February was Black History Month. Throughout the month, communities organized intellectual and cultural events to bring into light our problems, our dreams, our visions, our aspirations.
Yet hardly ever do we talk about the relationships between Haitians and African Americans, or between Caribbean Americans in general and African Americans.
A superficial glance indicates for the most part a contentious relationship, at best. Ignorance, half truths, misunderstanding and superficial beliefs paint our views in a negative way.
It is believed that African Americans feel snubbed by Haitians and other immigrants.
“They all think that they are better than us! They don’t know what we’ve been through. They are benefiting from the struggles of our forefathers. They are here to take our jobs,’’ a prominent African-American was heard to say once about Haitians. “They came by boat, now they want to come by votes.”
Haitians are no better. Some also rely on stereotypes to form their judgments: “African Americans are lazy. They are all on welfare. They drink lots of beer. They hate immigrants.”
These negative perceptions of each other are shaped by ignorance and the media. They have a negative impact on our children.
Children act out everything they hear and experience at home.
This explains the numerous fights between Haitian/Caribbean children and African-American children. Some say the relationships have improved.
Others believe that more work is needed on unity.
The fact is, there is only one group.
When Africans were taken from the motherland in bondage, only fate determined who ended up in Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad or the Bahamas! For all we know, when we fight or diminish the other, we diminish ourselves!
Because families were separated, it is impossible to know who is related to whom! Stories about how we treat each other, especially during local elections, are painful. But the shortcomings are sometimes aggrandized, spreading a shadow on the many positives.
One such positive is the number of marriages between Haitians/Caribbeans and African Americans. Dr. Beverly Carter Remy married her Haitian husband, Jean Remy, 21 years ago.
She mused, “Even though two different cultures were joined, once we started to communicate with each other and celebrated holidays together, it was obvious that we embraced the same values for health, prosperity, education and welfare. The stereotypes fueled by the media as well as the uninformed public were quickly dismissed.”
Marie Paule Vitale Woodson married Robert Woodson, who is African-American, 22 years ago. She said, “Be in control of your own destiny and follow your heart. After I met my husband, we were told that our relationship was doomed for failure because of the difference in our culture. Well, we proved them wrong. We have two beautiful children; Bradley James Woodson, 19 years old, a college freshman; and Kelly Michelle Woodson, 8 years old, a third grader in a Catholic School.’’
Her husband continued, “Culture is important, but it has not been the determining factor of our 22 years of marriage. My wife is a blessing and I would marry her again.’’
Not one to miss an opportunity, his wife added, “When I need an honest opinion, I go to my husband. I would definitely marry him again.”
The idea for this column came to me when Robert introduced his wife while launching their jewelry line, Kelly Michelle.
He spoke so lovingly of his family, their dream to start this line to honor the change, the vision that President Barack Obama represents for this country. They crafted a line of earrings, necklaces and bracelets bearing President Obama’s face and the words “hope” and “change.”
“KellyMichelle is an expression of my love for our president,’’ Marie Paule said. “I had the idea of the line before. I gave it up. I was so inspired by the forward thinking, sportsmanship, and vision of President Obama! I decided to give hope a chance. I’m in awe of our president.”
As we brace ourselves for the next elections, sonje (Creole for remember) that we are members of the same big African family…brothers and sisters of the same mind.
Lest we forget!
Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.