- Faith & Family
When Marleine Bastien, 54, first arrived in Miami in 1981 from her native country of Haiti, she was already one who often challenged the status quo. She says her political activism and criticism of the government back home was one of the reasons that her father, who was already living in South Florida, urged her to leave. Since then she has become a force to be reckoned with — fighting for the rights of women, immigrants and children. And as one would expect, the trials and tribulations facing the citizens of Haiti are never far from her heart.
“My father was very afraid for me back then because so many people had either been maimed, beheaded, burned, buried or simply disappeared under the Duvalier regime,” she said. “When I applied for my visa I responded to the interviewers in English and they were impressed with my ability to converse. Things went rather smoothly for me — but it’s not that way for a lot of others. That’s why I continue to advocate for Haitian family reunification efforts. We aren’t talking about undocumented people. We’re talking about a comprehensive immigration reform program that would blaze a path to citizenship. We continue to wait for President Obama to to approve the Program and end the discrimination against Haitians that has come from both Democrats and Republicans. He promised to do this after the election, but all our pleas have thus far fallen on deaf ears. The Cuban Families Reunification Parole was approved twice under his administration — why must Haitians continue to wait for our share of justice? Every day that passes puts an already approved Haitian at risk. They die from the harsh conditions after the earthquake and from the imported cholera epidemic. At least start with the children. They’ve already been approved to be reunited with their families in the U.S. Before the earthquake there were 116,000 approved visa recipients waiting for word that they could come to the U.S. Now there are only 105,000 left. More will probably die.
A passion for justice is her key motivation
Bastien was recently joined by colleagues, supporters, friends and fellow human rights activists at the Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center for a very special occasion. When she first arrived in the U.S., she began volunteering as a paralegal at the Haitian Refugee Center. Then in 1991, she and a small group of other Haitian immigrant women formed the Haitian Women of Miami, Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Inc. [FANM]. Last week marked FANM’s 21st anniversary. Bastien serves as its executive director.
“Initially our goal was to help Haitian women and their families adjust to life in Miami,” she said. “But we have since broadened our scope to be a community-based social services agency that assists Haitian refugees and immigrants here in Miami.”
FANM’s doors are jammed everyday with hundreds of people in need of help. Some go for assistance in starting their own businesses. Others are there for family intervention tools or ways to empower women who want to get into the workforce. But the majority go to FANM and Bastien because of the need for immigration advocacy and services.
“Marleine is without question a pillar in the community and for years she has been a voice for the voiceless,” said Francois Guillaume II, consul general for Haiti. “If we today have a community that is politically more astute and more economically savvy, it’s thanks to people like Marleine Bastien.”
“She’s been empowering her community for over 20 years and is a skilled advocate for human rights,” said North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre. “She is the kind of leader that we need in the Diaspora.”
Being right isn’t always popular
Bastien, a divorced mother with three sons, 23, 19 and 16, says that every day is a challenge but she remains up to the challenge. In the mean time, she also has to be the voice of reason at home. She reminds her sons that often times popularity does not come with speaking out when things are unjust.
“There’s so much more work to be done,” she said. “Many have called me up angry at my criticism of President Obama. Others think I work too hard for the rights of women. The list goes on. But I know why I am on this earth — there are tons of poor people who deserve equal rights, adequate health care, a safe place to live — but there are few people who want to help them. I have tried to model myself after some others who have made a difference in the fight for justice: my parents, Philippe Bastien and Angelina Destinoble; Sojourner Truth, Marie Claire Heureuse Dessalines, Harriet Tubman, Carol Moseley-Braun, Shirley Chisholm, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Katherine Dunham, Betty Friedan, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Mahatma Gandhi, Gloria Steinem, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Bob Marley and Marcus Garvey.”
On Saturday, March 23, FANM will host a seminar on breast, cervical and colorectal cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention at the Center for Haitian Studies, 8260 NE 2nd Ave. It is estimated by the University of Miami that 40 percent of women in Little Haiti have never had a mammogram.
By D. Kevin McNeir