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More Than a Game

My Two Cents

Since 2010 I have worked and partnered with a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization called Community2Community. They help to build self-sufficient communities in Haiti, by working with the community.

The organization is focused on tackling four areas the impacted the people of Piton, a mountainside village just outside of Petit Goave, Haiti:

1. Building a road to allow supplies to come in and out the community, as well as allow commerce and transportation to take place more efficient and effectively.

2. Reforest the mountainside, which had been ravaged after years of excessive production of chabon, which is Creole for charcoal.

3. Providing a centralized clean water source, so that the people of the community no longer have to spend 6-8 hours a day fetching buckets of water to perform their daily tasks; such as cooking, laundry and bathing.

4. Rebuild the school that had been damaged by the earthquake and subsequently destroyed due…

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As a child, I usually found it quite fun being a girl. Growing up with two brothers had its perks: I got to do all the girly things that girls do (dressing up, playing with dolls, etc), but I also got to get dirty and do all the things that the boys did too. It was the best of both worlds. Usually.

I was raised to be a good little Haitian girl, and as such I was required to greet (“saluer“) all adults properly. “Properly” greeting a grown-up by Haitian standards means that the younger person should greet each adult in a room (or a group) individually. Boys had the pleasure of shaking hands with the men and kissing the women on the cheek. Girls had to kiss every single adult present, male and female. Oh, how I longed to be a boy in those moments!

Usually with my mom’s friends, the ritual involved said kissing followed by a sort of “Show and Tell”. I would stand there, my mom would share “important” highlights of my current life using my Haitian nickname (which by the way 90% of Haitian-Americans have): “Gigi had 2nd honors this quarter, if it wasn’t for Conduct, she would have had 1st honors; AND she’s almost the same shoe size as me!”. Her friends would respond: “It’s good to be smart, Gigi!…but you shouldn’t talk so much in class”, “Ah, li grandie!“, etc. This was usually followed by a brief “Question and Answer” session directed at me: “So…tell me…do you have a boyfriend at school?” or “Would you like if I bring over some of my old shoes?”. The whole episode was quite embarrassing.

My dad would have his friends over periodically for a good old fashion game of Dominoes. The event was somewhat akin to “Poker Night” in American culture. The players were all men. Whenever we kids had to greet them, I was so jealous of my brothers. They would saunter through the room shaking everyone’s hands and then run off to play. I, however, had to go cheek to cheek to cheek to cheek… *sigh*

I dreaded the whole scene. It took forever (compared to my brothers) to greet in this way; I wanted to run off and play too! And it wasn’t just that; I had an issue with the whole “closeness-to-people-I-don’t-know” thing. There were times I had to kiss beard stubble! (Ugh!) Sometimes the men smelled like, uh, they had a long day; other times i found that grown-ups smelled too “good” – like they took a bath in a tub of cologne or something. It didn’t take much to gross me out.

my sentiments exactly!

how i felt

I didn’t yet know about the cheek to cheek kiss, which would have helped me out a lot back then, but I did sometimes do my version of an “air kiss.” I would approach the adult whom I had deemed gross for whatever reason, and ACT like I planted a kiss on their cheek, but never actually made contact at all. I’m not sure if they noticed it or not, but I thought I was pretty slick since it never came back to haunt me.

Today, I believe the rules are still the same in the Haitian culture. I still greet older Haitians with an actual kiss on the cheek (I’ve outgrown the air kiss). My tolerance level has improved, I suppose, because I don’t find it to be such a chore anymore. Occasionally, I’ll implement the cheek to cheek kiss, but kissing to greet my Haitian elders has become natural for me.

My (half-Haitian, half-American) kids greet people according to the cultural norms that the person being greeted is used to. My children are required to “saluer” all Haitian adults Haitian-style ( I don’t really require them to do this for first generation Haitian adults, though, as it is not really the American way). This requirement, however, does not hold true for American adults (although, they are required to kiss American family). When kissing is required of them, my boys have been taught to shake the hands of men (look them in the eye, and give a firm shake), and kiss the cheeks of women; and my daughter has been taught to kiss the cheeks of both women and men. When they don’t have to kiss, they are expected to speak – there is still some form of greeting that goes on. And I admit: I have, at times, been guilty of using my kids for “Show and Tell”. Sue me.

If you asked me as a child, I would have told you that my kids would never have to kiss anyone ever; and that I would never ever use them as the subject for “Show and Tell”, but maturity changes things. I hope that my daughter doesn’t dread this ritual as I did. But, hey, at least she has far fewer people to kiss…and like me, she will survive it.

we all survive it in the end

Did you have to “saluer” like I did growing up? Were you often a “Show and Tell” item? Did you mind any of it? What do you require of your children when greeting your family and friends?

 


Check out Cornbread and Cremasse live TONIGHT! Haitian AllStarZ Radio on WBAI 99.5 FM (or online at wbai.org) every Tuesday evening/ early Wednesday morning 12Midnight – 2:00am. Call in with your comments and shout outs at 718-780-8888.

Tune into tomorrow’s show as we welcome musical guests Monvelyno Alexis and Riva Précil also known as Bohio Music. This amazing duo delivers a wonderful blend of Haitian Vodou and Roots music. You will be thoroughly entertained with their sensual vocals and guitar.

We also welcome LIVE in the studio Ingrid Austin-Daniels of Cornbread and Cremasse with the monthly “Blague” segment and Manolia Live returns with the Haitian AllStarZ news update.

Haitian AllStarZ is hosted by Hard Hittin Harry, DJayCee, Only One Pro, and MC Dred-I. Tune in every week for a fantastic blend of Haitian Kompas, Zouk, RaRa, Kanaval, and much more! The show offers a weekly dose of Music, News, Culture, Politics and Discussion from a Haitian/American and universal perspective embracing the community we belong to.

Don’t miss HAITIAN ALL-STARZ RADIO every Tuesday evening/ early Wednesday morning 12MIDNIGHT EST on WBAI 99.5 FM!

@globaljam @haitian_all_starz  @rivanyri @manolialive @monvelyno @djayceenyc @kool_ing @only1pro @mc_dredi @hardhittinharry  #haitianallstarz   #haitianallstarzradio #wbai #wbaifm #wbairadio #wbai99fm #konbitmizik #haiti #haitian #haitians #kompas #rara #kanaval #zouk #reggae #dancehallreggae #soca #caribbean #radio #djhardhittinharry #hardhittinharry #djharry #djaycee #mcdredi #haitianman #only1pro #onlyonepro

 

When I was junior in high school, a new hip hop album was released by a group called A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) entitled “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”.  My then boyfriend had bought the new ATCQ cassette tape and he dubbed it for me.  I loved that album so much that I played the tape over and over again until the audio started sounding funny.

They were part of a crew called the Native Tongues, who I was really feeling back then (and even still now).  The Native Tongues were a group of hip hop artist known for their positive-minded, good-natured Afrocentric lyrics.  They also pioneered the use of eclectic sampling and jazz-influenced beats. They were different and more fun than the standard hip hop groups up until that time. I felt that I could relate to them the most out of all the other hip hop groups/crews at the time.  They  were young, black and seemed to have fun together.  Their lyrics didn’t focus on the ill realities of the inner city and as a carefree high schooler, that was more my speed.  Relatability has always been important to me.  They even had female emcees in the crew — one of which grew up close to where I lived.

As I matured and started to identify more with my Haitian culture, I still loved hip hop but was very aware that Haitian-Americans were not represented in the genre – not publicly anyway.  I was a sophomore in college when I heard the first real Haitian hip-hop reference…and it came from none other than Phife Dawg, a member of a Tribe Called Quest.

It was one line,  but it was such a big deal for us fans who were Haitian.  He said “I love ’em black, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian, name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation…”.  We were all so hyped to have been shout out by such an amazing, mainstream group.  Phife is Trinidadian, so he could have very well shout out his own country, or instead said “Jamaican” which was a more common Caribbean country that would also rhyme with “Nation”…but he didn’t; He said “Haitian”!!  I love how he SAW us..and loved us — so much so that he put it in his rhyme.  When people acknowledge you, you feel empowered.  Thanks to Phife, Haitians were no longer invisible in hip hop. That small gesture…to be seen, named, and publicly acknowledged was such huge deal to me.  My love for ATCQ was already deep, but it deepened after that.

I was saddened to learn that Malik Taylor, also known as Phife Dawg passed away recently.   I would have liked to thank him for that shout out.   I wonder if he knew how much we appreciated that line.

Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest

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TONIGHT tune in for another brand new episode of Haitian AllStarZ Radio on WBAI 99.5 FM (Pacifica Radio) every Tuesday evening/ early Wednesday morning 12Midnight – 2:00am.
Tonight’s episode features LIVE in the studio special guest SMAX MUSIC originally from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Smax Music’s sound is an eclectic mix of a variety of Caribbean Music and Rock.
Tune in to the “Blague” segment! Ingrid Austin-Daniels and Dina John of Corn Bread Cremasse with the latest blog post “Faux Haiti”. Call us at 718-780-8888.

 

 

Faux Haiti

The battle of the Caribbean islands was on!

Flag-Pins-Haiti-Trinidad-and-Tobago

 

It all started when my in- laws coordinated a trip to their country of origin, Trinidad and Tobago.  They wanted their grandchildren to see and get to know their life journey. It was great trip with lots food, fun, and of course being with family.  It got me to thinking that it was equally important for my kids to get to know my parents’ country of origin, Haiti.

So what does a fully assimilated Haitian-American do to make that happen?

I booked a cruise, of course.

 

Now, I had set my expectations of Haiti very high. I was 6 years old the last time I had visited. I mean on a scale of 1-10, it was on one million.  What life has taught me is that the higher the expectations, the more likely you are to be disappointed.  I brought it on myself and that is exactly what happened when we docked in Labadee, Haiti. As we approached Haiti on Day 3,  I was struck by the beauty of the mountains and how picturesque the scenery was. Then out of nowhere a dark cloud appeared over us and began a torrential downpour, an ominous sign indeed.

So back to the cruise, before I get into the nitty gritty and you may feel the need to comment about how I went about it all wrong. You are right. Who asked you anyway?  The lesson in this is NEVER take a cruise line to a country if you really want to get a feel for the culture. That was my biggest mistake.
 So we arrive in Labadee Haiti, a privately owned island, sanctioned by the cruise line in a torrential downpour. I figure since we had been on that boat for 3 days, We ARE getting off.  We are greeted by a group of men singing “Guantanamera”. I did one of those gestures where you look back and then in front of you a few times, like “What in the world? Is this for real?” I understand Haitian music is a unique blend of African, Spanish, and French rhythms but I anticipated compas/kompa upon my arrival.
 We just continued on our way but that experience was just the tip of the iceberg. However, I made sure to make eye contact as if somehow they could read my mind.
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There were signs directing us to a marketplace area where we could buy from the locals. Prior to departure, it was explained that the vendors were “cruise line” approved. In other words, you had to go through a vetting process in order to work on Labadee.  As we strolled through the marketplace, I am accustomed to vendors trying to get my attention, the other guests of the cruise, weren’t so pleased. I almost wanted to yell ” Stop it, we are better than this!”.
I wanted to pick a bottle of rum, so I stepped into a small store and begin to peruse the merchandise. I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea to put a picture of Bob Marley on souvenirs with the caption ” Labadee, Haiti”.  I love Bob Marley like the next person, but I also know he is NOT Haitian.  This was not isolated either, it was everywhere.  There is so much more to Haitian culture that there is no reason to culturally misappropriate individuals.
IMG_5002 (1)
We have so much we could be proud of as outlined in : https://cornbreadandcremasse.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/telling-our-story-3/, but here are a just a few facts to share.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Ameridian named Taino/Arawak both meaning the good people.
Haiti is the most mountainous country in the Caribbean.
Haiti has the second longest coastline in the Caribbean after Cuba; 1.100 miles. Over 70% of its beaches are still virgin.
Haiti was the second country in the world to issue a Declaration of Independence, only 33 years after the United States of America.
The first and only country in the history of mankind whose independence is the result of a successful slave rebellion.
Haiti is the first Black Republic in the World.
The first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolished slavery; it would take the United States of America another 65 years to follow suit.
The first and only Black Nation to have successfully defeated a major world power in a war; under the command of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haiti defeated the world mightiest army at the time, France’s; on November 18th 1803 after 14 years of battle.
-The only country in the Western Hemisphere to have defeated three colonial armies for its independence. The powerful armies of Spain, England and France.
-Haiti is unique in history, going directly from slavery to nationhood.
The National flag of Venezuela was created at the sea port of  Jacmel, a city in  south east Haiti.
Upon Independence, Haiti became the first country in the American Continent to constitutionally grant all Its citizen full rights regardless of gender or race.
Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for 22 years. From 1822 to 1844, holding the entire Island of Hispaniola under Its jurisdiction. Today’s Dominican Republic was called Spanish Haiti at the time.
Haiti is one of the only two countries in the American Continent having French as an official language. The other is Canada.
Haiti is the only country in the world with Vodou as an official religion.
For much of the 17th and the 18th century, Haiti was responsible for 60% of the world’s  coffee exports.
 Even though, things were not perfect or realistic for that matter, it meant a lot to me to be able to share the experience with my family. Clearly, I need a trip to Haiti do over and when I do, you will be the first to know.
Have you ever visited a place that didn’t quite live up to your expectations? How did you reconcile your expectations with the reality? I would love to hear your comments and ideas for my do over trip:).

 

 

Telling Our Story

When I was a child in school, Black History Month was when I first learned about African-American heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and George Washington Carver.  While it was refreshing to learn of these people and their contribution to history, I also learned how very unfairly Blacks were treated in the United States before the Civil Rights era.  Even in the midst of celebrating “us”, the “Black as the underdog” thing was looming and stayed in the back of my mind.  Honestly, Black History Month was one of the few times I didn’t so much mind being “different” or more like my African-American counterparts.  As a Haitian-American child, I knew that my parents didn’t have the same history that I was learning about.  I was still “different” — but this time I felt like maybe it wasn’t so bad.

As a parent today, I hate that my children have to learn that their country didn’t (and in many cases still doesn’t) treat Black people and other people of color fairly because of the color of their skin.  Although the list of Black Heroes that my kids are learning is longer than what I remember being taught growing up, I wonder if Black people being the historical underdog looms in their young minds as well.

blackhistorymonth

Isn’t Black History Month supposed to uplift?  Without discounting what our kids are already being taught about the historical contribution of African-Americans, why aren’t they also being taught more uplifting stories about Black people? Why aren’t they learning about Egyptian Kings and Queens? Why isn’t Haitian History part of the curriculum? It’s a more recent history.  I am of the belief (and yes, I might be biased) that Haitian history is not just for Haitians — it is literally BLACK history — a story of redemption for all people of color who have ever been enslaved.  Is the story of the Haitian Revolution too militant?  Surely it’s not more militant than the story of white settlers coming to a foreign country and taking what wasn’t theirs to begin with (i.e. American history).   I suppose we shouldn’t depend on the hunter to tell the lion’s story.

Article_didyouknow

I make it my business to share that history with my children — and whoever else will listen. (When my eldest was in Kindergarten, I spoke to his class about the Haitian Revolution during Black History Month).  Haiti’s history is all too often ignored in terms of its importance and significance. What a momentous event!  The story of the Haitian Revolution is an event that has significance, not only for Black people, but for all of humanity. When the slaves revolted in mass in 1791 after a long struggle against the French army, they were able to proclaim Haiti’s independence and the end of slavery in 1804.  It was the first time that a whole people (Black people!) extended the notion of freedom to everybody. Not only that, they also demonstrated that slavery is the unnatural state, and freedom is the natural state of people.  They rightfully took back what was theirs!

We need to boost our kids’ self esteem with this story.  Obviously the schools are not going to to it, so it is our responsibility.  My children have both African-American and Haitian ancestors, and I think it’s my job, as a Haitian American parent, to make sure they know something about the history of both sides of their family.  I think even if half of their family wasn’t Haitian, this is a story worth telling — especially to our Black children.  Haitian History is BLACK history.  It is a victorious history of an oppressed people who fought for — and won — their freedom.  This should be part of the Black History curriculum.   Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter (even when the hunter wants you to think it’s all about the lion for a month).