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#402: Haitian Prejudices: Vedrine comments (fwd)

From: Emmanuel W. Vedrine <evedrine@hotmail.com>

"It is my humble opinion that some haitians are more fluent in
english or french because they are in positions to practice these
languages more than the creole language." (yves pierre-louis)

- Let me add some clarifications to Pierre-Louis' quote - First, English is 
not the native language of Haitians (born in Haiti) like it or not, they all 
speak Kreyol as native language though many would claim French (as a 
trompe-l'oeuil), trying to get some prestige (one example of Diglossia and 
Sociolinguistics in Haitian society). It's a foreign language to them and 
for those who learned it as second or third language, their competence or 
fluency  varies due some factors such as age, education and certain 
opportunities (some of them may have over others). However, I do know 
certain Haitians with very high level of education (from Haiti) and who have 
been in the US for many years, but who skill lack certain communicative 
skills in English (e.g, lexicon, pronunciation..., due the environment that 
influences them the most [in terms of language use]).

The young generation of Haitians (e.g, those in their early 20's or even 
younger) master the English language faster than Haitians who come to the US 
at an older age. Why? R- They have more contacts with "the American culture" 
(notice that I put the American culture here
in quotations since some people would argue that such a culture
does not exist, but rather a "sub American cultures"). This generation has 
less problem to associate with young Americans their age (e.g, in high 
school, college, sports, dating...) whereas older Haitians have a tendency 
to socialize (more) with people from their own community where language 
factor can play an important role here.

I also want to be specific when mentioning "young generation of Haitians" 
(above). First, I refer to youngsters born in Haiti and who migrated to the 
US. There is also the "generation one and a half" (who is a type "young 
genetion of Haitians) with ethnic identity problem which in turn creates a 
self-identity problem. Why? R- Maybe lack of information from their Haitian 
parents (who may know very little of Haitian glory/triumph in history), lack 
of knowledge of positivity in the Haitian society, negative role models. So, 
psychologically speaking, all this come to have a great impact on this said 

The last one, also a "younger generation of Haitians", are some
Haitian-Americans (born in the U.S) who (may) master the English language 
are proud to be Haitian (either they learn from their parents about Haiti 
(mostly the good parts), from friends or people in the community or from 
book related Haiti/Haitians (dealing with the positive side of our culture) 
and right away, they feel proud to declare that they are Haitians even if 
some of them them may not be fluent in Kreyol (the language of their ethnic 
identity), but they
don't have any inferiority complex (such as the group mentioned by Nekita 
Lamour in her statement) or the  "generation one and a half" to identify 
themselves as Haitian. And to test that, one can just  go to one of these 
Caribbean carnivals (in Boston, Cambridge, New York..., you name it) to see 
them waiving Dessalines' "bicolore" with pride.

Now, to go back to Mr. Pierre-Louis's statement, I would say definitely say 
he is right and below, Nekita Lamour backs up his claim:

..."Regarding speaking French or even English - I have met many
Haitians who address me in English simply to demonstrate a 'social
superiority'.  I have been to numerous conferences held in the United
States where presenters address a Haitian audience in English or French as 
if speaking in Creole would have undermined their competence in the subject. 
The message they really want to send is ' I am a fluent English or French 

...One example that  remains  vivid in my mind occurred in l992  at
City College of New York. It was a conference for Haitian Bilingual
educators regarding teaching  Creole in Bilingual programs. The entire
plenary and the keynote address were in English. When I stood up and read a 
poem that one of my students wrote in Creole, of course, the entire room was 
cold and silent. People were shocked. I don't think they expected to hear 
Creole in a Creole education conference. What made matters worse was the 
content of that eight year old's poem was about Haiti's political situation 
at that time..." (Nekita Lamour)

In her quotes, I would argue that these types of stereotypes are
usually made by the older generation (from the age of 40 and up).  They 
don't come here at a young age, therefore (most of them) already mastered 
the bad habits of our undeveloped bourgeoisie and the
pseudo-intellectuals. It would take some time to clean this type of
colonial mentality.

I remember when I was researching in Haiti back 1996, I went to public
library in Port-au-Prince and told the people that I wanted to look up
some of their documentation on Kreyol. First they look at me from toe to 
head (I had sample clothes on) and I spoke my rural Kreyol. They asked for 
my library card and I told them I wasn't living in Haiti. "Do you have a 
student I.D", one asked. I gave them my Harvard student I.D. I noticed a 
drastic change right away and nice conversation followed.


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