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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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This essay by Wynnie Lamour was first published in Haitian Times magazine. ht-haitiantimes_logotype-tm-02-01

Haitian Creole bridges the divide between generations of women in the diaspora

 

The night before my grandmother died, she came to visit me. It had already been a long journey. For my mother, the only child my grandmother had, to watch as her poto mitanbecame a frail and weak version of her previous self. For my brothers, full of emotion but unable to adequately express themselves. For me, her first grandchild, on the verge of womanhood and about to lose one of the most powerful women in her life. For everyone, it was essentially a journey of pain.

I could sense her presence but I wasn’t afraid. This was the woman who had sacrificed so deeply for my mother. This was the woman who had served as mother not just to my own but to countless others. This was the woman who, just the day before, had defied doctors’ orders, dressed herself in her Sunday best and walked on her own two feet to church. This was the woman who knew exactly which teas and herbs were best for every malady known — at least to me.

In the words of Mirlande Jean-Gilles, she was “…a magical woman…” — the epitome of a Haitian woman. Her silence spoke volumes as she watched me. Her love and gratitude for all that we had done for her poured over me. I wept knowing that her physical self was on its way beyond our reality. I weep now, knowing that I’ll never again hear her sing as she cooks mayi djon djon (cornmeal with mushroom root) and asks me if I want some zaboka(avocado) with it.

But my grandmother, like her ancestors before her, is very much a part of my present.

The magical women of our past blazed trails, and not just in the figurative way in which so many change-makers are engaged today. Instead, they laid down their lives, set aside their dreams, and got on their knees to implore the spirits for the courage to continue doing what they must for their families and their communities.

It wasn’t until years after her passing did it occur to me that she was the catalyst for my “return” to Haiti through language. Her journey with death and beyond shook something loose inside me: a desire to reanimate that which already resided in me.

For those of us who grew up in the diaspora, the enormity of what our mothers did has not been completely lost on us. To leave behind everything and everyone that you know and move to a country that is less than welcoming to a people that the world over constantly views as hopeless, is the epitome of sacrifice. How then can we bridge the divide that often exists between us and our mothers? How can we cut through the veil of misunderstanding that can sometimes lie between a mother whose being lives in one culture while her daughter toes the line between two cultures?

There is no better way to accomplish this than through language. Language is the mirror through which we can truly see the world through the eyes of another. Language is the scaffolding that supports our relationships and provides a structure that we all crave in our interactions with each other.

For Haitians worldwide, Kreyòl serves this purpose and so much more. It is the language that lives in us all; and to speak Kreyòl is to communicate in a language that elicits a deep and emotional response in its people.

Many young hyphenated Haitian women of the diaspora come to the Haitian Creole Language Institute via this pathway: wanting to reconnect with their Haitian mothers in their native tongue; wanting to understand more fully the meaning behind their words; and wanting to engage with their mothers in a more intimate way.

HCLI affords them the opportunity to learn not just the various nuances of the language but also the history and the profundity of what it means to speak Kreyòl. It goes beyond speaking the language of revolutionaries. It is to speak the language of not just the magical women of our past but also the magical women of our present — who continue to strive to do the best they can with the tools that they have in the hopes that our futures can be just a little bit more magical.

It has been through Kreyòl that I pay continuous homage to my grandmother, and her mother before her, and all the mothers of my past. Their spirits embody me every time I open my mouth and fix my lips to speak the same sounds that propelled their lives. It is our hope here at HCLI that we can provide others that same opportunity — to become one with what is, as Haitians, the very fabric of our being.

Wynnie Lamour is the founder of the Haitian Creole Language Institute.

For more information on the Elementary Haitian Creole course that takes place on Tuesdays from 7:00 – 8:30 pm in Brooklyn, visit haitiancreoleinstitute.com.

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returntosenderreturntosender

 

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

social-identity1

 

“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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Profile picture for Edson Jean

(Edson Jean was born in West Palm Beach Florida and raised in Delray Beach, Florida. Upon graduating High school, he moved to Miami to study theatre at New World School of the Arts, where he received his Bachelors in Fine Arts degree. Edson went on to write, direct and star in The Adventures of Edson Jean (2012), which scored an ABFF/HBO official selection.) – IMDb Mini Biography

1.  Where and in what environment you were born and raised?
I was born in West palm Beach Florida but raised in the suburban town of Delray Beach. In Delray, there is a big population of Haitians/Haitian Americans that settled further north from Miami. As most young Haitian Americans can agree, my introduction to the Haitian culture was strongly influenced by religion and church. Some Sundays we would go up to three times a day! and up to 5 times a week. Most of the time we were forced to attend. I was one of four children 1 girl and 3 boys, and we thought one time a week on Sunday was plenty. Aside from the blags(Haitian folklore) in the evenings from my mother or grandma, my Haitian experience came from the church.
My adolescent rebellion from going to the church so often was influenced by friends in the neighborhood. Some of Haitian decent and the others African American, would play football in a field adjacent to my home every Sunday after church. I would escape to the field with my brothers and play football with the intention of missing the next service. This invited many embarrassing moments of my mother coming out and gathering her boys in the middle of playing.
2.  How you developed an interest in film making? 
I’ve always been in love with story telling and the power that stories can have over you or grant you. All the credit goes to my mother. She is the best story teller I know! She always told us blags… and boy would she get into it.  Some would make me laugh till I had to beg my mom to let me get some air, and others would scare me to the point of literally running away. Bouki and Malis are the most memorable characters from these stories. My moms compelling talent created my itch for acting, and acting has lead me full circle to telling stories as a writer and director.
3.  Can you give us an overview of the creation, process and journey of the film — and why you thought it was important to include the Haitian angle? You are a main character — is it based on a true story?
Funny you ask. Yes, this is a true story, but it is fabricated for the purpose of crafting the arch of the characters. Adding the Haitian angle is crucial, it’s a part of me. The creation process was very instinctual for me. It was originally a one person staged show in which I played all the characters for my senior thesis during theatre training. (New World School of the Arts-Miami) After performing it, I thought: .”I want to film this.” With no prior film experience before then… and I just did it. Not alone of course, all the actors in the film are my friends and trained at New World School of the Arts with me as well. That, and a small grant from Miami’s Borscht Corp. kicked it all off.
4. Where can your film be viewed, and how can the public can help make it a success?
I’d say check the local listing. The times change frequently, so its best to check your T.V./On Demand guides. It is available on HBO GO/Xfinity/DirectTV and others. (See the links below.) For me, the film is already a success. National airtime is more then I was ever expecting to come from this. I am big on connecting with others though in fact, I encourage it. I love hearing feedback, opinions or just saying hi to people that have seen the film and want to say a few things to the director. Don’t be shy, I’ll reply. Like the facebook page, rate the imdb or email thoughts to Get@edsonjean.com. Let’s continue to tell Haitian and Haitian American stories!
 
 
 

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I had just turned 6 when I was blessed with my first child.  I really didn’t have much of a choice. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Here I was 6, and I was being told by my Haitian parents that I was going to be someone’s “marenn”  or as we say here in the United  States a “godmother”. That is pretty much how things went down in my family.  By the time I was a teenager, I had lost count of all my godchildren. It got me to wondering why DO Haitian parents pick minors as godparents?

 

godmother

  1. The Decision Process: I doubt there was one.  I was a great elementary school student, but other than that I was still living with my parents and in no way shape or form capable of being a second parent. So, was it to ensure that someone lived as long as their child? I just don’t know how I felt about my godchild growing up with me, literally. I should have a created a support group for “young marenns”. Hmm, It’s not too late. Were you a young marenn? Leave a comment below and share your story.
  2. Job Description: No one was really ever clear to me on what my responsibilities would be.  In the beginning, I would buy gifts, well correction, my parents would buy the gifts and just say it was from me.  I was and continue to be the type of person that needs clear and concise instructions. Otherwise, I am just winging it and that’s not fair to the kid right? A godmother assumes an important role in the spiritual life of a child she has sponsored during baptism. The parents of the child who will be baptized choose a godmother or godparent to represent the child who is unable to respond during the baptismal ceremony. In the case of an adult baptism, the godmother assists the person in making this step of faith. Being a godmother is not a legal commitment but a spiritual one. The godmother’s responsibilities start at the baptismal service and continue throughout the life of the child.  Clearly, a huge responsibility at 6 and so it begs the question what were they thinking?
  3. Quid Pro Quo: From time to time  I would wonder if the parents felt indebted to my parents for something and threw the “marenn” label on me as to call it even. Were we somehow the Haitian Corleone family? Who were these people ( my parents) before they came to this country? Never mind, I don’t think I want to know.
  4. The Parenn Problem:  I was often paired up with a MUCH older Haitian male who was the “parenn” translation “godfather”. It is an extremely awkward photo when at 6, you are standing with a gentleman who could be your grandfather but most times it turned out he was your cousin. Everyone is your cousin but for some reason you end up being paired up with the one cousin who you wouldn’t want your parents to leave you alone with. Ever. The cousin that holds your hands just a little bit too long after you have greeted him with the obligatory kiss on the cheek.  Which makes me wonder; are Haitian boys even considered? That’s a whole other blog.
  5. The Irony: My parents were always quick to throw my name in for consideration as marenn. However, If I ever would have had a child as a teen, I would have been put on the first plane to Haiti to stay indefinitely or that’s the story they would’ve used to explain my disappearance.

Thanks for checking out this week’s blog. Please feel free to leave a comment:).

 

 

Switching gears, on a more serious and personal note, I wish to take this time to remember my own son’s Godmother, Stephanie Lissa Leger,  who tragically passed away at the age of  25 after a 4 year battle with cancer. 

http://www.palmswestfuneralhome.com/obituaries/Stephanie-L%C3%A9ger/

 

 

 

 

 

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This essay by Wynnie Lamour was first published in Haitian Times magazine. ht-haitiantimes_logotype-tm-02-01

Haitian Creole bridges the divide between generations of women in the diaspora

Courtesy of Wynnie Lamour

Courtesy of Wynnie Lamour

The night before my grandmother died, she came to visit me. It had already been a long journey. For my mother, the only child my grandmother had, to watch as her poto mitanbecame a frail and weak version of her previous self. For my brothers, full of emotion but unable to adequately express themselves. For me, her first grandchild, on the verge of womanhood and about to lose one of the most powerful women in her life. For everyone, it was essentially a journey of pain.

I could sense her presence but I wasn’t afraid. This was the woman who had sacrificed so deeply for my mother. This was the woman who had served as mother not just to my own but to countless others. This was the woman who, just the day before, had defied doctors’ orders, dressed herself in her Sunday best and walked on her own two feet to church. This was the woman who knew exactly which teas and herbs were best for every malady known — at least to me.

In the words of Mirlande Jean-Gilles, she was “…a magical woman…” — the epitome of a Haitian woman. Her silence spoke volumes as she watched me. Her love and gratitude for all that we had done for her poured over me. I wept knowing that her physical self was on its way beyond our reality. I weep now, knowing that I’ll never again hear her sing as she cooks mayi djon djon (cornmeal with mushroom root) and asks me if I want some zaboka(avocado) with it.

But my grandmother, like her ancestors before her, is very much a part of my present.

Courtesy of Wynnie Lamour

Courtesy of Wynnie Lamour

The magical women of our past blazed trails, and not just in the figurative way in which so many change-makers are engaged today. Instead, they laid down their lives, set aside their dreams, and got on their knees to implore the spirits for the courage to continue doing what they must for their families and their communities.

It wasn’t until years after her passing did it occur to me that she was the catalyst for my “return” to Haiti through language. Her journey with death and beyond shook something loose inside me: a desire to reanimate that which already resided in me.

For those of us who grew up in the diaspora, the enormity of what our mothers did has not been completely lost on us. To leave behind everything and everyone that you know and move to a country that is less than welcoming to a people that the world over constantly views as hopeless, is the epitome of sacrifice. How then can we bridge the divide that often exists between us and our mothers? How can we cut through the veil of misunderstanding that can sometimes lie between a mother whose being lives in one culture while her daughter toes the line between two cultures?

There is no better way to accomplish this than through language. Language is the mirror through which we can truly see the world through the eyes of another. Language is the scaffolding that supports our relationships and provides a structure that we all crave in our interactions with each other.

For Haitians worldwide, Kreyòl serves this purpose and so much more. It is the language that lives in us all; and to speak Kreyòl is to communicate in a language that elicits a deep and emotional response in its people.

Many young hyphenated Haitian women of the diaspora come to the Haitian Creole Language Institute via this pathway: wanting to reconnect with their Haitian mothers in their native tongue; wanting to understand more fully the meaning behind their words; and wanting to engage with their mothers in a more intimate way.

HCLI affords them the opportunity to learn not just the various nuances of the language but also the history and the profundity of what it means to speak Kreyòl. It goes beyond speaking the language of revolutionaries. It is to speak the language of not just the magical women of our past but also the magical women of our present — who continue to strive to do the best they can with the tools that they have in the hopes that our futures can be just a little bit more magical.

It has been through Kreyòl that I pay continuous homage to my grandmother, and her mother before her, and all the mothers of my past. Their spirits embody me every time I open my mouth and fix my lips to speak the same sounds that propelled their lives. It is our hope here at HCLI that we can provide others that same opportunity — to become one with what is, as Haitians, the very fabric of our being.

Wynnie Lamour is the founder of the Haitian Creole Language Institute.

For more information on the Elementary Haitian Creole course that takes place on Tuesdays from 7:00 – 8:30 pm in Brooklyn, visit haitiancreoleinstitute.com.

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