Suzette, the narrator of “New York Day Women,” is having a typical day in New York City when she sees her strolling through the streets of Manhattan. Suzette is taken aback, because to her knowledge her mother has never been outside of Brooklyn. Her mother has never even seen the office building where Suzette works, and she is also afraid of taking the subway. Shocked and a bit worried, Suzette decides to follow her mother as she walks the streets.
As Suzette tails her mother, her mind is filled with memorable quotes of things her mother has told her in the past. For example, when she sees her mother waiting patiently for cars to pass so she can cross the road, Suzette hears in her head, “In Haiti when you get hit by a car, the owner of the car gets out and kicks you for getting blood on his bumper” (Danticat 144). As her mother walks among the other New Yorkers, Suzette remembers that her mother doesn’t even go out to dinner with other people. “If they want to eat with me,” Suzette’s mother says, “let them come to my house, even if I boil water and give it to them” (Danticat 147).
Suzette is so preoccupied with following her mother that she almost overtakes her. She stops at a wall to rest and watches her mom strut along “as though she owns the sidewalk under her feet” (Danticat 148). Her mother stops to buy a can of soda and to look at a display of African-print dresses. Suzette can tell her mother is thinking about buying her one, and mentally begs her mother not to, because she would just give it to Goodwill. This makes Suzette remember her mother saying, “Why should we give to Goodwill when there are so many people back home who need clothes? We save our clothes for the relatives in Haiti” (Danticat 149).
The next stop is a hot-dog stand, where Suzette’s mother buys a frankfurter. Again, Suzette is shocked, because hot dogs are full of salt and her mother always says, “I cannot just swallow salt. Salt is heavier than a hundred bags of shame” (Danticat 149).
The final stop is the park. Suzette’s mother walks towards a woman dressed in fitness gear and her young son. The woman gives the child to Suzette’s mom and then jogs away. Suzette’s mother and the little boy are extremely comfortable with one another. They sit together on a park bench and Suzette’s mother gives the child the can of soda she bought earlier. They watch the other kids at the park play while the boy reads a comic book. After an hour passes, the woman returns, her workout completed. Suzette’s mother gives the woman her son back and walks further into the park.
By this time, Suzette’s one-hour lunch break has ended and she has to hurry back to the office. She takes one last look at her mother before hopping into a taxi. Her mother is standing in the park with other women who are babysitting other people’s children. To Suzette, they look like “a Third World Parent-Teacher Association” (Danticat 151).
In the cab, Suzette realizes that her mother never went to any of her Parent-Teacher Association meetings when she was in school. Her mother’s accuse for never going was, “You’re so good anyway. What are they going to tell me? I don’t want to make you ashamed of this day woman. Shame is heavier than a hundred bags of salt” (Danticat 155).
Set in New York City, “New York Day Women” is quite literally a departure from the other Krik? Krak! stories. Some of our characters have finally been successful in their quest to leave Haitian shores, and have arrived in the heart of America. Or have they really? To Suzette’s eyes, while her mother’s body might have reached America, her heart and soul never made the trip. Suzette has watched as her mother struggles to come to terms with certain “American” behaviors, like “eating out” and giving to Goodwill. Though these observations are humorous within the context of the story, they are examples of the real and serious struggles immigrants have when arriving in the United States. For so many, culture shock and the difficulty of assimilation are debilitating and make transitioning to America a nearly impossible task.
That is why “New York Day Women” is such a refreshing story to read. After witnessing firsthand her mother’s difficulties with American culture, imagine Suzette’s shock when she sees that same woman surviving and thriving in the middle of Manhattan. Suzette’s mother walks the street confidently “with a happy gait,” as if she has lived in New York her entire life (Danticat 143). She interacts easily with vendors and has no problem being with the child she babysits and his mother. At one point of the story, Suzette goes to step in and “save” her mom from an overeager bicycle messenger, only to find that her mother doesn’t need saving. It’s details like these that make “New York Day Women” not only a comedic story, but also a story of triumph.
Much of “New York Day Women’s” humor is derived from the “call and response”-esque format of the story between Suzette and her mother. For example, when Suzette thinks about the exercise bike she wants to buy, she recalls her mother saying, “You are pretty enough to be a stewardess. Only dogs like bones” (Danticat 149). By juxtaposing Suzette’s opinions about a topic with quotes from her mother about the same topic, Danticat illuminates the generational gaps that can exist between a mother and her daughter. She also shows the strength of the mother-daughter bond. Despite their disagreements, it is clear that love permeates Suzette’s relationship with her mother. This love is revealed in nonlinear ways. Suzette using her entire lunch break to follow her mother around Manhattan, making sure that her mother doesn’t need her help, is one example of this love. Suzette’s mother refusing to attend Parent-Teacher Association meetings because she doesn’t want to embarrass Suzette with her “foreignness” is another example of this love.
As the penultimate story in the Krik? Krak! collection, “New York Day Women” is a short and sweet story that transitions us from Haiti to America. Its unique structure allows the reader to view snapshots from the lives of Haitian women in their new environment. However, because of the story’s brevity, this view is limited. Perhaps a more complete picture will be offered in the last story.