"Haitian Mothers in the 21st Century: Media Images, Social Policy and Immigration"
In South Florida there is one prevalent image of the Haitian mother, she is despondent in crisis and has a foreign accent. Whether she is a Bahamian Haitian or a 1st generation immigrant from Haiti she is frequently portrayed in crisis, crying about some violence that has happened to her child/ren. As she cries out from the pain her headwrap or mouchwa is a reminder that she is in crisis. The folks holding her trying to catch her pain and containing it so that she doesn't lose full control are her speakers at least until she regains her composure and is able to speak for herself.
When we hear her voice she often has a strong accent and she speaks in immigrant influenced syntax. When I see these images portrayed (about once every few weeks) I often feel like running to help because I understand the pain and the desperation. I also appreciate her willingness to succumb to the pain and her emotions. I think about the preventative measures that could have been taken against the accident or incident that hurt her child. I have felt this pain and I will never forget it. We need a lot of help in our immigrant communities and Haitian women who find themselves alone raising and caring for their children are a big concern for me.
They carry the burden of being female, black, immigrant and often working class. These characteristics render her powerless in a society that honours her opposite others. She retains some form of autonomy in her choice of child rearing methods, adornment and to some extent who she becomes romantically involved with. Still, her children, those who will carry on the ethnic group into the future and live out the dream of the 1st generation immigrant are her priorities. And how she handles that chay is crucial to the health and spirit of our group.
My mother did not handle it well at all. She was forced to leave without us and she lost us forever. I feel badly for Haitian women who lose their children to men and their families or the system who feel that they are not responsible enough. One incident that was presented on the news depicted the plight of some Haitian children who are left at home alone without a caretaker. Childcare is expensive and not very accessible for many women who have limited resources. In addition, these women often need healthcare that may be available to their children but not to them because of their immigration status and age.
In my view, we need to raise the minimum wage as soon as possible so that we can ensure that these women who work at low paying jobs can have the proper resources to care for their flocks or progeny. Moreover, we need to make education a necessary rite of passage for all folks in our society in order to build equity and have a more balanced world. Thomas Sankara stated that in order to have a complete revolution, women have to be included in all facets of our world. In addition, the Emperor Hailie Selassie I of Ethiopia also made strong provisions for the empowerment of women in that society. This case has strong relevance for Haitians who are familiar with a feudal system where women are often relegated to slave-like status.
I am apalled by our reluctance to engage fully in a discourse about women's rights and gender issues. We have yet to have a woman elected to office in Ayiti as Prime minister or president. (Madame Trouillot was appointed by default just like Alexandre Boniface). Moreover, we need to work to empower and to fully emancipate women and children at home and abroad. It is by no coincidence to me that these groups in our society are the most vulnerable and when there is crisis they experience the most hardships.
Enabling these two sectors of society will only strenghten us to better intergrate into U.S. society. By helping Haitian mothers do their work we guarantee the future of our group and the health of our descedants. Helping does not mean going out of one's way to make monetary or financial contributions but it means being vigilante about "watching out" for the issues relevant to our group. In this vein, I wish that we had a more prevalent presence at the political conventions. And I would like to raise the issue of the influence of the single women vote in the coming s/elections.
There is so much more to be done and while we have many organizations helping they need more help. And I hope and pray that they get it so that they can better serve our communities.
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