Posts Tagged ‘diaspora’

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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My identity crisis began in chemistry lab. The class required a clean white coat and safety goggles. I was instructed to wash my hands for two minutes. The soap made my palms feel brittle while the latex gloves stiffened my muscles. My good eye would squint into a microscope that I could never figure out how to adjust properly. Slides covered in splotches of red and purple stains made me lose my appetite. All of this, three times a week.

My Microbiology professor, a Brooklyn native with a thick Puerto Rican accent recognized my struggles early on but judging from the red marks all over my assignments, had zero sympathy for me. But thanks to Rita, my lab partner, I still passed. Her penchant for getting high right before class made her overlook my incompetence and she gleefully did all the work for the both of us.

Rita’s ability to breeze through each assignment despite her marijuana-induced brain was all the more proof that I was not fit to be a dietician.

I switched my major the next term.

Growing up, the common images of Haitian women in the workplace were in hospitals, nursing homes and medical offices. My mother was a nurse. My aunts were medical practitioners. And almost all my Haitian peers were planning on going to medical school upon high school graduation. Unbeknownst to me, I made a life decision based on an internalized cultural stereotype.

Many people of different racial and ethnic groups will internalize positive and sometimes even negative stereotypes about themselves, even when those perceptions limit their worldview. Although I preferred writing and literature over the periodic table and scientific method, I felt tied to the cultural specific labels placed upon me as a Haitian-American woman. Not to mention that I aimed to please my parents who saw an education in medicine much more respectable than one in liberal arts.

I, like many second-generation Haitian-American children, faced conflicts with my identity. The crushing stigmas, stereotypes and careless media reporting about Haiti and its people played a huge role in this. But my desire to be “outside the box,” or separate from the norm conflicted more with my dual identity. Pressure from my parents who I wanted to please and peers who I wanted to prove my authenticity to, all made me struggle with my identity. But my contention eased when I finally left home.

In  2002, I moved from Florida, which boasts the highest population of Haitian immigrants in the United States, and relocated to Georgia. Once there, it slowly became easier for me to define myself. While my nationality is and will always be a part of who I am, I no longer feel tied to all the cultural norms and traditions typically associated with Haitian-Americans.

Living alone and surrounded by mostly non-Haitian people, I rid myself of the “model minority” mystique. My Cringlish could fall off my tongue without embarrassment. I could dance badly to kompa without looks of confusion.  And despite my below average griot, it was still a hit with my American friends.

The most important lesson I learned is that I can never be one without the other. I am very much Haitian as I am American and both components make me who I am today.


Annabella Jean-Laurent is a Haitian-American writer who explores race, media and culture in society. Her current project surrounds an important but little known exhibit called the Negro Building at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. Follow her @militantbarbie on Twitter and Facebook. 

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



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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This post was written by Christelle Louis, a 9th Grader in Haiti at Ecole Nouvelle Zoranje (ENZ); Essay shared with permission from MyHaitiTravels.com.  My Haiti Travels (MHT) is a New York-based boutique concierge firm that coordinates and produces high-quality travel experiences with a social impact for groups seeking to explore Haiti for leisure and business purposes.  My Haiti Travels (MHT) believes that one of the best ways to support Haiti is to visit, support local businesses and give back directly to the youth.  Learn more at http://www.impactweekhaiti.com.

“It is never too late to do the right thing”


I was sitting in my classroom, and the director entered, greeted us and said: “today there is a group of “diaspora” who are going to visit our class. They will be talking about their careers. So you must welcome them well and give them all the respect they deserve, and please ask questions that will be useful to you in the future”. And he added “this is why I chose your class, so make me proud”!

At 11 am the “diaspora’s” came into our classroom with the Principal. There was a woman from the group who identified herself as the leader of the group. She introduced herself as Dina a Haitian who left Haiti since the age of 9, she also talked about her career speaking in Kreyol and English. But as she was speaking I saw tears swelling in her eyes, when I glanced at the others, I realized that they too were crying. I was very puzzled, asking myself why they were all standing in front of us in tears. But Dina must have understood that we were all a bit confused about the tears because she explained that this was an emotional visit for all them, she said we reminded them of who they were prior to leaving for the US.


There was another one who was presenting, she could not even speak because she was crying so much, her name is Florence and she encouraged us to work hard in school, adding that this is what will secure for us a place in society. She told us to persevere and stressed again that she is who she is today because of education.  She said that she struggled and never got discouraged. But all of this was said extremely tearfully as she could not stop crying.

I would have personally liked to know why she was crying so much, unfortunately I am not a “heart reader”. But while I was thinking about this I too was crying…What shocked me also was that 2 of them stated that they left the country very young, they spent between 30-35 years out of the country and never came back, even after the earthquake. They said that when they came back they were shocked at the condition of the country.  Well I told myself that it’s a good thing they did not come right after the earthquake, they would have been more than shocked since the country was in such bad shape.

I did not despair too much when I realized that they all spoke Kreyol well and showed us that Haiti was still in their hearts since they spoke our language well and clearly gave it importance.

There was also an American among them who did not speak Kreyol, but they translated his comments. He also showed us that he loves Haiti and would like to help the Haitian people. They were all very proud, because they all felt that they were home, with family back in their country.

I became very frustrated when one of them identified as Haitian even though only her mom is Haitian. I was shocked because, there I am fantasizing about changing my nationality, while someone else who is not really Haitian, is proclaiming her Haitian heritage. I think that I should change my mind about this.  It is also that same person who is telling us to put our heads together, to work so that our country can move forward, so that others can stop projecting only negative images about us, stressing that our country is rich in resources which we must protect.

We were also told that we also needed to be proud of our history and what we did for Blacks who used to be discriminated against.  One of them said that when she left the country at the age of 15, she attended a school where the students were humiliating her because she was Haitian and because she could not speak English well.  But what really encouraged her was that she was one of the best math students in the classroom. But the memory of the humiliation she suffered as a Haitian still makes her cry and that really touched my heart and made me sad.

They all made presentations about their careers and professions. We asked a lot of questions and they responded with great enthusiasm.

Overall, I felt really proud! I was among family and they gave us excellent advice. I told myself that God has sent this group to meet us, because I have more hope and I will never be discouraged in my life even when I want to lose hope. And I will make all efforts to work even harder in school.

I went home that day with a lot of love in my heart!




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This post is by Vanessa Leon and first appeared in the HaitianTimes.com.  Vanessa Leon is founder and principal planner of Pinchina Consulting, based in the DC metro area. She holds a Master of Urban Planning specializing in economic development and housing policy. Follow her on Twitter; she can be reached a vanessa@pinchinaconsulting.com.
Haitian citizens awaiting money transfers from abroad (Photo provided by cuna.org) When I interact with fellow djaspora, I often pick up on what seems like a collective sense …
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I was born in Harlem to Haitian parents. They both left Haiti many years ago due in part to the political unrest during the time of President Francois Duvalier era. They assimilated to American life and found a circle of family and friend’s that has kept them connected to their Haitian Heritage. As a kid, I travelled to Haiti a few times for vacation and special events. I always loved the time that I spent there. It was truly “La Belle Vie,” a beautiful life.

Rachelle Salnave

As I travel back to Haiti now to understand my roots as an adult, I discovered that Haitian’s I talked to on the street called me a “Jaspora” or “Blan.” For the most part, I was considered a “Blan” because my creole is very bad and just by looking at me they said they could tell I am a “foreigner.” This pained me for some days because I could not understand why my people thought of me as an “outsider” especially knowing how much I loved my country. I also certainly did not understand why they chose the word “Blan” (white) as a term to call someone who grew up in Harlem. I also never liked being called “Jaspora” because I always thought it implied another classification, another division that kept people thinking that people of Haitian descent living abroad were somehow a step above those living in Haiti.
After learning that the word “Blan” has nothing to do with race, I began to really analyze . . . how am I really perceived when I go to Haiti? From the perspective of the people who live on the streets, people do have lots of hope in Haitian’s abroad. They are waiting for my generation to invest in their country. Implement our skillsets on every level to assist in rebuilding. When I talk to the Haitian’s who do run companies and have great jobs in Haiti, they too await for the people abroad to partner with the country to make their workload a little lighter.
Haiti is a country where I still have the best time. I love to listen to live music, enjoy food with family and of course experience the beach life but I can no longer close my eyes to the tremendous work that needs to be done. If contributing in a small way will help a home be built, a community be fed or help a nation be healed through film maybe classifications for Haitian’s living abroad will end. We are one!
Rachelle Salnave
La Belle Vie: The Good Life
How do you, as a first generation American relate to folks native to your motherland? Or vice-versa — how do you as a native to your country (i.e. a native Haitian) relate to first generation Americans with parents from your country (i.e. Haitian-Americans). How would you like the other party to receive you?

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