Copyright © 2001 by Edwidge Danticat
"You and Me against the world," by Martine Bury, copyright © 1999, is reprinted by permission of the author. "Restavek" is from Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American by Jean-Robert Cadet, copyright 1998, reprinted by permission of the University of Texas Press. "The Million Man March" by Anthony Calypso, copyright © 1998, first appeared as "The Chicken Bone Express" under the pen name, Tbnven Bolewo, in Tea for One and appears here by permission of the author. "Present Past Future" by Marc Christophe is adapted from the poem "Present Passe Futur" which appeared in Le Pain De L'Exile, copyright © 1988, and is reprinted by permission of the author. "A Cage of Words" by Joel Dreyfuss, copyright © 1999, first appeared in The Haitian Times and is reprinted by permission of the author. "Another Ode to Salt" by Danielle Legros Georges first appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Volume 9, copyright © 1995, and is reprinted by permission of the author. "America, We Are Here" by Dany Laferriere, copyright © 1987, first appeared in his book Why Must a Black Writer Write About Sex? (David Homel translator, Coach House Press, Toronto) and appears here by permission of the author. "Homelands" by Marie-Helene Laforest first appeared in slightly different form in Diasporic Encounters (Liguori Editore, Naples, January 2000) and is reprinted by permission of the author. "Made Outside" by Francie Latour first appeared in a slightly different form in The Virginian-Pilot, copyright © 1995, and is reprinted by permission of the author. "Something in the Water… Reflections of a People's Journey" by Nikol Payen first appeared in The Crab Orchard Review, copyright © 1997, and is reprinted by permission of the author. "The White Wife" by Gary Pierre-Pierre first appeared in Essence Magazine, copyright © 1998, and is reprinted by permission of the author. "Haiti: A Memory Journey" by Assoto Saint is from Spells of a Voodoo Doll, copyright © 1996, and appears by permission of Michele Karlsberg, Estate of Assoto Saint. "Looking for Columbus" is from Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, copyright © 1996 by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, reprinted by permission of Beacon Press, Boston. "Do Something for Your Soul, Go to Haiti," by Babette Wainwright, copyright © 1999, first appeared in slightly different form as "Fencing in the People" in Sheperd Express, April 15, 1999 and is reprinted by permission of the author. All other contributions first appear here by permission of their respective authors, copyright © 2001.
if you don't know the butterfly's way,
you will pass it by without noticing:
it's so well hidden in the grass.
– "Ten O'clock Flower"
I have the extremely painful task of beginning this introduction on the same day that one of Haiti's most famous citizens, the radio journalist Jean Dominique, was assassinated. I woke up this morning to a series of increasingly alarming phone calls, the first simply mentioning a rumor that Jean might have been shot while arriving at his radio station, Radio Haiti Inter, at six thirty in the morning, for the daily news and editorial program that he co-anchored with his wife, Michele Montas. The next few calls declared for certain that Jean had been shot: seven bullets in the head, neck, and chest. The final morning calls confirmed my worst fears. Jean was dead.
The following hours would slip by in a haze as I went to teach my classes at the University of Miami. When I came back to my office that afternoon, there were still more phone calls and e-mails from relatives, friends, and acquaintances who could not believe what had happened. In those real and virtual conversations, the phrase that emerged most often was "Not Jean Do!" During the varying lengths of time that many of us had known Jean Dominique- either as a voice on Haitian radio or in person-we had all come to think of him as heroically invincible. He was someone who expressed his opinions freely, seemingly without fear, criticizing groups as well as individuals, organizations, and institutions who had proven themselves to be inhumane, unethical, or simply unjust. Of course, Jean's life was too multifaceted and complex to fully grasp and make sense of in these very early hours so soon after his death. All that seems undeniably compelling and memorable about him right now is his exceptional passion for Haiti and his profound, often expressed longing to see all Haitians realize the full potential for greatness that our forefathers and foremothers had displayed when they had battled their way out of slavery almost two hundred years ago, to create the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.
I can't even sort out now, under this full assault of memories, the exact moment I met Jean Dominique. As a child in Haiti, I had heard his voice on the radio so many times, and as an adult in New York, had seen him at so many different Haiti-related gatherings that I can't even pinpoint our first meeting. However, I do remember the first time we had a lengthy conversation. It was at an art exhibit at Ramapo College in New Jersey in the early 1990s. Jean was in exile, yet again, after the Haitian military had deposed the democratically elected government and had raided his radio station.
That night, Jean and I talked at length about the paintings, which I remember much less vividly than the extreme nostalgia that they evoked in him, the hunger to return to his home and his radio station in Haiti as soon as he could.
A few weeks later, our mutual friend, the filmmaker Jonathan Demme, asked Jean and me to work with him on a project about the history of Haitian cinema. Every week, the three of us would meet on the Ramapo College campus to discuss Haitian cinema while some communications students watched and videotaped us. My job was to find prints of the films that we would discuss; Jean's was to help us all understand them by putting them in context as Jonathan questioned him about technique, style, and content.
The task of finding the films proved to be a herculean one. Many of the filmmakers themselves had lost track of their own prints during nomadic lives in exile under the Duvalier regime. However, in our videotaped sessions each time we would mention a film title to Jean he would proceed to describe at length not only the plot of the film, but details of the method of its distribution and the political framework surrounding it. The film Anita, for example, made by the talented Rassoul Labuchin, told the story of a servant girl whose experiences are much like those described here by Jean-Robert Cadet in "Restavtk." According to Jean, Labuchin had traveled with the film from province to province and had shown it to peasants in the Haitian countryside. Jean had done something similar himself when he had broadcast on Radio Haiti Inter the Kreyol soundtrack of a film based on the classic Haitian novel Gouvemeurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew) by Jacques Roumain. This was something he was extremely proud of because, when he visited the Haitian countryside, the peasants for whom he had such extreme admiration and respect would tell him how they had recognized themselves and their lives in the words of the novel.
At the insistence of some of his friends in New York, Jean would occasionally participate in a television or radio program dealing with the injustices of the military regime in Haiti which by then had killed almost five thousand people, including among them the businessman Antoine Izmery and the Haitian justice minister, Guy Malary, people Jean had known. After Malary's death, Jean appeared as a guest on a panel on The Charlie Rose Show and was seated in the audience at a taping of The Donahue Show where the subject was Haiti. During the taping, Jean squirmed in his seat, while Phil Donahue held up the stubbed elbow of Arlete Belance, who had been attacked with a machete by paramilitary forces. After the taping, he seemed almost on the verge of tears as he said, "Edwidge, my country needs hope."
Our Haitian cinema project came to an end at the end of the school semester. However, Jonathan, Jean, and I would occasionally meet in Jonathan's office in Nyack for further discussions. One day, while driving to Nyack with Jonathan's assistant Neda, Jean told us about a word he had rediscovered in a Spanish film he had seen the night before, Guapa!
While puffing on his ever-present pipe, Jean took great pains to explain to us that someone who was guapa was extremely beautiful and courageous. Demanding further clarification, Neda and I would take turns shouting out the names of women the three of us knew, starting with Jean's wife.
"Michele is very-"
"Guapa!" he yelled back with great enthusiasm. This was one of many times that Jean's vibrant love for life easily came across.
On that guapa day, Neda had to stay in Nyack, so she gave me the car and told me to drive Jean back to Manhattan. I refrained from telling her that even though I'd had my license for three years, I had never driven any car but the one owned by the driving school where I had learned. When I confessed this to Jean, he wisely offered to drive. We drove for hours through New York's Rockland County and the Palisades, and then in New Jersey and over the George Washington Bridge, finding ourselves completely lost because Jean was trying to tell some hysterical story, smoke a pipe, and follow my uncertain directions all at the same time.
When we finally got to Manhattan late in the afternoon, Jean turned the car over to me. He seemed worried as I pulled away from the sidewalk and watched until I turned the corner, blending into Manhattan traffic.
The democratically elected government was returned to power soon afterward. The next time I would see Jean would be at his and Michele's house in Haiti.
"Jean, you're looking guapa," I told him.
It was wonderful to see Jean move about his own walls, surrounded by his own books and pictures and paintings, knowing that he had been dreaming about coming back home almost every minute that he was in exile.
Later at dinner, Jean spoke mournfully about those who had died during and after the coup d'etat: Antoine Izmery, Guy Malary, and later a well-loved priest, Father Jean-Marie Vincent. Adding Jean's name now to those of these very public martyrs still seems unimaginable, given how passionately he expressed his hope that these assassinations would no longer take place.
"It has to stop," I remember him saying. "It has to stop."
The plane that took me from Miami to Haiti the day before Jean's funeral seemed like a microcosm of Haiti. Crammed on a 727 for an hour and thirty-six minutes were young rich college students returning from Miami-area college campuses for the weekend, vendors- madan and mesye saras traveling with suitcases filled with merchandise from abroad, three male deportees being expatriated from the United States, a cluster of older women in black, perhaps also returning for a funeral, and up front the former president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, returning from a speaking engagement at the University of Miami. That we were all on this plane listening to flight announcements in French, English, and Kreyol, seemed to me somewhat unreal, as would most of the events that would unfold up to and after Jean's funeral at the Sylvio Cator stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince.
On the plane, I couldn't help but recall one of the many conversations that Jean and I had had while lost in the Palisades in New York that afternoon.
I had told him that I envied the certainty with which he could and often did say the words, "My country."
"My country is sufFering," he would say. "It is being held captive by criminals. My country is slowly dying, melting away."
"My country, Jean," I said, "is one of uncertainty. When I say 'my country' to some Haitians, they think of the United States. When I say 'my country' to some Americans, they think of Haiti."
My country, I felt, was something that was then being called the tenth department. Haiti has nine geographic departments and the tenth was the floating homeland, the ideological one, which joined all Haitians living in the dyaspora.
I meant in another type of introduction to struggle to explain the multilayered meaning of the word dyaspora. I meant to borrow a phrase from a speech given by Gerard Alphonse Ferere, Ph.D., at the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on August 27, 1999, in which he describes diaspora/dyaspora as a term "employed to refer to any dispersal of people to foreign soils." But in our context used "to identify the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in many countries of the world." I meant in another type of introduction to list my own personal experiences of being called "Dyaspora" when expressing an opposing political point of view in discussions with friends and family members living in Haiti, who knew that they could easily silence me by saying, "What do you know? You're a Dyaspora." I meant to recall some lighter experiences ofbeing startled in the Haitian capital or in the provinces when a stranger who wanted to catch my attention would call out, "Dyasporal" as though it were a title like Miss, Ms., Mademoiselle, or Madame. I meant to recall conversations or debates in restaurants, parties, or at public gatherings where members of the dyaspora would be classified-justified or not-as arrogant, insensitive, overbearing, and pretentious people who were eager to reap the benefits of good jobs and political positions in times of stability in a country that they had fled during difficult times. Shamefacedly, I would bow my head and accept these judgments when they were expressed, feeling guilty for my own physical distance from a country I had left at the age of twelve years during a dictatorship that had forced thousands to choose between exile or death. However, in this introduction, I can't help but think of Jean's reaction to my dyaspora dilemma in a conversation we had when I visited his radio station while in Haiti one summer.
"The Dyaspora are people with their feet planted in both worlds," he had said. "There is no reason to be ashamed of being Dyaspora. There are more than a million of you. You are not alone." Having been exiled many times himself to that very dyaspora that I was asking him to help me define, Jean could commiserate with all those exiles, emigres, refugees, migrants, naturalized citizens, half-generation, first-generation, American, Haitian, Haitian-American men, women, and children who were living here in the United States and elsewhere. Migration in general was something he understood extremely well, whether it be from the provinces, the peyi andeyo, the outside country, to the Haitian capital or from Haitian borders to other shores. Like many of us, what he wanted to see ultimately was a Haiti that could unite all her sons and daughters, be they inside or outside.