- Faith & Family
The actual number of those killed when an earthquake of cataclysmic proportion struck the Caribbean country of Haiti just after rush hour on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, may never be known. Estimates range from a low of 200,000 dead to as high as 300,000 — two million people were initially left homeless. Many of those who were impacted by the earthquake lived in or near Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capitol, just 15 miles west of the quake’s epicenter.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of this tragedy, we can anticipate a plethora of discussions, exhibitions, silent vigils and commemorations honoring those who died as well as those who have since devoted their efforts to Haiti’s recovery. This is noteworthy given Miami’s [South Florida’s] large number of Haitians — second only to New York City in population. In Wilson’s District 17, Haitian-Americans make up 15 percent of the population — approximately 44,000 people. However, as we pause to both reflect on the past and to look forward in anticipation, one perspective that Americans tend to downplay if not ignore all together, is what Haitians say they need in order to instill hope in their people.
Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, 50, has asked members of Parliament to work with him to build a new, vibrant, post-earthquake nation. But he and other government officials continue to face accusations that millions of dollars donated towards the country’s recovery have not been wisely spent. Meanwhile, internal strife has slowed noticeable actions of recovery to a snail’s pace. However, some Haitians and other Blacks here in the U.S. say that progress is being made — they know this, they say, because they have been there to see the work for themselves.
Seeing the change firsthand in Haiti
U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (District 17) has led teams to Haiti several times since the earthquake. During one visit she met with Martelly and then with a group of senators from the Haitian Parliament. She says she can see the change that is taking place but admits that it is slow.
“It is heartbreaking to experience any group of people who are suffering because you feel hopeless and helpless,” said Wilson, 70, who will join U.S. Senator Bill Nelson in a discussion on progress in Haiti with several Haitian dignitaries on Friday, Jan. 13th at 4 p.m. at Miami Edison Middle School. “One of the challenges is where to begin to rebuild. It took a lot of time and money to remove the rubble that remained following the earthquake and the aftershocks. But I can attest that things are slowly improving and change is happening. You can see it.”
Wilson adds that internal issues have had a major impact on rebuilding efforts.
“How can you tell who owns a parcel of land when the office that held such records has been destroyed? she asked. “Who has the right to speak when you have so many different political parties vying for power? And what about those who live in the tent cities? At one point there was a push to remove people from them but the Congressional Black Caucus pushed for a slower and more humane evacuation process. The rebuilding will continue for many years.”
Edwidge Danticat, 42, is an award-winning author who was born in Haiti and returns frequently to lend her support in many distinct ways. She notes that life was not easy in Haiti even before the earthquake.
“One of the hardest things about helping outsiders understand Haiti is when we have to constantly confront the summary statement of our country being the poorest in the western hemisphere,” she said. “Yes, there is poverty on a wide scale, but Haiti is so much more than that. Our history is so much greater than our current economic status. We see new voices and visions emerging today, particularly among Haitian artists and writers. The deepest expressions of pain have inspired both art and resistance. Even as artists and creators, some of us who still live in Haiti and others live in new countries, all continue to connect to Haitians who are living through this pain everyday. And it’s not a vicarious experience — we share in that pain.”
Local artist Eduard Duval-Carrie, 54, has been the guiding force behind the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance in Little Haiti since its inception. In late December he began to nurture a haunting exhibition of 20 contemporary artists, “Global Caribbean III: Haiti Kingdom of the World,” whose work explores the chaos of nature and the upheaval that has resulted from the earthquake. Most were born in Haiti.
“The show began in Paris but this is its U.S. premier,” he said. “Many of the pieces point to a new form of expression for Haitian art —it’s a significant evolution. For example, because of what remained after the quake, some artists have used trash — materials from the rubble — to make their pieces of art. In some, including my own work that is also part of the exhibit, death is the main theme with the Grand Baron [from the voodoo religion] prominently displayed. Politics and poverty are additional themes that artists invoke. And while some photos show how even in the worst of situations, people rise above their circumstances, like those living in the tent cities, Haiti still is burdened by the spell of death.”
Local events marking the second-anniversary of the Haitian earthquake
Thursday, Jan. 12th
• Haiti Earthquake Memorial Prayer Service, 10 to 11 a.m. at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep and Middle School Academy, 4949 NE 2nd Ave., Miami.
• The Miami Community Partnership for Local Haitian Relief will release a strategic plan to support the healing of Haitian at 2 p.m. at the Sant La, 5000 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 110. A mass will follow at 7:30 p.m. at Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church, 130 NE 62nd St.
Friday, Jan. 13th
• U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Ken Merten, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) will provide an update on efforts to help Haiti at 4 p.m. in Miami Edison Middle School’s Auditorium, 610 NW 2nd Ave.
• South Florida Haitian community leaders will host the second annual Tri-County Save Haiti Bike Ride. The event starts at 6 a.m. at Lake Park City Hall and will end at 4:45 p.m. at the Little Haiti Cultural Center(LHCC), 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami. Haitian musicians will perform.
By D. Kevin McNeir