Haiti

16 01 2010

I’ve been doing what many millions of people all over the world have been doing these last few days–donating money, educating myself about the crisis and trying to do the same with others. As someone who lives in ‘earthquake country’ (California lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur), as well as someone who has long admired and respected Haitian culture and political movements, I feel doubly moved by this tragedy and have been thinking about it constantly.

My first conscious contact with anything having to do with Haiti was when I was a dancer in my high school company in the late 1980s. My dance teacher taught Dunham Technique, a dance technique pioneered by the late, great Madame Katherine Dunham, whose travels to and cultural studies in Haiti and other Caribbean nations strongly influenced this new style. It’s a challenging, rigorous and beautiful technique and is often used in conjunction with teaching Afro-Haitian dance, which I’ve studied as well, and love.

Then I encountered Haiti again around 2001, when I wrote an article about the progressive Haitian publication, the Haiti Progres, which had had an important role in breaking news from a lefty perspective about President Jean Bertrand Aristide and other major events in that country. I interviewed the editor of the journal (whose name escapes me now) as well as well-known Bay Area Haitian-American activist Pierre LaBossiere about the paper’s role as a ‘movement’ paper that still maintained a critical voice when needed on Aristide and his Lavalas political party.

I was moved by the editor’s courage in tackling political journalism that could, in some cases, get him targeted for assassination. I’d never before talked to a ‘real’ movement journalist from a country where a real street protest and political movement exists. I admit, I was a bit lefty ‘star-struck’. (There’s the geeky writer in me again!)

But Haiti has an even greater importance in the world–it was the first Black nation in the world to throw off the chains of colonial rule, and the second country (after the United States) in the Americas to do so. The rebellion that resulted in this overthrow of the French was essentially a slave rebellion, as Haiti had been a colony of over 400,000 African slaves–the largest and most successful slave revolt in world history.

The Haitian revolution also inspired other important liberation movements in the Americas and Africa, such as the Bolivarian movement which sought to create a free and united Latin America, and has also inspired more modern revolutionary movements in nations such as Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. So as a person of color and an activist, Haiti occupies a special place of honor in my mind and heart, as well as a remarkable place in history.

So please give what you can to help Haitians rebuild their country, and keep them in your prayers. Feel free to post articles or links for places to donate and stay updated.

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