marlienebastien_fc.jpgThe most important celebration for Haitians is New Year’s Day. In addition to welcoming a brand new year, Haiti celebrated the 206th year anniversary of its independence from the French.

Haitian activist Jean-Robert Lafortune said during the 10th annual celebration of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition at the Biscayne Bay Marriott on Jan. 2 that the  “impact of the Haitian revolution on the world is yet to be written.  Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to give up his expansion ambitions and cede territories that he fought hard to obtain to the U.S. for a bargain.’’
He continued: “Had it not been for Haiti, the U.S. could have been a completely different place today.  We could be speaking French instead of English.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez on Jan. 8 will recognize the importance of Haiti’s contribution, declaring the month of January as “Haiti Independence Month.”

The resolution declaring Haiti Independence Month was initially sponsored by Miami-Dade County commissioners Rebeca Sosa and Joe Martinez, according to county assistant Nadia Pierre. 

The Haitian Revolution launched in 1791 with the famous ceremony of “Bwa Kaiman,” where the enslaved Africans swore to live free or die.  It ended in 1804 with the expulsion of the French colonial government and the establishment of the Free, Independent Republic of Haiti.

This period of violent conflicts and fierce battles between the enslaved Africans and the Napoleon army culminated in the abolition of slavery and the beginning of a new era. For the first time, these Africans who were taken by force from the motherland were viewed not as “things” to exchange, sell, maim, or kill at will. They were finally recognized as intelligent human beings capable of thinking, planning, and mounting the only successful slave revolt in human history.

General Jean Jacques Dessalines clamored these words when he proclaimed Haiti’s Independence on Jan. 1, 1804: “It is not enough to have expelled from your country the barbarians who have bloodied it for two centuries….it is necessary to assure forever liberty in our birthplace…we must take from this inhumane government, which for so long, held our spirits in the most humiliating torpor, all hope to re-subjugate us…we must, at last, live free or die.”

Haiti’s leaders were also concerned about the fate of Africans who were enslaved elsewhere – in Jamaica, Venezuela, Honduras and so forth. They supplied them with men, arms and money to fight for their independence.  In return, they asked that all slaves in their respective nations be set free.

For over 30 years, the United States forbade those who witnessed or took part in the Haitian revolution from setting foot on its soil. They were viewed as a “bad example” for those held in bondage here.  Haiti became a safe haven for not only runaway slaves but later on, for undesirable refugees around the world.

Today, Haitian society is a mosaic of people from all ethnic backgrounds: Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Germany, Spain, Italy and so many more.  It gave equal opportunities to all.     

Given this illustrious past, this new year again brought new questions that are really old, such as Pouki Ayiti Pa Ka Soti Nan Mize (Creole for “Why can’t Haiti get out of  its misery?”) 

Many members of the Haitian Diaspora sit around the table eating the “non-negotiable” soup joumou (pumpkin soup), debating the reasons for Haiti’s deplorable situation and how to help it become once more “the Pearl of the Antilles.”

The slaves were forbidden from eating soup joumou, a favored party meal for the elite French colonizers.  Eating soup joumou on Jan. 1 is both an act of defiance and celebration.

The anxiety is more intense now as Haiti braces itself for mid-term and presidential elections. The arbitrary exclusion of the Lavalas Party from the electoral process augurs nothing good, according to observers.  I overheard a pastor saying recently that Haiti’s constant turmoil is the result of its “violent revolution.” Too much blood was spilled, he claimed.

Famed Haitian Singer John Steve Brunache, a guest at Farah Juste’s (the renowned Haitian singer and activist’s) 22nd annual Jan. 1 concert at the Adrienne Arsht Center, offered these changes: “To write the act of independence of Haiti, we need love, unity and justice.”

Organization of American States (OAS) Ambassador Duly Brutus offered during his presentation at the Grassroots Coalition Jan. 2, 10th year celebration, “After over 200 years of independence, we need to start asking, ‘What can I do to help Haiti?” instead of waiting for others to do for us.”

Haiti has the resources and the talents to rebound and once more shock the world. The change needs to start with us.

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.