and never seen again.
The book acknowledges a past Cadet hid for years and voices his strong
opposition to the restavek system.
''When the book came out he was very nervous,'' said Cindy Cadet, his wife,
an American. ''He said to me in bed one night, 'I feel like I might as well
walk down the street naked.'''
Since its publication in 1998, the book has garnered international
attention. Translations in French and Creole, the two predominant languages
in Haiti, are under way. Cadet has set up a foundation and a web site to
help fund centers like Foyer Maurice Sixto that help restaveks and educate
the public about the system.
''Former restaveks keep their pasts a secret because the stigma is
overwhelming. Had I not be en college educated, I don't think I would have
the courage to reveal my past to anyone,'' Cadet said. ''In Haitian society,
it's the lowest possible status. It's like being a dog. And no o ne wants to
reveal that he once was a dog.''
Publication date: 06-03-00