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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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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

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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#Josh_Thumb_caption

You may remember writer and filmmaker, Edson Jean from our previous post “The Adventures of Edson Jean” discussing his HBO film short of the same name.   Well for the last year, Edson has been pouring his life into developing a new T.V. Show titled #Josh.  #Josh (Hashtag Josh) is a New Miami show that explores its inner cities through the eyes of a Haitian-American and his hunt for acceptance. Last week, the premise of this 30 minute dramedy was unveiled via Kickstarter and the response has been unreal. In less then 12 hrs, Edson and his team nearly reached half of their goal.  Let’s join together and help Edson reach the finish line…and the more support they receive beyond their minimum goal, the better the outcome of the sizzle reel will be.

You could help bring #Josh to the masses.  It’s a Haitian-American Story.  Edson likes to bring his real life experiences into all his work and this show magnifies the Haitian culture and the influences other cultures impose and/or infuse into ours; it showcases the Miami Scene- Miami and New York are the two most Haitian populated states, and it would be great to see Miami from a Haitian-American perspective — From “Little Haiti” to the “Jitney Bus” Miami is perfect grounds to explore the stories of these specific people; and #Josh is made for TV – Edson and his team aim to reach the masses. He doesn’t believe there is a lack of Haitian story tellers, he thinks they are not standing in front of the largest crowds. By placing this show on TV they will reveal our unique culture through media.

In this 30 minute dramedy, the harsh yet comical realities of an abandoned Haitian-American male are exposed during his search for acceptance. Josh is plunged into the world of his chauvinistic, sociopathic cousin, Wes. Throughout the series, we embark on Josh’s journey of self discovery. Stuck in a constant struggle against himself and Wes’ counter productive support, the personality of Miami serves more as a spasmodic character then just the setting of our story.

#Josh is raw, uncensored and honest. Often you will find the hero’s failures insufferable, but at some point we must all laugh at the pain.

Check out the video on the a Kickstarter page, and please help out if you can — the campaign runs for 14 days…and there’s less than a week left!  Let’s help to bring our unique culture to the forefront!

Josh_OS JOSH_ROBIN Ti mache

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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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Written by Ashley Toussaint — read more of his work at http://www.brothertoussaint.wordpress.com

I have only been to Haiti three times. My last visit, was in April 2012. I have made a pledge to myself, to visit at least once a year from here on out. The Earthquake on January 12, 2010 was, in my eyes, this generation’s most tragic story of human loss. Was I there? No. But to watch the news and hear reports of thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands dead or missing was staggering. Like so many others, I was compelled to get involved by using my gifts, blessings, talents and opportunities to reach out to the people back home. But even before the Earthquake, Haiti had endured a decade of deadly storms, mudslides, floods and political unrest that seemed to have no cause or an end.

My first visit to Haiti as an adult in 2004 had a great impact on my life. I noticed that the people (my family to be specific) did not have much in the way of material wealth, but their resourcefulness, resilience, courage, strength and laughter were something that truly inspired me. They welcomed me into their humble abodes with open arms, hugs, kisses and smiles. They shared everything. No running water was available, like many families. Thus, someone would fetch water from a nearby stream and warm it up each morning so that I could have a warm bath (outside). We all bathed outside. This is the way they lived. No running water and no electricity (with the exception of a gas powered generator which they used at night).

We were considered fortunate, as the only house on the entire block with electricity. And that was their reality, 24/7. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Port-au-Prince. We went to soccer matches played on gravel roads, listened to live Haitian hip hop rap battles on rooftops. We walked through the streets of Carfour and met my cousin’s friends and neighbors. He even took me to the neighborhood gym, with weights made of pales of cement and used make-shift weight benches. This was their Haiti and now my experience of it.

I left Port-au-Prince with a totally different view of the world. While I complained about the things I did not have, in the way of material riches, I should have been praying to God to give me the strength of my brothers and sisters in Haiti. My experience was so profound, that I actually stopped going to church; I didn’t know what to pray for. After visiting my family abroad, I realized I had everything I needed. People at my church back home would cry on the altar, while pastors laid hands on them, to bless them with the ability to pay their water and light bills? Really? How could I return to Miami, get in line at the altar and pray to God for luxury?

Obviously, not everyone who visits their relatives back home come away with the same experience. Some people get on the plane and never return. Some people get caught up in the rat race and forget about the struggle of others. Living in middle-class America is not easy. We have bills and obligations to meet. We have our own lives and struggles too. I’m not here to be the judge of what is more important. However, if you have family back in Haiti, their should be some sense of duty to at least stay connected.

I tried my best to stay in touch. I said that I would go back each summer, but I would not return to Haiti for seven years.

A boy throws stones into the ocean during sunset in Petit Goave, Haiti.

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