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#1719: The Diaspora: the most dangerous Haitians (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <MaxBlanchet@worldnet.att.net>

>From the Haitian Times

The Most Dangerous Haitians, Diaspora

I'm a member of a dangerous and subversive group of
Haitians. I'm a "Diaspora." We must be a threat to folks
in Haiti because we are treated which such disdain by
some of our brethren back home: most of all, by
those who hold or seek power.

I haven't heard so much condescension heaped on
a group of people since I was a little boy in
Port-au-Prince, listening to bourgeois and
near-bourgeois Haitians exercising their scorn
on "vye blan," the Creole equivalent of "white trash."
The irony of this opprobrium on the Haitian
Diaspora is that this same group plays a critical
role in helping Haiti survive. According to international
agencies, Haitians in America send
$800 million back home to relatives each year.

These funds (far larger than the national budget-when
there is one) keep tens of thousands of families from
starving, thousands of children clothed and in school,
and hundreds of businesses thriving because of
the buying power created by the imported funds. But
there is another aspect to Diaspo life in America that
makes some people back home uneasy. It is the
success of so many who have left. We know about the
middle-class professionals who fled the various Duvalier
regimes. They had the easiest transition to jobs as
doctors, lawyers, professors, and managers in this country.

There is also the curious footnote of elite Haitian
women who learned humility and hard work as caregivers
and maids. But the far more important story is that of
the poor Haitian immigrants who have leapt to
middle class status in America through jobs in
corporations, city government, hospitals and the
universities. It is the tale of the many villagers and
"moun mòn" from Gonaïves, Jérémie, Grande-Rivière
and Anse-à-Veaux who worked as porters, and busboys
and housemaids and delivery clerks and janitors and
sweated in the toughest, meanest factories.

Yet, in a single generation those from the very
bottom of Haiti have accomplished in America what
they dared not hope at home. They have significantly
bettered their own lives and they have vastly elevated
the opportunities for their children. People who planted
corn or sugar cane, who worked in the homes of
Port-au-Prince's well-to-do, who at best hoped they
could send their children to school or find them a dubious
opportunity working in a middle-class home as a
"restavek," have been attending college graduations,
buying homes in Elmhurst and East Orange, North Miami
and Boston and building dream homes in Haiti.

In a single generation, tens of thousands of
Haitian-Americans (and that is what they are) have
graduated from the best colleges and universities
and begun to penetrate the inner circles of corporate
America, as lawyers, engineers, administrators,
investment bankers, artists and musicians. They have
embraced an American lifestyle without losing their
Haitian roots. They speak English fluently but Creole

at home and English in Haitian gatherings. By discarding
French, with its social weight and capacity to define and
divide, they have consciously sought to minimize the
effects of background and class among Haitians in
America. It is this American experience that is the
most dangerous to certain people back home.

So many of us Diaspos have lived democracy in the last
three decades. We are well aware of the flaws and the
racism that still abounds in America, but we have also
learned the merits of democratic process, of
transparent civil procedures and of free-market economics.
We have no illusions that America is a utopia, but we
are proof that large numbers of Haitian immigrants -if
not all -have benefited from this democratic
and capitalist economic system. And this is where
the "Diaspo" gets really subversive. Its members are
starting to demand that Haiti embrace an economic
and political system that will enable the majority of
Haitians to thrive.

After all, the "Diaspo" itself challenges so many
negative stereotypes that Haitians hold about themselves
and each other. It has shown that upward mobility is
possible for even the poorest and most downtrodden,
that even an illiterate Haitian family can produce a
brilliant scholar or successful professional - given
opportunities that do not exist at home. And members
of the Diaspo refuse to accept the idea that Haiti
cannot be governed under a democratic system.
Those who resist these ideas say that Haitian-Americans
no longer understand the reality of Haiti, that they've
been away too long.

It's true that some Haitian-Americans have gone back
arrogantly thinking they can operate with disregard for
their home country's culture and sensibilities. But their
idealism is valuable at a time when so many cynical forces
struggle for power in Haiti. There's no shame in being
fools for democracy. We've lived what Winston Churchill
once said: "Democracy is a horrible form of government.
Everything else is worse." The next critical step for
Diaspos is to begin to assert our right to participate in
the dialogue about politics and economics back home. We
can't be expected to just send money forever and keep
our mouths shut. After all, Dominicans and French and
Americans are allowed to vote from abroad. If we get
serious about this, Diaspos might be barred from coming
home at all.

Joel Dreyfuss is a senior editor at Fortune Magazine and
a regular contributor to The Haitian Times.

The Haitian Times
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