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Limonade III: Healing the Haitian Diaspora

Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat

Like many Americans, I am mainly familiar with just a few figures in Haitian history and culture: rapper Wyclef Jean, writer Edwidge Danticat, politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and revolutionary leader Touissaint Louverture.  I have seen reports of the extreme poverty in the country–it is the poorest country in the Americas–and since the late 1980s heard periodic reports of political unrest. But what exactly are the push factors that lead to such large Haitian-American communities in Miami and New York? Why did so many Haitian-Americans I meet before my trip ask me: “Why do you want to go to Haiti?”

This young scholar explained to me that her mother left Haiti for good due to the instability that followed democratic election to power in 2000. After Aristide demanded France repay the 90 million Francs the colonial power demanded from Haiti after it achieved its independence (USD $21 billion); the US and Western Europe community became unsupportive of his administration.  Aristide supporters and right wing military groups (supported by the US and the Dominican military) became embroiled in a grisly conflict in which supporters of both sides were murdered, tortured, and disfigured. In 2004, Aristide was forced into exile.

For many Haitians now living abroad, memories of their towns and neighborhoods transforming suddenly from peaceful communities to bloody war zones where no one could be trusted was sudden and horrifying. According to the millennial I met, the Haitian American baby boomers’ image of their country is often trapped in this time period. In their hearts and minds, the chaos, violence, and intrigue never ended. So she must call her mother every day when she’s in Haiti and affirm everyone she talks to in the country has been background checked. Her mom also refuses to travel to Haiti-fearful she will return home only to no longer recognize it.

In the US, our school textbooks and mainstream media teach us to think of the rest of the Americas (besides Canada) as naturally poor, unstable, and enigmatic. We are not taught to examine, for example, what push factors lead folk to migrate to the US at certain points in history – or what US policies may have caused the push. When a disaster strikes that is too devastating to ignore, such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, we turn to the little we know about our neighbors for guidance and leadership.

As a result people who are musicians, like Wyclef, or fiction writers, like Danticat, are charged with articulating an imaginary relationship between Haitians, Haitian Americans and US elites. The feelings and hope they articulate are indeed real-but the articulation substitutes the actual work of engagement, investment, and commitment over time necessary to build a truly autonomous Haiti. I realize now how my reading of Krik? Krak! and texted donations are a poor substitution for demanding more from my government and US-based philanthropic organizations in the way of investment in Haitian elections, jobs programs, infrastructure, and environmental protections.

Fortunately, it seems the millennial generation of Haitian-Americans is poised to build a bridge of engagement between Haiti and the US that can help salve old wounds and empower belief that a healthy Haiti is possible. By refusing to buy into unfounded stereotypes and directly engaging with Haitian scholars, artists, and activists as peers, these youth are bringing their families and American friends along a new path of US-Haiti relations. Perhaps next time I’ll accompany my new young scholar friend and her mom here. Only if I pass the background check.

Yours in Solidarity,


4 thoughts on “Limonade III: Healing the Haitian Diaspora

  1. The country of Haiti is a beautiful place with incredibly beautiful people, culture and arts. The imagery depicted in this post about the 2004 coup is true, I was in Port-Au-Prince the week Aristide left the country and watched the streets go from markets to barricades and guns. As a white American I don’t pretend to know everything about the country of Haiti but something that came up a lot in conversations with young Haitian friends there was whether they would come back if they ever left and went to the U.S. Many said they would not return but others seemed dedicated to make it to the U.S. so they could come back and make a difference in their country. After spending a lot of time back in Haiti after the earthquake and during the cholera epidemic one thing I understood is that the change needed cannot come from “missionaries” and foreign aid or the UN… it needs to come from the people themselves first.

  2. Haiti: the most populous country in the Caribbean Community and the poorest in the American region.
    The optimistic message derived from the post is important. It is essential for a country like Haiti to have allies abroad. The corruption, the poor infrastructure and the lack of health care are major problems. Let’s hope that the young American-Haitians will be active enough to make a change for this country.

  3. In November of 2014, I took a trip to Haiti after an 18 year hiatus. One of the most surprising moments of my trip, was witnessing the diversity of the people on the flight. Generally, I would be use to a flight full of Haitians heading home or to visit family. However, this time I noticed almost half of the people on the flight were white. They were not members of missionary groups, but instead couples and families that were simply headed on vacation.

    I’m not sure how to feel about this. Part of me is happy because I feel like this is a good sign for US-Haiti relations and people are finally acknowledging the beauty of Haiti. On the other hand (after several conversations with family and friends), I can’t help but wonder if this is a form of exploitation. Apparently, a lot of rich, white people are buying property and building vacation homes in Haiti at extremely low prices. The affordability has a lot to do with both the poor economy and negative stereotypes of the country. Therefore, the idea that people are profiting off of Haiti’s suffering economy and building beach front properties for chump change is troubling.

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