[quote]My dear friends: honor!
It is to thank you for your overwhelming compassion, generosity, and solidarity that I write these words. I need not tell you that with a calamity of this magnitude, no family is spared from loss. My parents are thankfully unhurt but other family members have fallen and some of our friends as well, and others are still missing. This is the case for many other families from all around the country. Nevertheless, such times require that we go beyond grief, that we transcend our differences and grasp our common humanity. Your outpouring messages and gestures of support are a testimony to that. You have all asked me what you could do to help. My friends, you have done a lot already. You have prayed and wept, and you are still standing with us, in our time of greatest need. Thus, forgive me for demanding more of you when I ask you to read the lines that follow. I feel it is my duty to honor the fallen by telling you of the Haiti you seldom hear of. The Haiti that juxtaposes the one often pejoratively referred to as the “most impoverished country in the western hemisphere”, the Haiti that is now on the verge of inexistence.
As we desperately and heroically tear through the rubble with our bare hands to free our fellow citizens, as we hopelessly seek medical care for the injured, we lament not only the dead but we also grieve for the Haitian Dream. The dream which seems even less palpable than it was prior to this tragedy, the dream of a prosperous and independent state, fair to all, and at peace with its neighbors.
When our ancestors were brought there, stolen by ravenous pirates and merchants, betrayed by their brethren, they found a land already watered with sweat, blood, and tears. Under the lashes of institutionalized dehumanization, they courageously upheld the arduous responsibility of sustaining the economies of more fortunate countries. At the same time, they became the sacred guardians of the purest aspirations to justice of the island's native people, it too, subjugated, humiliated, and decimated.
As suffering brewed, as injustice persisted, the impossible happened. They banded together to define a new identity. They forged a language of their own to bridge their cultural distinctiveness because they did not all come from the same place. They took refuge in a newly-founded religion woven with the threads of their ancestral beliefs, that of the previous inhabitants of the island, and even, that of their oppressors. At this point, they, who usually were thought of as unintelligent sub-human beasts of labor, became a nation in the making.
It took a faithful night of 1791 to materialize the Haitian Dream. Gathered in the waking dark, in the deep forests of the north, hidden from their masters, a few men and women invoked the departed ancestors along with the divine horsemen, the spirits that helped shoulder their daily misfortunes. In their presence and with the fervor of the drumbeats, they swore an oath to one another. They vowed to live free or otherwise die, but more importantly, to yield their lives whenever and wherever the cause of freedom and human rights needed to be defended. That night was later known as the Ceremony of Bwa-Kayiman.
It is this pivotal moment in World History that is now being called “a pact with the devil” by our detractors. This saddens me. Let it be known that it was these same alleged devil worshippers who volunteered to defend the American flag in Savannah, Georgia. With honor and bravery, they bled, alongside their American brothers, to help free America from the yoke of colonialism. Let it be known that without these alleged devil worshippers, Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, would not have freed South America from tyranny. It was they who planned and financed his expedition to New Granada, the point from which he would later free Bogota and the sub-continent from colonial rule. It was together with them that Bolivar had forged the banner of Gran-Colombia, precursor to the flags of many modern Latin-American nations.
Why has all this been forgotten? Why did our old allies forsake us? It was because their survival and prosperity required that the Haitian experience be contained. The young republic founded in 1804, re-named Haiti in tribute to its rightful owners, was ostracized from the very beginning of its existence. Slowly, it collapsed from within, as our military, political, economic, and intellectual elites strayed from the oaths that we all had taken.
The final blow which triggered our descent into chronic misery came on July 11th, 1825 when, facing the threat of more than a dozen war-ships in the bay of Port-au-Prince, General Jean-Pierre Boyer, decorated veteran of the Independence War, my kin, surrendered all national pride and agreed to pay a ransom of 150 million francs to the former colonial rulers. When our friends deserted us on that day, only this cowardly act could save the republic, but at what price? It was the price of becoming the “most impoverished country in the western hemisphere”.
Although our state failed that day, as it did on Tuesday, what remained was the Haitian Dream. As the gap widened between the people and its leadership, aspirations for freedom, justice, and prosperity remained vibrant among the disenfranchised. This eagerness for perfection in all we do, this unquenchable drive to positively contribute to human affairs, this insatiable thirst for entering the community of nations, are all of what define the Haitian people. But more importantly, having been so unfortunate throughout the ages, we have learned to get on with our lives. Our resolve only bends but does not break. Our strength is unending.
It is these values that are being challenged today. I hope that when you look at the images from Haiti, it is this people I described here you see. I hope you look beyond the media sensationalism, beyond the scenes of human despair, and that you see an honorable people; a people who notices not the ruins of its national monuments, but that the flags that flew over them did not perish under the rubble; a people that uses the word honor as a greeting and on whose behalf I thank you for your friendship renewed. We once stood together. Today, fate it seems, has allowed you, us, and the whole world to stand together, and for that, we are eternally thankful.
I end with the words of Edwidge Danticat, one of our brightest writers. “I come from a place where breath, eyes, and memory are one, a place from which you carry your past like the hair on your head. … a place where we drop coffee on the ground for those who went ahead.”
Marc Péralte Dandin
Graduate Research Assistant
The Fischell Department of Bioengineering
University of Maryland, College Park
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