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#231: Comment on diaspora: Classing the DYAS : from Ulysse

From: Gina Ulysse <gulysse@abacus.bates.edu>

	In 1994, When I tried to rent a room in a hotel in Port-au-Prince
during carnival, there was no room at the INN until the manager learned
that I was a US resident (with hegemonic US dollars) 
	In 1996, When I was introduced to upper class haitians by one of their
own in you will, I was ignored until they learned I was working on a
PhD in anthropology at the University of Michigan.
	In 1997, the employees at another hotel in Petion-Ville ignored my
kreyol speaking at the counter time and time again until they learned that
I also had that development per diem. 
	That summer while on program in Haiti, myself and several other
students from the Diaspora (Canada, France and the US) were courted by
local organizations while local students remained invisible to them.
	In 1998, after reading two of my poems at a Haitian conference, a
well meaning member of the audience complimented me and proceeded to ask
me who wrote the pieces.
	Later that day, I introduced myself to a Haitian professor. He
began to play the lineage game. He asked me where was I from? where did I
live?  who are my parents are etc. I saved him some time and told him he
would not know them since our families do not run the same circles. 

As we all know, that search to place my unrecognizable name is one of the
oldest methods of socio-economic classification among Haitians. It is one
of the ways in which we both understand and determine the order of things.
That is, who's who? (who has possession of hegemonic US dollars? who earns
PhDs? Who works in development, writes poetry and so on....) where do you
fit in the larger structure?  Are you out of place? And most importantly,
should we be fraternizing?

I am a dark-skinned black female from the lower class. Due to migration
and other experiences, I now occupy a place that I probably would not
have, had I remained in Haiti. As a result of my extensive education, I
not only 'straddle cultures' and class positions, I now live between and
among worlds.  While I am too black and too strong for North Americans
Anglos, I am never really black enough for most African-Americans.
Stimultaneously, I am way too African- American for some Haitians and
certainly not French enough for others. I consider myself Haitian-American
and depending on the context, definitely more American. I have lived
abroad longer than I have in Haiti. Don't even think of questioning my
"Haitianness."  What that makes me is one of those Diaspora Haitians. And
in the words of the godfather of soul "What it is IS what it is!" I'm Dyas
and I'm proud.  To be anything else would be to deny the cumulative
experiences I have had that make me who I am today.

Indeed, my most recent experiences in Haiti reconcientized me about the
realities of class and color in our beloved country and the subjective
ways they are experienced when these intersect with dyas identity. My
reactions varied, but they were informed by my dyas consciousness. There
was dyas-disbelief, dyas-pain, dyas-anger, and yes even dyas-arrogance. I
became increasingly aware that as an upwardly mobile dyas I represent a
disruption in the order of things. There may be some space for me in the
US, but in Haiti I am something of an anomaly. Being of one class and not
quite in another. Identifying with one world while living in another.

Many of us in that position face the greatest of delimmas about our
place in Haiti and in Haitian struggles.  Given that we can, at times
only to some extent, circumnavigate different circles, how and when do we
participate?  Where do we make our contributions? We are both insider and
outsider. We weren't there, We haven't seen or experienced?  But we do
care and we want to see change.  What do we have to give and how? Will it
be appreciated? At times, I have reached the point of throwing my hands up
in the air and give up. Indeed, that is one of the privileges of being in
the diaspora. I can afford to give up. But I keep coming back. 

I come back because this issue is just another manifestation of Haiti's
greatest obstacles to change. It is an old problem that we all know too
well. Class and color. French and Kreyol...However you say it, and we can
never say it enough. Se mem bagay la. Order. Socio-economic order. 

Perhaps, the challenge ahead for us is to keep pushing the discussion on
the delimma of the dyas (in haiti and abroad) in a manner that makes us
reconceptualize and reconcile our differences as we work towards change.
Can such dialogue be fruitful. I believe it can so long as we don't
recreate the silences of the past.

Gina Ulysse
Assistant Professor
African-American Studies
Bates College
Lewiston, ME 04240