Caribbean Heritage Month – A Celebration of Immigrants

  The year 2000 was a defining moment for immigrants, specifically those from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti. In June, the Institute of Caribbean Studies, under the leadership of its President and founder Dr. Claire Nelson, recognized and celebrated the contributions of the Caribbean immigrants to American society, including its history and culture. In 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted the commemoration before it was subsequently passed and proclaimed by the Senate and George W. Bush in 2006.

Today, in its 15th year, Caribbean Heritage Month aims to focus on “Our Shared History, Our Shared Future” to remind the world how Caribbean Americans – there are currently 13.4 million in the United States – continue to help shape the American dream. However, Haitians are the largest of the Caribbean ancestry groups in the U.S. (1,084,455 million), thus playing a role in shifting the agricultural landscape of America. In fact, as two of the oldest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti and the United States’ shared history runs deep.

Monetarily speaking, Haiti alleviated the United States’ deficit during its long war for independence. The generous loans from Saint Domingue (now Haiti) kept Americans afloat during those difficult times. These loans were the fruits of enslaved Africans in Saint Domingue, whose labor in picking cotton, harvesting sugar cane and producing coffee generated a lot of wealth for the island.

In addition, many Haitians fought alongside Americans against the British in 1779 in Savannah. After helping America secure its freedom in 1783, the Haitian military went back home to attack the French in 1791 before finally gaining their own independence in 1804. Ironically, the U.S. did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825, and they were the last country to do so.

After the impactful revolt in Haiti, some slaves immigrated to Philadelphia, Charleston and New Orleans, seeking refuge. Some even settled in Santo Domingo (now Dominican Republic) and Cuba. Haitians practically everywhere now, from South America to North America and Europe. Although the contributions of Haitians in America are kept in the past, the media’s current interest in its economic struggles (due to reparations to France) may spark a new revolution that will once again make Haiti prosperous and a place where immigrants settle to contribute to its advancement.

In the meantime, Haitian Americans and their immigrant parents should reflect on Caribbean Heritage Month with a new resolve. They should ignite the determined spirit of their ancestors to revolt against the violence and corruption that keeps our Haitian brothers and sisters enslaved to fear and poverty back home.

What’s in a Haitian Flag? The Strength of Our HIstory, the Key to the Future

It’s been said that the best way to love your country is to teach its history honestly. On May 18th, Haitians attempt to do just that through demonstrated pride and tradition. We celebrate our country’s distinctive and symbolic piece of fabric– red and blue horizontal bands with the colorful coat of arms against a rectangle background–to commemorate our liberty from French rule, including our victory in a war that enabled us to accomplish such a feat.

We also use the occasion to uphold the French words etched on the flag, “L’union fait la force,” which means “Unity produces strength.” In context, however, it translates to “There is strength in unity,” to aptly signify the collaborative efforts of the Haitian soldiers, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, during the French Revolution. Additionally, it is a reminder that our country’s progression relies heavily on our oneness–the unification of our ideas, determination, resources, and endeavors.

May 18th is not just the day of the flag’s creation; but also the birth of the nation’s identity. History has taught us that we were once held in captivity and made to feel inferior, but once we recognized our greatness, we realized we were capable and deserving of freedom. This newfound knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, hence why our expression of love for Haiti runs deep.

This year marks the flag’s 219th anniversary, and it is particularly significant since traditional celebrations and festivals are resuming this year after a two-year suspension brought on by the pandemic. In addition, Haiti is currently struggling to find its strength after the death of President Jovenel Moise followed by heightened gang activities. For years, organizations have pledged to help, and leaders have stepped in with the promise to change Haiti for the better, but it appears that the work is too much and the genuine laborers are few.

Perhaps, now more than ever, Haitians, specifically the diaspora, need to stand united and help the country overcome crime, poverty, and limited access to quality health care. The first step is to recognize that just because Haiti is home does not make it perfect. Nevertheless, just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it can no longer be home. If we’re going to genuinely express our love for her, the “Pearl of the Antilles,” then we have to care for Haiti as passionately as we wave her flag and as honestly as we share her past. Therefore, May 18th should not just be a celebration of Haiti that comes and goes, but a constant reminder on the calendar that we are still at war…only this time, with ourselves.

May is for Haitian Heritage Month

Every year in May, Haitians residing in the United States celebrate their heritage and culture through music and food festivals, parades and exhibits. The celebration was first observed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1998 by Tele Haiti, before eventually spreading to other parts of the country, such as Palm Beach County in Florida. Haitian Heritage Month is usually punctuated by Haitian Flag Day on May 18, an observance that Haitian President Dumarsais Estime started in the 1930s to encourage patriotism amongst the youth. Today, from Miami to Atlanta to Irvington and Brooklyn, Haitian flags can be seen waving from the top of vehicles or hanging from windows bringing awareness to Haiti and all that it stands for. Also, Haitians young and old, including lovers of the Haitian culture, don t-shirts and baseball caps with the Haitian flag on it.

 

At some American schools, educators take the opportunity to expose students to Haitian history, its colorful art, unique and tasty dishes, lively music and traditional dance styles. For example, kindergarten and first grade teachers will read children books written by Haitian authors to their classes. Some music and theater departments hold school-wide assemblies featuring performances by Haitian musicians, poets and dancers.

 

Below are some events happening this month around the United States. Check them out if you are in the area and bring your family along. Also, please share in the comments what your City is doing to celebrate Haitian Heritage Month!

 

  • May 3
    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Presentation at noon)
    Opening Haitian Art Exhibition
    111 NW 1st Street, Lobby
    Miami, FL 33128
    This event is to showcase different arts and cultures of Haiti.
  • May 7
    3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
    City of North Miami Beach Taste of Haiti
    North Miami Beach City Hall
    17011 NE 19th Avenue
    North Miami Beach, FL 33162
    City of North Miami Beach presents Taste of Haiti 2022. It is the biggest Haitian food festival by Haitian Culinary Alliance in the United States. Free Admision.
  • May 14
    South Dade Health Day and Haitian Heritage Celebration
    South Miami Heights Emmanuel Baptist Church
    17201 SW 103rd Avenue
    Miami, FL 33157
  • May 18
    6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
    Celebrating Haitian Heritage Month Through Stories
    Arcola Lakes Library
    8240 NW 7th Avenue
    Miami, FL 33150
    Enjoy special presentations by the Miami-Dade Public Library System Storytelling Troupe and local Haitian performers. All ages.
  • May 21
  • OMG Pop Up Shop Event Haitian Owned Business Edition
  • Sat, 2 – 8 PM
  • Valencias Eventspace, 5407 Flatlands Ave Brooklyn, NY
  • May 24
  • Haitian Heritage Month Screening of Jean-Jacques
  • Sat, 3 – 4 PM
  • South End Branch Library, 34 Woodland Ave
  • Stamford, CT

Visit the Haitian Heritage Museum
4141 NE 2nd Avenue, #105C
Miami, FL 33137
It is committed to highlighting and preserving Haiti’s rich culture and heritage globally. Visitors can enjoy beautiful Haitian art, historic artifacts, ethnic sounds of Haitian music, view Haitian films and enjoy a collection of Haitian literary works.

 

Easter in Haiti


Easter is often celebrated around the world with rich religious traditions. In Haiti, Easter, which is referred to as Pacques, includes various rituals, from religious ceremonies to unique celebrations such as rara, a colorful music festival with band performances. Typically, the celebrations begin on Good Friday, when Haitian parents and their children make and fly kites. Most families even participate in kite competitions held in their communities, where everyone shows off their brightly colored and decorated flags in hopes of being chosen.

Meanwhile, on the streets, there are processions featuring reenactments of Jesus’ crucifixion. Men pretending to be Jesus, dress in white robes with red paint splattered on them. They stroll past onlookers, as fake soldiers beat and spit on them, before “nailing them to a cross.” Children are often part of the show, dressed in white and carrying big wooden crosses. It is said that people often carry pictures of their loved ones and pray for their health and careers.

Haitian families eat fish on Good Friday as a way to honor the death and resurrection of Christ. The fish is either dried or boiled ( pwason gwo sel) and served with rice cooked with white beans, and boiled vegetables, such as plantains and yams. On Easter Sunday, families attend church together – the majority being Catholic – and enjoy a big feast together. One of the most popular dishes to serve on Easter is Russian salad, which is made with potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, celery, onions, beetroot and carrots.

 

The week following Easter Sunday is regarded as Easter Week. Haitians, particularly those of the voodoo faith, partake in rara by dressing in all white or bright colors to celebrate their African ancestry through song. The tradition dates back to the 1700s in Saint Domingue when African slaves were under French rule and forbidden to participate in their Easter celebrations. To have something of their own, the slaves came up with their own traditions, combining their African rituals and language.

Having won their independence, Haitians began celebrating Easter the way the their slave masters did. Now they combine religious practices with ancestral customs, and honor Jesus and/or the spirits of their ancestors.

 

Women Impacting Haiti’s Economy

As the celebration of Women History Month continues, we can’t help but recognize the daughters of Haiti who have contributed to the development of the country’s economy. For decades, these women have been pursuing entrepreneurship to support their families, create job opportunities for others and increase sustainability. They have started thriving businesses in various sectors with their assets (money they have earned and saved from their careers in the U.S.) and/or the support of US-based donors.

 

 

 

 

For example, Isabelle Laguerre Mevs founded Star Industries S.A., a food processing company that produces seasoning, marinating, and hot sauces. Her products are high in demand from supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels around the capital. Carolina Sada, a former director for Estee Lauder moved back to Haiti and started Ayiti Natives. Her company specializes in making natural soaps and body oils with moringa and supports smallholder farmers. Myrtha Vildon launched Glory Industries, a toilet paper production company. Her company also manufactures napkins. Vildon has shared that her goal is to initiate healthy hygiene habits in the country. Rosmene Norvil works closely with the southern sector of the Ministry of National Education as the department directorate to improve the accessibility to quality education. With financial support from the World Bank, she has helped implement the Providing an Education of Quality in Haiti (PEQH). Yolene Surena, who has also received funding from the World Bank, leads disaster risk management projects in Haiti to help the country develop prevention strategies.

In addition to the women facilitating access to Haiti’s job market are the independent market vendors who account for almost 80 percent of the female populace. These women, with limited education, rise early in the morning to sell everything from food to clothing on the streets in Port-au-Prince or the countryside, with the sole purpose of providing for their families. Typically, they buy goods from other sources and resell them, or receive shipments of items from family members in the United States. They spend hours in the sun trying to make a living, and if they’re selling in an official market, they must use their earnings to pay for their stall. Because the majority of the population is poor and/or unemployed, it’s difficult for the vendors to make a profit. Most consumers can only afford to promise to pay, and out of desperation, the sellers will give them the goods “on credit” and wait for paybacks.

It is clear that Haitian women, whether their businesses are official or informal, are not waiting on men to remedy the issues of poverty or to grant them equal participation in economic development. Instead, they are taking the country’s future into their own hands one generation at a time, and we salute them!

By Ifonia Jean

There is No Haitian History without HERstory

From the beginning of time, women have played a vital role in shaping and upholding high standards for equal rights. They have also overcome the traditional expectations of femininity by inserting themselves in spaces typically reserved for their male counterparts. Perhaps, most notably, are the Haitian women, whose accomplishments are unforgettable.

Marie-Jean Lamartiniere and Suzanne Beliar (whose husband was the nephew of Toussaint Louverture) dressed in male uniforms to serve in the army alongside their husbands. They helped fight for the country’s freedom and put an end to French rule. While these women contributed to the independence of Haiti, it would be years before their female peers could experience freedom from Haitian hegemony.

In the 19th century, journalist and human activist Yvonne Hakim-Rimpel created L’Escale, a feminist newspaper and the first of its kind. She wrote articles denouncing Francois Duvalier’s regime and exposing the fraud he committed to winning the election. In 1935, she was tortured and raped by men when they invaded her home. Their attack was the result of her unapologetic stance against the dictator.

Nevertheless, Rimpel refused to be intimidated and deterred. She and members of her organization, Women’s League of Social Action, published and signed a letter of protest against Duvalier. Despite their efforts, Duvalier continued to rule until the completion of his term. However, Rimpel’s courage and resistance did not go unnoticed by the female populace.

Maryse Vieux-Chauvet, who shared Rimpel’s ideals, wrote the book “Amour, Colere, Folie,” a feminist perspective on Duvalier’s dictatorship. His regime banned the book, and fearing for her life, Chauvet went into exile in 1973. In 2005, after her untimely death, the book was published and eventually translated and introduced to the American market.

In the early 90s, it became clear that the feminist movement had influenced women’s agency and power in Haiti. So much so that Ertha Pascal-Trouillot became the country’s first female president. Trouillot’s rise to the highest office began after receiving her law degree and serving as the first woman justice of the Supreme Court of Haiti. Although her presidency was provisional, Trouillot was honored for the opportunity despite the challenges of institutionalized patriarchy and the structural oppression of women. She declared, “I have accepted this heavy task in the name of Haitian women.”

Today, Haitian women and girls continue to fight for equal opportunities, particularly for women with darker complexions. They are also taking a stand against gender-based violence and sexual abuse while making strides in education, sports, entertainment, and more. May we always champion these women – past, present, and future – for their fierce audacity and tenacity to impact lives and change Haiti for the better.

By Ifonia Jean

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Black History and West Indian Experience

For many people around the world, February is reserved for the celebration of love. But here in America, we dedicate the second month of the year to our black history, honoring our African ancestors who helped paved the way for our freedom and equal opportunities. The African-American experience is certainly not devoid of trials, but the sum of our triumphs outweigh the challenges we’ve overcome and the ones we have yet to face.

When we think of the great orators who have graced national platforms and have captured the attention and hearts of many, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. When we think of the musical legends who have sacrificed their blood, sweat, and tears for their rhythm and blues,  Nat King Cole comes to mind. When we think of black athletes who have broken barriers and dominated arenas, stadiums and/or fields, Earl Lloyd, (one of the first African-American players in the NBA) comes to mind. And when it comes to literature and poetry, Frederick Douglas, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neal Hurston are just some of the many prolific writers who were brave enough to tell our stories unapologetically.

However, many West Indians struggle to find their place in black America’s history, particularly because it appears we have been excluded from the Black History Month narrative. The lack of Afro-Caribbean representation is so evident–and at times, deliberate-that it seems that our experiences and contributions have been relegated to National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, which is mainly observed by those of us who make up this demographic. And yet, our history is riddled with the same oppression that threatened to diminish us as black people. Our ancestors were stolen from Africa and sold into slavery too!

When Toussaint Louverture fought against the white slave owners in Hispaniola, he did it so that all of our black brothers and sisters could be free there and elsewhere. When Henri Christophe fought alongside more than 500 free men of color to help white American forces defeat British Imperialists, it was so that the United States would someday be a good place for our African brothers and sisters.  The independence that allows us to celebrate Black History Month was won by a black brigade consisting of men who were slaves in America and Hispaniola. The West Indian experience offers just as many illustrious examples of resiliency, ambition, and success as that of the African-American experience. Both experiences are intertwined in the fabric of Black History Month. Therefore, historical figures like Frederic Marcelin, Bob Marley, and Blake Alphonso Higgs should be celebrated as much as we celebrate the likes of  Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni. Our collective black excellence deserves that much!

By Ifonia Jean

A Night of Music and a Mission

A couple of weeks ago, on a chilly Saturday evening, men and women from the Haitian community gathered together for a common goal—to help send a group of hopeful athletes to the Olympics next year in Tokyo. The event was both inspiring and meaningful, as everyone had the opportunity to immerse himself or herself in Haitian culture through music. Guests were greeted at the door by the tunes of Da Fella’s Band, a guitar trio, and were led to the dance floor by the sounds of Chicago’s local band, Fuse, who performed live. International artist J. Perry also took the stage to perform his latest hits. DJ Fire kept the crowd entertained for the remainder of the night.

Members of the DuSable Heritage Association and Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti were also at the event to demonstrate their commonality with Sons and Daughter of Haiti’s overall mission. They were pleased to learn about the organization’s goals as the founders Mr. Aly and Dr. Sandra Laveaux spoke about them and highlighted some of its past accomplishments, such as its annual health fair in Cap Haitien. The Laveaux’s also introduced the host of the hour, Olympic swimmer, Naomy Grand’Pierre. Grand’Pierre talked about her Olympic journey, emphasizing her past victory and future aspirations. It is Grand’Pierre’s desire to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, and as she stated, she needs the help of her fellow Haitians to make her dream a reality. Sons and Daughters continue to stand by her with unwavering faith and a relentless commitment to spur the Haitian community to action.

If you want to see Haiti represented on a worldwide platform and recognized for something positive in the media, this is the perfect opportunity to help bring attention to the great things that our country has to offer.

A Night of Inspiration Brings Hope: Tokyo 2020

It is often said that comfort holds us back more than fear does. How true is that! Last year we took a leap of faith and tried something different—we hosted our inaugural Holiday Banquet! Of course, we had some nagging reservations about the event, but we are proud to share that we exceeded our expectations.

Sons and Daughters of Haiti recognized seven dynamic entrepreneurs who represent the Haitian men and women who are impacting their communities. Needless to say, we had a great turnout and the food was delectable. The group, The Remnant moved the attendants with an interpretive dance presentation, while Gina and Jeanelle Demargeau performed a few selections as a duet. To top it off, Haitian artist Phyllisia Ross, along with her band, brought down the house with a performance of some of her hits, including Only for You and Konsa.

Haitian-American Olympic swimmer, Naomy Grand’Pierre spread some inspiration with a riveting and transparent account of her journey to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. As she shared, the experience has motivated her to prepare for Tokyo 2020 in hopes of inspiring “Haitians all over the world to embrace the history of Haiti with pride and dignity, so together we can showcase Haitian beauty as a way to counteract the negative stigmas being spread.”

We are committed to help Naomy, and other Haitian swimmers, realize their dreams because we know a win for them is a victory for Haiti. Through our initiative, Road to Tokyo, and generous supporters like you, we know we can reach our goal.

 

Past and Present: A Celebration of Generosity

Suze Orman once said, “True generosity is an offering: given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations.” For the past few years, we at Sons and Daughters of Haiti have been so privileged to serve the locals in Haiti, giving our time, energy and resources. None of this would be possible without the people who believe in our mission and support us in whatever way they can. We’ve learned that giving is not always about pulling out your wallet; it’s also about lending a hand.

Therefore, there’s no way to truly measure our impact, but rest assured we are making great progress, which is exciting to see! We kicked off the year with a successful album release party in Chicago, IL for artist JBeatz, followed by our 5K Walk/Run. We are so grateful for the turnout for both events! We were able to collect medical supplies and travel to Haiti with our team to host our annual health fair in Pignon, Haiti. We saw over 100 patients within two days, and our in-house physician and director, Dr. Sandra Laveaux, MD, MPH provided basic healthcare needs and medication. We saved some time for leisure (because we believe in a healthy balance of work and play) by visiting the Citadel.

Special thanks to Tania Delinois of Cornerstone Preschool, Veronica Cyrus, Herbert Emile, Nosbens Clervil, Hosean International Ministries, Krissy Joseph, DJ’FIRE and Blaze International Production for their invaluable contributions and to Brother’s Brother Foundation for the medication and medical supply donations.

To close out the year, we will be honoring the key contributors, who have really helped make our events and mission trips a success, at our inaugural gala. There will be live music by international artist, Phyllisia Ross, Oliver Duret, catered dinner by “Taste of Haiti Orlando 2018” winner, Chef Robinson Joseph, a special dance performance by The Remnant, raffles and giveaways. The night will feature guest speaker 2016 Olympian Naomy Grand’Pierre. Please join us and get chance to learn more about Sons and Daughters of Haiti, meet the board and honorees, and help us celebrate great things to come. Get your tickets now!