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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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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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This post was written by Wilkine Brutus.  Mr. Brutus is the editor-in-chief of The Vanguard Element: http://www.vanguardelement.com/
He is a poet working on a cross-genre book.  He is also a Vlogger from South Florida, USA and edits from South Korea.

Jean-Bernard-Etienne1-300x206La Misterieuse by Jean Bernard Etienne (Acrylic on canvas)

“Sak pase?”

As a Haitian-American, I grew up with a sharp concern for identity. The American dream, skewed like a broken mirror of slanted reflections or like the bewilderment of a weird nightmare. I’d wake up from it all with an empty stomach, hungry to understand what society was feeding me, fiending for a gluttony of knowledge. Like most inner-city youth, resources were limited. I was often times too apprehensive and distracted anyway–time in the inner-city was like watching a scary movie, buffering at the climax or at the scary moment of a scene. There is nothing more horrific than the constant depreciation of the human soul.

At age 12, the sudden realization of anger and confusion forced me to find an avenue to channel my erratic emotions. I was one of many 12-year-old Haitian-American boys and girls that generally weren’t embraced by Black-Americans. We were also depreciated by the American culture and its hypocritical foreign policy.

In the mid-90s and early 2000s, I use to swallow the stark contrast in treatment between Cubans and Haitian refugees, a double standard US immigration policy that favored the Cubans, which allowed Cuban refugees to stay on American land once they arrived, but would ship Haitian refugees back Haiti. This illogical and racist treatment sparked humanitarian debates, but Black-Americans never embraced or defended the Haitian diaspora, at least not in my neighborhood. There were also historical political and cultural animosity between Haitians and Dominicans, whom both share the island of Hispaniola.  Haitian-Americans were marginalized by black-Americans and Dominicans, hated, frowned upon—and I screamed during a fight, “I’m human, just like you. I’m human, just like you, I’m human just like you,” only to wake up, frantic, with a broken mirror, slanting my reflection—a sharp identity crisis.

It would take years for Haitians and Haitian-Americans to salvage their reputation as “equivalent beings.” I look back and ponder if that time period of injustice and hate was just a complicated era of culture clashes and miseducation.  I don’t know! Evidently, political and economical deterrents were to blame for the madness—a bit too overwhelming for a 12-year-old to understand. Despite my current wisdom, those feelings of neglect and cultural misfortune is difficult to eradicate, albeit moving on in life felt fairly easy. The morals and values that my mother instilled was like a watermark on video—my life, like all humans, has been a montage of trials and tribulations but I own them and I’ve managed to fast forward.

The earthquake that ravished Haiti didn’t create complete sadness, it was ironically another inspiration to uplift and represent the people. However, it was obviously painful to fly to Korea directly after the devastation.

There is a deep fundamental responsibility to understand humanity and the men that alter its very essence. We’ve reduced ourselves into categories and sub-categories and we’ve ignored the universal understanding of love and respect, cordial debates and solution. Our existence is often a battle to claim significance and human contribution, economical strength, fear, and power.  We are, in many ways, still lost in our desperate attempts to find meaning—a matrix of confusion. I am, however, beautifully found—as my purpose, as a Haitian-American in South Korea, is to navigate through preconceived notions and negative perceptions of black males and rectify them. I’ve been wonderfully embraced in doing so, as the universal rule of love and respect applies everywhere. Onelove! -Wilkine Brutus

 

 

 

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The following blog post  was submitted by Mr. Ashley Toussaint: www.brothertoussaint.wordpress.com

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“Identity Crisis” is an excerpt from a book that I am currently writing. It’s a coming of age story about a Haitian American boy named Johnny Baptiste who grows up in Miami, Florida. The book addresses the common struggles that inner city youth face, such as poverty, crime, peer pressure, school life and identity. “Identity Crisis” exposes the depth of how some Haitian Americans struggle to publicly acknowledge and embrace their Haitian heritage. 

Therefore, as Johnny continues to deny his own heritage, he continues to buy into an idea that he is inferior. Our identity is what makes us unique and authentic. Unfortunately, the stigma of being Haitian will not allow Johnny to embrace who he truly is.
Excerpt from the upcoming book authored by Ashley Toussaint:

“It was a sad sight, but not surprising, at least not to most of the students in the class (95% of the class was Haitian). Ms. Gomez however, was flabbergasted. She could not believe it. She was so excited and eager to share a piece of literature with them, especially sense it was written in their language. But she was sadly mistaken. It was the exact opposite of what she had expected. Instead of excitement, there was lethargy in the room. Instead of pride, there was embarrassment. The looks on their faces and the silence of the classroom infuriated her. And suddenly, the petite soft-spoken Filipino woman ripped them all a “new one”.

“Why don’t you want to read in Creole?!” Why are you ashamed of your culture?!” No one answered. “You should be proud of your heritage, you should be proud of where you are from!” she exclaimed in her Filipino accent. How embarrassing. There stood a 4 foot 6 inch nun from the Philippines teaching a group of black, Haitian-American children about being proud of their race, their heritage and their history. Her words were so precise and simple, yet heavy and sharp. They cut right through Johnny’s heart.

She continued to lecture them about how she had come to America, but was not ashamed of where she was from. By the time she was done with them, they were all humiliated, but for the right reason. “Now who wants to read the third page?” Just about every hand went up. They were strong, proud, black hands of young Haitian-American children, who had never felt like they had a reason to truly be proud. And though Johnny struggled to read his mother’s language, it didn’t bother him. If anything, it was the most beautiful struggle he could ever endure.”

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This blog entry was submitted by artist Gelan Lambert, an artist Haitian descent, versatile in all art disciplines who has been blessed to have graced the stage with legends.  Learn more about Gelan at http://www.facebook.com/GelanLambertJr

 

haitiusaCornbread & Cremasse!

What a fantastic name for a blog! A homage to two great cultures birthed through Mother Africa!

When I’m homesick for Haitian cuisine, one of the things you’ll find me doing is combing the streets of NYC for Lambi, an aromatic concoction of stewed Creole tomato sauce and conch perched on a bed of pillowy steamed rice. Unabashedly, its my foot stomping Hallelujah go to meal of the day. When its done right, expect a savory festival in your mouth and to be left in a state of culinary euphoria. Legend says that it also has amorous properties; however, that’s another story for another time! Now back to the subject at hand!

After doing some research on cornbread, I discovered that Native Americans created the first
prototype from corn meal. Corn, originally known as maize was the foundation for a plethora of nutritious corn based foods such as corn syrup, corn pudding and succotash, a mixture of beans and corn meal. Subsequently cornbread became an integral part of African American cuisine incorporating various parts of animal scraps, leftovers and root vegetables eventually known as ‘Soul Food’. Symbolic in nature, there is also a direct correlation between traditional African food and Soul Food which speaks to ancestral memory passed down from one generation to the next. On the other hand, Cremasse, is a Haitian beverage that consists of Barbancourt rum, coconut, carnation milk and spices. Usually its imbibed on special occasions and celebrations. In a recent conversation with my mother, I found out that she made Cremasse for her very own wedding! Who knew? My first experience with this special libation was several years ago. I can recall vividly when it touched my palette it reminded me of candy with a strong hint of vanilla ice cream, coconut icy and alcohol. It went down smooth and warmed my entire being. When it ‘Hits’ you, be prepared to R E A L LY feel it!.
I generally don’t take alcohol, but with Cremasse, I always make an exception. LOL!

One of the wondrous things about the digital age is that we can literally immerse ourselves in several cultures at one time, either as a voyeur, an inquiring scholar or student. Technology has made it possible for us to share our thoughts on a variety of different subjects that can be associated with history, art, food or trivia. As an American born Haitian, the journey of investigating my heritage and the constant desire to know more has been my personal mission since my teenage years. This quest has been daunting at times, and even downright frustrating, however the revelations have enlightened and transformed my life beyond words.

Metaphorically, my life in America with my family’s history in Haiti represent my own personal Cornbread and Cremasse. Its poignantly revealed in our collective spirituality, and the way we express ourselves individually and communally as we eat and drink. Each tasty mouthwatering morsel has its own profound story and legacy that speaks to our struggles, triumphs and undeniable beauty and creativity. As a recipient of this great gift, I am more than grateful for the sacrifice of the ancestors, for I always have a personal invitation to remember where I come from through each magnificent cultural meal.

 

Thank You Cornbread & Cremasse for creating this wonderful space.

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(The following blog post was submitted by Kassandra Khalil, Program Director, Haiti Cultural Exchange:  http://haiticulturalx.org/)

Selebrasyon_Logo&Info_OrangeBG

 

My experience of Haitian culture begins with my grandmother’s hands. Soft like calf leather with strong, deep palm lines and a missing knuckle on her left hand – an accident from her days as a seamstress and a reminder of a hard life. I’ve watched those hands brush my sister’s hair and scrape the bottom of the rice pot with that same cast and pull motion. And there is a clear image in my mind of those hands gathering a long skirt with a quick grab and loud “Humph!” in distaste at my uncle’s off-color humor.

 

The motions of Ma Laborde’s hands, the stories they tell, and the food it taught me to cook amount to so much of what I consider my identity as a Haitian woman. My grandmother connects me to a country with a deep history of revolution, of art, and nature – all things that resonate with me regardless of my Haitian background. What inspired me to focus on Haitian culture was those passive moments – gestures and often minor acts that I found to be so distinctly Haitian and Caribbean.

 

For the past few years, I have been working as the Program Coordinator at Haiti Cultural Exchange, an organization that I feel represents that nuance. Together with Régine Roumain, our community of brilliant supporters, interns, committee members and talented artists, Haiti Cultural Exchange has been able to present programs on art and culture from Haitian and the Diaspora that incite discussion, build community, and acknowledge how wide and diverse Haitian culture really is. Laying into these ideas, HCX strives to give Haiti-identifying artists a space to express their link to their country while sharing their personal creativity and individuality as an artist.

 

As part of this mission, HCX is presenting a six-week festival called Selebrasyon! Placing artists and community in the forefront, Selebrasyon! aims to reinforce intersections inside the Haitian community and will express the multidimensional nature of Haitian Diaspora culture.

 

Taking place in venues all over the city, Selebrasyon! will highlight some of the best new talents and known names in Haitian culture today. These include our Haitian Flag Day Selebrasyon! on May 18th featuring the traditional “rèlkè” of Jocelyn Dorisme beside the neo-blues sounds of Nadïne LaFond as well as  LirikAyiti: Rasin/Chimen on June 8th featuring the hip-hop influenced rhymes of Lenelle Moïse  and the high rhythms of Patrick Sylvain’s  Kreyòl verse.

 

From May 18 to June 30, this city will come to life with over 20 Haitian cultural events that will unite the community and bring generations together to remember, learn, and connect around Haitian culture. This is YOUR festival, I hope to see you there.

 

Check out the official Selebrasyon! Calendar here and see how you can support our ongoing Indiegogo campaign. Special perks  include tickets to Monday Nightcap & Music with Melanie J-B Charles on April 21st , hand-painted tote bags, and original artwork.

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Dear Friends and Family of Cornbread and Cremasse,

This has been a very difficult two weeks for many people in Haiti and on the East Coast. It our sincere hope that you and your loved ones are safe. We did not deem it appropriate to post this week out of respect for those that continue to suffer.

It is during times of crisis, that we are reminded that we are one community.

Let’s commit to assist those in need in some form or fashion. You can give blood, clothing, food, shelter, or a monetary donation. We should all strive to adhere to the de facto motto of this nation we live in; E pluribus unum, “out of one, many”. In simpler terms, we are all in this together so we look out for each other.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

Sincerely,

Cornbread and Cremasse

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