Monday, August 29, 2011
Haitians Not in Haiti
At least half of the translators who worked with the Navy during the past couple of weeks were junior high and high school students from two schools in Port-au-Prince. where the students are taught in English. Most of these kids are essentially bilingual, being fluent in English and Creole.
I had the opportunity to talk with one young woman, an eighth grader, whom I'll call Jocelyn.
Jocelyn spent her 6th and 7th grade years in Brooklyn with her grandmother, attending school. She returned to Haiti for her 8th grade year and lives with her parents, who both work in Haiti. Jocelyn is an American citizen; her English is actually better than her Creole. Jocelyn said to me,
"The media is always showing only the bad parts of Haiti. They never show the nice places in Haiti, like where I live. People think there are only poor areas in Haiti."
I have heard this criticism of Haiti news coverage before, though usually from people older than Jocelyn. I can't completely disagree with it; most of the coverage of Haiti focuses on the poor. On the other hand, poor people do make up the huge majority of the population.
On this trip, our 22-year-old nephew Tommy accompanied us. This was his first trip to Haiti. After we worked in Cite Soleil and toured other slums, for balance, I wanted Tommy to see a more prosperous part of Haiti. On one evening, we went to Petionville, a Port-au-Prince suburb, and had dinner with some upper-middle class friends of ours. On the way to their lovely home, we stopped at the Haitian bakery, Epi D'Or. Inside the modern building, Haitians ordered sandwiches, ice cream, or had a meal at the cafeteria. "These are all middle-class Haitians," our friend told us.
Back to Jocelyn: I asked her if she was going to attend high school in Haiti. Her answer was instructive: "Oh no. I want to attend high school in the United States."
So despite the good parts of Haiti that are overlooked by the media, Jocelyn wants to go to high school in the United States. I can't say I blame her. But I do see that she is already exhibiting a behavior pattern that is disturbing: she will defend and praise Haiti from afar.
The thing is, Haiti doesn't need her praise or the praise of other people from the diaspora. It needs their brains, their ambitions, their talents.
Haiti needs their presence.