Our story did not start and end in 1804 with a quick reprisal being the 2010 earthquake.
Growing up, being Haitian was no walk in the park. Out of all the groups of Black immigrants who experienced racism and xenophobia in the U.S., it is an easy bet to claim that Haitians had it the worst. We were told we were dirty, the originators of AIDs, and there was always the good old tag line: “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”
I have learned to hold my breath when Haiti is discussed in both intimate and public circles. She is one of the world’s favorite whipping boys for Blacks and Whites alike, and as much as she has suffered it seems that there is never a rock-bottom to hit when it comes to bad news.
Over the past week, I have watched activists and everyday people fume and stomp their feet in response to the Dominican Republic continuing it’s long tradition of enact the brainwashing that can be traced back to Trujillo and beyond. Headline after headline, tweet after tweet, denounced the Dominican Republic for the forced deportation of “Haitians” or for those of us who know better, Dominicans of Haitian origin. In tones similar to those used during the earthquake, people praised Haiti for her “resilience,” and continually waxed poetic about 1804.
Under such bombardment of charitable and romantic statements, I realized that even those who meant well had no idea what a gem Haiti has and continues to be to the world. Our story did not start and end in 1804 with a quick reprisal being the 2010 earthquake. Summarizing hundreds of years into 2 events and sprinkling in general statements about relations with a neighboring nation grossly undermines and makes invisible the complex history Haiti calls her own.
Being a lover of history, it did not escape me that the very church in which nine innocent lives were violently stolen in Charleston, was co-founded by Denmark Vesey. Vesey was a Black man who led a failed slave revolt, that he hoped would lead him and those who were once enslaved on a boat to Haiti, where they could live as free men. Obviously, I was not expecting Black or White media to pay attention to this “fun fact” in light of something so heinous, but it got me to thinking of how much this small country housed on not even half of an island has blessed most of the countries in the Western Hemisphere and even parts of Europe.
- While still being scorned by world powers, Haiti lent support to Simon Bolivar who earning his name as the Great Liberator, gained independence for Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. In return, Bolivar failed to keep his promise to recognize Haiti as an independent nation.
- Haitian troops, including Roi Henri Christophe himself, fought in the American Revolution.
- In 1902, Admiral Hammerton Killick, wrapped in the Haitian flag, blew up his ship with him inside in order to not surrender it to German forces.
- In 1937 Haiti helped save multiple Jewish families from Hitler’s gas chambers by providing them with free visas that allowed them to travel to other countries.
I can go on and on about Haiti’s amazing deeds to the world, but I’ll stop here. I don’t know if she will be recognized for the amazing Pearl that she continues to be to the world, especially when our issues are used as poverty porn for the West to uphold as a charity case. But maybe, just maybe in my children’s lifetime, something in the world will break, maybe through an academic lens, or a powerful leader -something will allow the world to see Haiti the way I see her, the way everyone should see her. Haiti was Black Power before the Panther’s were even a thought in the Universe. And as she continues to find her footing in a world that so badly wants to see her permanently crippled, it is easy for me to say we are not the dreams of the slaves. As Haitians, we are the beacon of freedom the ancestors have sent out to the world.
Photo credit (La Citadelle):