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a214: Holiday doubleheader (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
By Dwayne Campbell
December 30, 2001
In some Haitian-American families, the feast is already being prepared for
the big day.
Though Jan. 1 is known as New Year's Day to most people, to
Haitian-Americans it is the big day because it's also Independence Day. It
was that day in 1804, after fierce rebellions against French colonizers and
their soldiers, that Haiti became the first black republic in the world and
the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.
"It's one of the high points of Haitian pride," said Dr. Lucien Armand, a
Plantation surgeon who moved to the United States in the early 1970s. "Very
few people had the honor of beating Napoleon."
That rich legacy will be celebrated by about 300,000 Haitians living in
Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
Some, despite decades in America, celebrate Haitian culture routinely. In
several cities, Haitian churches, groceries, restaurants and nightspots are
a familiar sight.
"I still love Haitian food. I prepare the rice and beans, fried plantains,
cod fish and griot [fried pork cubes]," said Gary Timmer, 42, of Lake Worth,
who left Haiti in 1967. A psychiatric nurse, he opened a facility for
developmentally disabled boys in Margate in August.
Timmer, Armand and other Haitian-Americans said they are proud of Haiti's
history. They are troubled, though, that many Haitian-Americans aren't
holding on to their heritage. Even worse, Armand said, many dissociate
themselves because non-Haitians often think of Haitians in America only as
people "who clean up hotel rooms and drive taxis."
"I've met a few [Haitian-Americans] that seemed ashamed of their
background," said Patrick Jabouin Jr., 20, a Fort Lauderdale resident who is
a business major at Florida A&M University. "I guess a lot of Floridians
tend to look down and ridicule Haitians."
But Jabouin, who was born in New York of Haitian parents and has never been
to Haiti, stands side by side with his heritage. On Independence Day, he
will visit his two sets of grandparents -- in Parkland and Sunrise -- to eat
the traditional pumpkin soup. After independence, former slaves heartily ate
pumpkin soup because French plantation owners had banned them from doing so.
In addition to the country's storied past, Jabouin also knows about its
current status as one of the poorest nations in the world from which people
regularly flee to Florida. This month, Haitians fleeing the island on a
packed boat were picked up at Biscayne National Park, and the Haitian
government withstood another attempted coup just days ago. Still, Jabouin
wants to see his parents' homeland.
"I want to go," he said. "I'm proud to call myself Haitian."
Marjorie Legagneur, of Miramar, left Haiti for New York at age 13; her
children, Priscilla, 14, and Cassandra, 9, were born in Florida, but she
wants them to retain Haitian pride.
"I don't celebrate in a major way, but I talk to my kids about the
significance of the day," said Legagneur, 37, who used to take her daughters
to visit Haiti every summer.
It's the reality of the modern Haiti -- political unrest and astounding
poverty -- that has curtailed annual visits by Legagneur and other
"I wanted them to get to know the places their mother and father came from,"
Legagneur said, "[but] it's not so secure now."
Ginou Oriol, of Fort Lauderdale, still visits Haiti every summer. She was
born in Chicago of Haitian parents, but lived in Haiti from age 8 months to
5 years old.
"There is an affinity to the country. I know it better than California where
I grew up," said Oriol, the co-owner of L'Escapade Spa & Salon in Sunrise
and also a jazz singer who will perform at a Haitian celebration at the
Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale in February.
Armand said that, at different levels, thousands of Haitians are
contributing to South Florida.
"We're working successfully in the community," said Armand, who is vice
president of the South Florida chapter of The Association of Haitian
Physicians Abroad. The group's president, Yves Jodesty, is a Haitian-born
physician who lives in Pembroke Pines.
Armand's wife, Margaret, a consultant for the Broward County school district
and a member of the county's Cultural Affairs Board, said she was the first
Haitian teacher in the county's school system -- but that was in 1979.
"We're integrating into the system," said Margaret Armand, who left Haiti
for New York in 1968.
She's now working on her doctoral dissertation at Nova Southeastern
University. The couple's son, Alain, is a Washington lawyer, and their
daughter, Bernadette, a South Plantation High School graduate, is in her
last year at New York University Law School.
Though the official Little Haiti is in Miami, cities such as Boynton Beach,
Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes and Delray Beach have high concentrations
of Haitian immigrants. The influx of Creole and some French speakers have
made some cities realize they need employees who speak the language and
understand the culture.
At the Lauderdale Lakes Parks and Recreation Department, Valencie Excéus is
quick to break into Creole when she hears Haitian parents struggling with
English. She recalls when she was 12 and recently arrived in Miami from
Jean-Rabel, Haiti, without a grasp of English. She attended school, but kept
quiet for six months while she listened and absorbed.
"[Creole] is still a beautiful language," Excéus said. "[But] I had a tough
time when I didn't speak English, so I know what they're going through."
Though her childhood memories of Haiti are pleasant, part of Excéus'
compassion comes from her visit last year to her homeland. At 21, she's
better able to see how much help is needed there.
"We have to learn to associate ourselves with the majority of people there
who are suffering," Excéus said.
Dwayne Campbell can be reached at email@example.com or
Editor's Note: Our Community's Many Faces periodically spotlights one of the
dozens of nationalities conducting South Florida celebrations of cultural
and historic milestones.
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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