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Archive for the ‘haitian pride’ Category


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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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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.
bey
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:).

 

 

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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).

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I am a Creole, but not the kind that you are most likely thinking of. I am not from Louisiana, nor do I resemble Beyonce. I speak Kreyòl, but I was not born in Haiti, and neither were my parents, or my grandparents. So why do I claim a Creole identity? And what does Haiti mean to me? My answer might surprise you. I believe that our world is comprised of both visible and invisible forces working together to create our experiences. In the visible world, my skin color, hair texture and body shape are the phenotypical identifiers of a Black woman, yet Blackness is not a homogenous, fixed social category. My ancestors are European, Native American, Asian and African. At my core, I am and continually strive to be a vessel of Light, sprouting forth and filled daily with the love of God. Because I am multicultural, multilingual, and multireligious, I am a Creole.
From birth to my early twenties, my experience was that of an African American girl from Savannah, Georgia who was raised in the West Indian neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn. My step-father, God-bless-the-dead, was Jamaican, and my best friends were Haitian, St. Lucian and Trinidadian. On holidays, we ate jerk pork, griot, candied yams and macaroni and cheese. We also sipped on rum punch, carrot juice and cremas that sent us straight to sleep while the adults socialized through the night. We listened to R&B, Rap, Reggae, Soca and Ska. Although culturally rich, my neighborhood was no utopia. In a city as diverse as New York, inter-ethnic prejudice is no secret, particularly among the international Black communities. Insults such as “Haitian or African Booty Scratcher” were common in my childhood, and the internalized racism was rarely addressed by adults, and sometimes encouraged. It is true that too many of my family members would whisper disparaging things about the habits of “foreigners” who were taking over New York. As a smart and well-mannered African American girl, I was an anomaly to many of my West Indian peers whose parents had cautioned them that Americans were lazy and were jealous of them.

The author in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

Khadeidra in Prospect Park, Brooklyn

The author in Lafayette Square, Savannah, GA

Kahdeidra in Lafayette Square in Savannah, GA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Black children developing our self-concept, we objectified ourselves and each other in manners that, as bell hooks writes, “were compatible with existing images and ways of knowing, constructed within the social frameworks that reinforce domination” (Ford and Dillard, 1996, p. 233). Painstakingly, I tried my best to use such prejudice as a motivation to work harder in school and in extra-curricular activities, as I not only had to counter stereotypes of my race, but of my class background and ethnicity, as well. In the space between high school and college, in a search for myself, I began to challenge my notions of work and pleasure, choice and obligation, assaulting myself with a barrage of doubts and hypotheticals. Gradually, everything that I thought that I was sure of had become a waste of time, and I questioned whether I truly had earned the privileges that I enjoyed—acceptance at elite institutions of learning, scholastic and public speaking awards—or whether standards had been lowered to accommodate me. I grew tired of having to prove my worthiness to others because the work came to easy, or too hard, or because I switched like I had diamonds between my legs when I had been expected to apologize for the sight of my voluptuous booty and thighs amidst the stellar student-athletes.
During my sophomore year in college, after a Spring Break Learning Expedition to Ghana, I decided that I was not going to comb my hair anymore, and after several days, it began to naturally sprout dreadlocks. They were different sizes and shapes and absolutely beautiful. They started in the back of my head and worked their way around the sides, but the very top and front of my hair refused to lock. These strands were too straight and were what Black people referred to as my “good hair.” In all of my efforts to be “pure” African with the distinctive strong, tightly coiled hair texture to match, my own truth was literally staring me in the mirror. I joked that the behavior of these strands could be traced to my maternal Irish great-great-grandmother saying to me, “You better respect me, too! You ain’t all African.” My elders tell me that she was very light-skinned with long red hair and freckles, so I assume that she shared the Scotch-Irish heritage of several White Americans in the South. Across my cheeks and nose are both freckles and moles, which my mother refers to as “Black people’s freckles.” If I was not all African, and clearly not all European, then who was I? Why do I often find similarities between myself and people from the Caribbean when others claim that we are “totally different”?
I turned to God. I called on my ancestors for guidance, and they served it in a huge way. The more I prayed, the more I dreamed, and listened, and witnessed, and loved. It was revealed to me that somewhere in my lineage, I had Haitian ancestors. Moreover, they had been priests and priestesses of the Vodou religion. It was my path—the African American girl from Savannah—to initiate into the religion, as well. This news entirely changed my life. It shocked me and at the same time anchored and fortified me. I believed wholeheartedly in my connection with God. I believed wholeheartedly in my connection with my ancestors, so I trusted my messages and began my training in the theology and liturgy of Haitian Vodou. I deepened my cursory knowledge of Haitian culture and began to learn prayers and songs that were in French, Kreyòl, Fon, Yoruba, Kikongo and other indigenous languages. This process affirmed my whole being, and I began to develop what Ford and Dillard (1996) referred to as the “critical social consciousness” that allowed me to deconstruct notions of race and religion.

 

Veve are sacred drawings representing the Lwa

Veve are sacred drawings representing the Lwa

 

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

Historically, ‘Creole’ has been used to refer to people with mixed African-European parentage, but not always. ‘Creole’ also has referred to people with a mixed cultural experience, who were often multilingual. I contemplated what it meant to be a mixture of different skin tones and cultures. Supremacist narratives of any kind would undo me. Did my African and Native American ancestors truly worship the Devil in their indigenous religions? If so, then their historical enslavement and decimation at the hands of Whites makes sense. Yet, if the Devil seeks enslavement for his followers, then God must seek liberation. I must credit God for all triumphs against enslavement and institutions of oppression. I must credit God with the success of the Haitian Revolution on January 1, 1804, which formed the first independent Black nation in the Americas and provided a beacon of hope for all others who remained enslaved.
Haitian Vodou is a religion of Creoles, of people from Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Dahomey, the Kongo who called on every name of God that they knew of to escape death and persecution. Powerful ancestors and forces of nature known as orisha, vodun and bisimbi in Africa (Ginen) became zanj and lwa in Haiti. Male and female, husband and wife, mother and child, they united to lead the Creoles in their fight for liberation. In reconciling the religious customs that he was taught with his emerging critical social consciousness, B. Kanpol (1997) writes, “I must challenge traditional Jewish ways, or even social efficient systems, as I did as a boy, and read for myself the New Testament or/and create possibility out of a simple and mechanistic mindset” (p. 30). What Kanpol describes in challenging religious norms and seeking truth for himself is precisely the kind of “leap of faith” that strengthens my belief in religious plurality and my commitment to practicing the beautiful religion of my ancestors.

 

Mambo and houngan marching at a ceremony

Mambo and Houngan marching at a ceremony

Ten years since I first received my call, I have become a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Haitian Vodou, and my husband Hermann is a Houngan, a priest. He initiated at 19 years old and has been active in supporting and preserving Vodou sacred traditions throughout Haiti and the dysapora. I am a Southern girl at heart, and he is as country as they come, so our movements are often synchronized in some way. We meet over stewed turkey wings and white rice, mayi moulen and grits, lima beans and sos pwa. We meet over Kongo square and Neg Mawon. We meet over loud talking and bay blag, all day, toujou. Through the practice of Vodou, I have learned that only God has wisdom, and it is precisely our arrogance, or frekan-ness, that keeps us from moving forward. My spirituality is my defense against oppressive social practices. It is the critical lens through which I see the world and make sense of its infinite multiplicities. I am a Creole, a Savannah Creole, and I could never be more proud.

 

 

 

The author and her husband in ceremonial dress

Kahdeidra and her husband in ceremonial dress

 

 

 

The author and her husband on their wedding day

Kahdeidra and husband on wedding day

 

 

The author and her husband at a ceremony in Archaiae, Haiti

Kahdeidra and husband at a ceremony in Archaiae, Haiti

 

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

An offering that will be shared with visitors after the ceremony

 
References
Ford, T., & Dillard, C. (1996). Becoming multicultural: A recursive process of self-and
     social construction. Theory into Practice, 35(4), 232-238.
Kanpol, B. (1997). Establishing a criticality and Critical pedagogy and the multicultural
     project. In Barry Kanpol & Fred Yeo (Eds.), Issues and trends in critical
    pedagogy (pp. 21-32, 49-63). NJ: Hampton Press.

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This blog post was written and submitted by DJ Hard Hittin Harry

Tuesday January 12, 2016 marks 6 years since the devastating earthquake and subsequent aftershocks that crippled my beautiful island of Haiti on January 12th in 2010. It is a tragic day that I will never soon forget…and no one else should either.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake, with an epicenter near the town of Léogâne (Ouest Department), approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.  The shaking started on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 4:53 p.m. EST (21:53 UTC)

By the 24th of January, at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater had been recorded. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. Death toll estimates range from 100,000 to about 160,000  (Haitian government figures ranging from 220,000 to 316,000 have been widely characterized as deliberately inflated by the Haitian government.) The government of Haiti estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged. There has been a history of national debt, prejudicial trade policies by other countries, and foreign intervention into national affairs that contributed to the pre-existing poverty and poor housing conditions that exacerbated the death toll.

I will never forget that day. Since it actually occurred on a Tuesday afternoon, I had just finished spinning my online mix show (The Global Jam Session) at a studio in Newark, New Jersey at 4:00pm EST. I vividly recall commuting via the subway back to Brooklyn. By the time I arrived in Brooklyn, the Haiti earthquake was “BREAKING NEWS”. I began receiving a multitude of texts to turn on the TV. From that moment I, nor anyone, will never soon forget the events and images plastered all over the TV screen on every channel. Mayhem, death, sadness, and devastation emanated from Haiti to the horrified world via news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, and others. Phone lines and cell phone service to and from Haiti were shut down and as you can well imagine, panic ensued. Unspeakable chaos followed as family members here in the United States (as well as all over the world) desperately tried to contact loved ones, family members, and friends via news and radio stations. Local Haitian radio stations such as Radio Soleil, tirelessly operated by Mr. Rico Dupuy became the hub for the Haitian community to desperately attempt to locate their loved ones 24/7. Haitian businesses such as Savoir Faire Record Store in Flatbush were flooded with medical supplies, clothes, and food to help our people. The world continued to watch and wondered how they could help and donate monies. Yet…as the death toll and the number of displaced Haitians continued to rise…you couldn’t help to begin losing hope.

The impact of the earthquake affected me personally here in the States. The day of the quake I received word from my mother that her elder sister, my then-84 year old aunt, Marcelle St. Jean (A United States citizen and New Jersey resident) happened to be in Haiti at that time. Every year Tante Marcelle or Ti ManMan (Lil’ Mama), as we affectionately call her, travels to Haiti to celebrate her birthday as well as deliver toys and gifts to a school that her son, Rev. Marcel St. Jean (my cousin), has there called Sam Haiti. When the earthquake occurred, my aunt was one of the victims buried under the rubble, and went missing for 3 days.
Marcel1
Thanks to a concerned neighbor, my aunt was found in the streets and her children were contacted stateside.  Then came the daunting task of how to get to her and bring her back to the States. My cousins Bernard and Catherine flew to the Dominican Republic and retrieved my aunt in Port-Au-Prince. She was subsequently flown to a Miami hospital for treatment. On Tuesday January 19th, 2010, exactly one week after the horrific events that claimed lives and displaced thousands of Haitians, the Good Lord answered our prayers and my aunt arrived at JFK Airport bruised and battered,  yet alive. Fox 5 News even covered the story and cameras documented her safe return.  Six years later, and undaunted, my dear Tante Marcelle (Ti ManMan) will be in Haiti to celebrate her 90th birthday on January 16, 2016. She is a true warrior and survivor…and very blessed I might add!
marcel3  marcel2
We were extremely fortunate with our situation, however our hearts and prayers goes out to families deeply affected by this unspeakable tragedy. It’s been 6 years since the Haiti earthquake and although the island is on a recovery mission, there is still a long way to go. Let us never forget that day and the victims and their families.
MarcelleHHH2015
Here are the tolls according to CNN:

  • 220,000-316,000: estimates of the death toll vary
  • 300,000: number of injured
  • 1.5 million: people initially displaced
  • 64,680: displaced people remain as of March 31, 2015
  • 3,978: number of schools damaged or destroyed by earthquake

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While on the phone with my mom on New Year’s Eve and I casually mention that I’ll come over the following day to have some soup joumou as I’ve done every Haitian Independence Day for as long as I remember.  She casually responds “I’m not making soup this year.” *record scratch*

In all my life, I had never heard of such a thing from my mother.  I tried to reason with her (i.e. guilt trip her).  “How can you NOT make soup this year?”  “What about your GRANDCHILDREN?!”  Still nothing.  I told her I would pray that she changes her mind, pray for a miracle — and pray I did.  I got off the phone with her and she seemed grounded in her decision not to make soup this year.

Naturally, I called one of my besties (also a Haitian-American) to complain, and she tells me that her mother is away visiting her cousin for the New Year and her soup joumou prospects are looking a lot like mine.  Stunned and appalled, we went on and on complaining about these mothers of ours “What kind of Nouveau Haitians are they becoming?! What kind of grandparents do this sort of thing to their grandkids’ parents??” Then my girlfriend says “I mean, we’re grown…but still…”  and without missing a beat, I counter with “We aren’t that grown”…but her comment gave me pause.

We are pretty grown.  We have three kids each and our youngests are 5 and 6 — so our babies are not even babies.  It hit me in that instant that maybe I should be making my own soup joumou.  I was not being independent at all (on Haitian Independence Day of all days!) In fact, I’ve been pretty dependent on my parents keeping my Haitian culture alive for me and my children.  It’s so easy to fall into that pattern when you live so close to your parents, and your world (and that of your children) is so Americanized.  I realized then that I must do better.  I actually have the recipe for soup joumou (in fact, I’ve posted it on this very blog in the past), but hadn’t even considered making it myself.  I realized again the responsibility that I, as a Haitian-American, have to pass down the culture of my parents to my children as best I can.

Luckily for me, before I was able to run to the supermarket and get all the ingredients for my very first January 1st Soup Joumou, I got a call from my mother.  A friend of my father’s gave him a huge pot of soup joumou to bring home. (One thing you should know about Haitians is when they do make soup joumou they make a whole lot of it!)  My prayers had been answered…Amen!

Soup-Joumou

I was very happy to be able to enjoy soup joumou, pates and kremas with my parents this year (again).  Next year, though, I do plan to hook my own household up with my own soup joumou…I’ll invite my parents over if my mom doesn’t feel like making it herself.  After all, I am grown.

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