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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.
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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.
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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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This post first appeared in the Haitian Times at the following link:

http://haitiantimes.com/6-haitian-women-to-celebrate-for-womens-history-month-10666/

March is Women’s History Month. Take a look at these six Haitian-American women who are sure to earn their place in history for their work in the Haitian community and in their respective fields.

Charlene Bathelus made history in 2012 when she became the youngest Haitian American elected to public office in Elizabeth, NJ. Bathelus, who serves on the Elizabeth school board, is also an active community leader in New Jersey. Bathelus is also the community partnership coordinator for Prevention Links and supervises two local civic groups where she educates the public on the importance of civic engagement and leading a productive and healthy lifestyle.

Executive director of Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX), Regine Roumainworks tirelessly to promote Haitian culture through her organization. Located in Brooklyn, HCX hosts events ranging from open readings from emerging and celebrated Haitian writers to art exhibitions and live musical performances. Her mission is to bring all realms of Haitian culture to the masses to celebrate it for the beauty it has to offer.

Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre was elected in 2014 to the 11th assembly district, which includes Wheatley Heights, Lindenhurst and North Amityville. Jean-Pierre is an active member of the Haitian community. She is the former vice president of Haitian Americans United for Change (HAUC). After the 2010 earthquake, she led a relief team to provide emergency support to those affected by the quake.

Blogging and marketing maven Karen Civil has made a name for herself in the entertainment and hip-hop industry. In 2014, she put her notoriety to work for Haiti when she traveled to Haiti and made a $41,000 donation to build the Live Civil Playground.

Elected in 2013, Valerie Cartright was the first Haitian American elected to office in Suffolk County. She is serving her first term as councilwoman for the Town of Brookhaven.  An attorney by trade, she has an impressive legal career that spans 10 years.

Fabienne Colas is a modern-day Renaissance woman. The actress, director and producer founded the Montreal International Black Film Festival, Canada’s largest black film festival. “Considered by many as the most popular actress in Haitian cinema, Fabienne started out as a model, was crowned Miss Haiti in 2000 and has represented Haiti in numerous beauty contests around the world.”

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The following blog was submitted by Elikusa A.

As a middle school administrator in a very highly populated first generation American Community in Maryland, I am often reminded of many experiences of being raised as a first generation Haitian American  in Irvington, New Jersey in the late 80’s.  Here’s a comment  that my parents use to always say to my brother’s teachers when they found themselves in the school office for some disciplinary action, “If you do that again, I will send you back to Haiti.”  As a young child that meant something but by the time my brother got to middle school, he knew that wasn’t happening.  He knew it was just an empty threat but he continued to play the role in this melodrama.  He would act like he was scared (sometimes even cry) and that he learned his lesson and my parent’s walked out of the office feeling like they did something but of course they didn’t because within the next two weeks my parents were back in the school office.  I thought only my parents did this until I became the administrator who was calling parents from- Nigeria, Jamaica, Ghana and of course Haiti – and one after another they would say the same thing, “If you do that again, I will send you back to …. ” and their child would act like they learned their lesson but all I could do is laugh (inside) because I saw was my younger brother, who by this age knew what this meant.  For me I knew sooner or later I would see the same student back in my office.
What comments did your parents make to your teachers, to your principals or just to you when you got in trouble?   I would love to hear them.

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gros morneOctober 29, 2014

by: Ashley Toussaint

She never talked about what had happened in Haiti. She never talked about why she left home. She did not mention her family much. As a result, I never met my maternal grandparents, my mother’s older sister or her younger brother. She had left Gros Morne, when she was in her late teens, for the Bahamas and then Miami, back in the early 1970s with my father….(Continue reading the original blog here: Gros Morne: The Other Side.)

 

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By: Militant Barbie, Blogger

October 13, 2014

Source: http://militantbarbie.com/post/99945133850/in-defense-of-history-frederick-douglass-manifesto-to

 

 

arawaks Arawaks were indigenous people of Caribbean islands, such as what is now present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic

We should not forget that the freedom you and I enjoy to-day; that the freedom that eight hundred thousand colored people enjoy in the British West Indies; the freedom that has come to the colored race the world over, is largely due to the brave stand taken by the black sons, of Haiti ninety years ago.”  -Frederick Douglass’ speech “Lecture on Haiti,” at the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition, Chicago.

As I’ve written in other publications, the African-American presence at 19th and 20th century world fairs and expositions, explores an important part of U.S history that didn’t make it into the textbooks. When I first learned about the Atlanta Negro Building, a 25,000 square foot black arts and cultural exhibition space that was the birthplace of the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance movement, I was dumbfounded. How did I, nor most people I asked, not know about this? Since then, the history of black people in world fairs and expositions has led me in many different directions and on this day, the one where we are forced to celebrate yet again, a man who committed the genocide, enslavement and pillage of dozens of indigenous groups in America, (by the way, Happy Columbus Day) it was only fitting that I travel back to another world fair, this time, in  Chicago.

On May 1, 1893, the city hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery,” of the “New” World. Blanketing more than 600 acres in mostly Jackson Park, the fair attracted many high-powered civil leaders, politicians and tycoons who hoped to bring economic growth and new opportunities to the White City. Its neighbors, New York City, D.C, and St. Louis contributed to the fair’s efforts, which presented an image of American industrialism, expansion and architectural beauty to the some 27 million visitors that year. Like Atlanta’s Cotton States Exposition two years later, Chicago’s World Fair was an important means of bringing people together to recognize and celebrate America’s growing regions.

The irony of celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage is that the World’s Fair Expo also made room for an exhibit hall called the Haitian Pavilion. A space dedicated to the country of Haiti, it was one of 46 international countries that participated in the fair. On January 2, 1893,  Frederick Douglass, a U.S Minister and Consul General to Haiti, delivered his riveting speech, “Lecture on Haiti,”  to some 1500 people inside the Haitian Pavilion.

But maybe it wasn’t ironic. After all, the island of Hispaniola was where Columbus first landed in 1492, when he thought he reached an island off the coast of China. Inhabited by an indigenous group called the Arawaks, the explorer described Hispaniola as a mountainous region with “plains and pastures, both fertile and beautiful… [and] many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals…”  But not for long. Soon after landing, Columbus built a fort, which historian Howard Zinn considers the first European military base in the West, and enslaved its inhabitants.

By 1497, 125,000 Arawaks were dead.

By 1550, 500 Arawaks were left.

By 1650, no record of the Arawak people existed.

Douglass made many visits to Haiti in his consulate position, and he had a deep appreciation for the country as the first and only nation to ever successfully revolt against slavery. As a former enslaved person himself, Douglass was inspired by Haiti’s revolutionary ways and credited its people as models for African-Americans, as they fought their own battle for freedom and equality. Douglass also highlighted Haiti’s beauty despite its fragile political and economic state, which he believed was capable of better days:

 “NO OTHER LAND HAS BRIGHTER SKIES. No other land has purer water, richer soil, or a more happily diversified climate. She has all the natural conditions essential to a noble, prosperous and happy country.  Yet, there she is, torn and rent by revolutions, by clamorous factions and anarchies; floundering her life away from year in a labyrinth of social misery. Every little while we find her convulsed by civil war, engaged in the terrible work of death; frantically shedding her own blood and driving her best mental material into hopeless exile. Port au Prince, a city of sixty thousand souls, and capable of being made one of the healthiest, happiest and one of the most beautiful cities of the West Indies, has been destroyed by fire once in each twenty-five years of its history. The explanation is this: Haiti is a country of revolutions.”

Douglass discussed Haiti’s evolution from a slave colony to a free black republic following 1804 Haitian Revolution. He encouraged the U.S to improve its relationship with Haiti because the country had great growth potential.

Haiti did more than raise armies and discipline troops. She organized a Government and maintained a Government during eighty-seven years. Though she has been ever and anon swept by whirlwinds of lawless turbulence; though she has been shaken by earthquakes of anarchy at home, and has encountered the chilling blasts of prejudice and hate from the outside world, though she has been assailed by fire and sword, from without and within, she has, through all the machinations of her enemies, maintained a well defined civil government, and maintains it to-day. She is represented at all courts of Europe, by able men, and, in turn, she has representatives from all the nations of Europe in her capitol.

Douglass understood the racial and political reasons why Haiti was having a difficult time creating partnerships with its European neighbors. The1804 Revolution was so fierce, so bold, so extraordinary, that enslavers across the globe imposed new laws to keep blacks from forming future uprisings. This small island forced whites to think harder about the foundation of slavery, as they watched it burst in flames throughout the deep mountains of Saint Dominigue. Despite the chills Haiti gave many white supremacists, Douglass unapologetically praised the nation and urged people to recognize its potential:

With a people beginning a national life as Haiti did, with such crude material within, and such antagonistic forces operating upon her from without, the marvel is, not that she is far in the rear of civilization, but that she has survived in any sense as a civilized nation…

Already she has added five hundred schools to her forces of education, within the two years of Hyppolite’s administration. [Applause,] In the face of such facts; in the face of the fact that Haiti still lives, after being boycotted by all the Christian world; in the face of the fact of her known progress within the last twenty years in the face of the fact that she has attached herself to the car of the world’s civilization, I will not, I cannot believe that her star is to go out in darkness, but I will rather believe that whatever may happen of peace or war Haiti will remain in the firmament of nations, and, like the star of the north, will shine on and shine on forever.

What might happen if schools also taught history from the perspective of the Arawaks? How would our views of Columbus Day change? My exploration into world fairs and expositions has challenged everything I thought I knew about history. The abridged narratives that were selected for me  in college and high school were mere half-truths, fluffy tales of great white knights, and stories of the good cowboy versus the bad Indian. By digging deeper, I learned that history is a collective effort, that involves more than just a “Top Ten List,” of people and places and things. More than just a simple tale of a Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. Douglass teaches us in “Lecture on Haiti,” that every person, every group and culture, had a role in shaping the globe.

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haitaincreole

Creole lessons empower the Haitian diaspora in the small Two Moon Art and House Cafe in Brooklyn by the founder of the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York, Wynnie …

via Creole, Haiti’s Mother Tongue, Brings People Back to Their Roots.

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The following post was submitted by Ellen Thompson. Ellen is a Haitian-American medical professional living in Orlando, Florida with her husband and two children.

 

Plate&Fork- 032Throughout my years growing up as a Haitian child, my mother would fix us Haitian breakfast pretty much every morning. My mother had some rules when it came to breakfast. Always eat everything on your plate, never turn down any type of food and you can never eat a man’s food. We as woman were taught that we pile up the man’s plate and don’t eat off it. As I got older, I missed those home cooked breakfasts and I didn’t really cook them when I got on my own. After my grandmother passed away in 2011, my now husband Danny, my son and I went to New York for her funeral and I finally got a chance to have some of that home cooked breakfast that I haven’t had really since my mother moved back to New York a few years ago. But there was one thing I didn’t mention, my husband is a southern black man from North Carolina, who has never had a Haitian breakfast and his best idea of Haitian food is rice and beans.

 

As we traveled on the train from Orlando to New York, he asked a lot of questions about my family and how to act. This is the first time that he had met my family and he was really nervous. I figured he knew the rules, little did I know that I should have explained all of these principles to him. After we got into town and good night’s slept, we decided to have breakfast before we went into the city for a busy day. My mother fixed one of my favorites, Mais Moulin and avocado. I explained to my husband how excited I was to be having this when he asked me “Ellen, what does Mais Moulin taste like?” After thinking about what to say, the only thing that came to mind was Yellow Grits. Little did I know how much he loved Grits?

As we sat down at the table, my excitement grew as my mother fixed our plates and as she laid them down on the table, I saw my husband’s face look deflated like a balloon that lost its air. My mother hovered over us as we took the first few bites, as I took my bites the memories of growing up as a child flowed through my mind and the taste was incredible. When I turned and looked at Danny, it looked like the opened a present on Christmas morning expecting the one thing he asked for and ended up getting a pair of socks. My mother started speaking in Creole, he doesn’t like the food? Danny smiled and said its good Mrs. Michelle. Then Danny leaned over and said “Baby, this isn’t Grits, I have no idea what this is, but this isn’t’ Quaker.” I finished off my food like it was last supper and I looked over at Danny’s plate and he only had taken two bites. Looking a child who was looking for the family pet to come over to eat the food off his plate, I started to take some of his breakfast when my mother and aunt stopped me in my tracks. “Ellen, don’t eat Danny’s food” my mother said. “Danny is the man and he needs to eat all of his food.” He took another bite and he whispered in my ear, “This tastes like gravel and I can’t eat any of this anymore.” I told him that it’s disrespectful to not eat the food that is made and it’s insulting to say that the food is terrible. He explained that he would just have to eat it and that’s it. Danny had the look of a 3 year old was just told the word “No”. I grabbed small spoonful’s to help him out, but he had to put in the work to get it done.

After breakfast was done and we started out on our day, he told me that I only finished the food because I wanted my future mother-in-law not to dislike him at all. But he asked where the nearest pizza place on the way to the subway is.

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