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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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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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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.

Read Full Post »

I was born in the United States and raised in Haiti. I moved back to the United States at the age of eleven. Being a witness to the struggles faced by my mother, a single mother, made me more appreciative of the education and the opportunities that I have had as a Haitian-American woman. Having to learn English as a second language and completing my Masters Degree in Social Work are my two greatest accomplishments.

Growing up in the United States and having to adapt to a new culture was a difficult and challenging experience for me. However, my struggles were minimal compared to those of my mother’s. She worked two jobs, at the time her English speaking skills were minimal, and she supported four young children. Additionally, even after we moved to the United States, my mother believed that she had a responsibility to care for her siblings living in Haiti. As a result of this belief, she kept sending them money on a regular basis.

My mother always stressed the importance of education. She did not want to see her children struggle as much as she did. With education in mind, I completed High School believing that getting a High School diploma was all of the education I needed. Unfortunately, I had a guidance counselor who, rather than support the idea of my going to college, reinforced my belief that High School was enough education for me. Luckily, I met a professional and successful Black woman who became my mentor. She taught me the importance of furthering my education. She believed in me and she helped me to believe in myself. Although my mom had also stressed the importance of education, up to this point, my experience was in seeing the women from my culture who had immigrated to the United States, obtain jobs as cleaning ladies and I considered them to be successful. So, with a broader understanding of success, as well as some assistance from my mentor, I applied and was accepted to Syracuse University where I majored in Social Work and ultimately obtained a Bachelor’s Degree of Science and Social Work.

I learned many valuable life lessons during my undergraduate years. I lived in Harlem, NY; and as a result, I was not exposed to many different cultures. When I went to Syracuse University, I was faced with culture shock! I had to learn to live with individuals of different backgrounds and religious beliefs. I was impressed with the different student organizations to choose from. However, because I wanted to feel like I belonged, I assisted in creating a Haitian-American organization so that I could meet other students of my own culture and who, I assumed, were faced with the same challenges as I did. I soon began to realize that I was segregating myself from the many different cultures represented by other students on Campus. I began to branch out and participate in different organizations so I could learn more about different cultures. To my surprise, I found students from a wide variety of cultures who were struggling as I was and their parents struggled as my mother did.

My first professional experience was as a Director of a child abuse prevention program. Working with parents was rewarding for me because I was able to educate them about child rearing skills and help them to learn stress reduction techniques. After approximately one year, I was accepted onto the staff of an organization that specializes on domestic violence. In my capacity as a Senior Social Worker, I encountered many minority women who were victims of violence in their primary relationships. I soon learned that it is often difficult for women to break away from violent relationships. For the women I worked with, matters were complicated even further because many of them were undocumented and, as a result, they were usually unwilling to ask for help from any authorities because they feared they would be deported. These women also faced language barriers, difficulties getting employment, and the social isolation we often see both with battered women and in new immigrants who have not yet settled into American society. Of those who were able to leave the batterers, they often found themselves unable to navigate the system and not able to support themselves financially without the help of public assistance. Of those who did receive public assistance, they often came to rely on public assistance because their English speaking and writing skills were poor and or they were unable to get training in a vocation that would allow them to support themselves and their children.– Rachel Acloque

Article Source: http://ezinearticles.com/?Immigrant-Women-and-Their-Struggles&id=482810 by Rachel Acloque

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