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Haitian Diaspora Ready to Help

New America Media, News Report, Alexandra Moe Posted: Feb 13, 2010

Haitian Americans view the devastation in their homeland and realize that after the news cameras leave their role will become even more important. Without the diaspora, they believe Haiti might not survive.

Pierre PierreGary Pierre Pierre and Pei DesrosierIts up to us to rebuild it, said Gary Pierre Pierre, editor and founder of the Haitian Times newspaper. Pierre Pierre last week addressed a panel of New Yorks Haitian ethnic media and community leaders after recently returning from Haiti. It is his generations responsibility, Pierre Pierre said, to answer the call to help with ideas, resources and commitment.

A recent poll of Haitian Americans by New America Media/ Bendixen & Amandi found that 62 percent were willing to adopt or foster an orphan from the earthquake while 78 percent had made a financial contribution to help victims of the earthquake. Approximately 35 Haitian media and community leaders, including Jocelyn McCalla, senior advisor for the Bureau of Haitis Special Envoy to the U.N., came together to discuss the poll and the role of the diaspora at an event organized by New America Media and the New York Community Alliance.

There are 785,000 Haitians in the United States, according to U.S. Census data, with 225,000 Haitians in the New York metro area (though Haitian advocates estimate that number to be higher.) Mathieu Eugene made headlines in 2007 when he became the first Haitian-born member of the New York City Council, joining a growing number of Haitian-American elected officials in the United States. In November 2009, the National Haitian Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) held its first meeting with the 22 Haitian Americans who serve as state legislators, city councilmembers, mayors or deputy mayors to talk about a common agenda, including how to promote bills that will help Haiti.

But panelists were quick to note that the diaspora is not as organized or mobilized as it could be, and not yet a strong voice at the negotiating table for Haitis recovery.

"We need a stronger diasporic movement," said Carrolle Charles, sociology professor at Baruch College.

The need has never been greater.

UN AdvisorJocelyn McCalla
Some 5,000 teachers may have died in Port-au-Prince, said Ricot Dupuy, general manager of Radio Soleil D'Haiti, who was born and raised 90 miles north of the Haitian capital, and whose on-line radio station, Radio Soleil, has been broadcasting in Creole and English from New York since 1991. Whos going to replace them? he asked. Theyre counting on the diaspora.

Pei Desrosiers, executive director of the Womens HIV Collaborative of New York, urged a broader understanding of the term "diaspora." Haitians in the U.S. "are not monolithic," she said, noting differences in age, politics and proximity to Haitis history. What excites her is a new energy she senses among the younger generation of Haitians in the United States who now think its cool to be Haitian. They enjoy the food and music, are curious about Haitian culture and are prepared to go to Haiti to help rebuild. This may be a sign that generational differences are mending, she said.

According to Desrosiers, whats nearly universal among Haitians in the United States is the overwhelming desire to do whatever is needed to resuscitate the country. It is why she flew to Port-au-Prince in the days after the earthquake on a humanitarian mission with 130 doctors, nurses and EMTs. This echoed a finding in the NAM poll that found that 66 percent of Haitians in the United States were willing to move back to Haiti for a period to help with the reconstruction.

But key to their ability to help was ensuring that Haitians in the United States now can stay.

Approximately $1.9 billion in remittances was sent to Haiti from the United States in 2008, much of it from Haitian communities in Florida, New York, Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Editor Pierre Pierre said Haitian immigrants needed more than the temporary protective status the U.S. government was now granting. "Theyre here, lets get them legalized and processed so they can be of more help to Haiti, he said.

For many on the panel, the earthquake accelerated a desire to mobilize in new ways and to bring women into the reconstruction process.

PanelJohn Alexis, coordinator for the 1199/ SEIU Haiti Relief Fund, estimated that there were 30,000 Haitian members in the union. He called attention to an SEIU conference planned for March at the New York Hilton with a cadre of international donors. He said a major goal of the meeting was to identify the key members of the Haitian diaspora, and to make sure theyre involved in discussions on rebuilding at the top levels.

A lot of times women are not present in that discussion, said Haitian-born Carolle Charles, who is chair of Dwa Fanm, which means Womens Rights in Creole, an advocacy group based in Brooklyn.

Desrosiers agreed. When she landed on the tarmac in Port-au-Prince, collected her bags from beneath the plane and waited for a ride into the city, she quickly noticed how busy Haitians were helping others, many of them women working to keep families intact and provided for. That's a story that went under-reported in the news media, she said.

Garry Pierre Pierre argued that what Haiti needed most was a new identity emerging from the rubble, beyond its designation as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In some ways, Haiti was not its own country, he said.

He described the feeling of arriving in Port-au-Prince on numerous trips before the earthquake and being shocked at the great numbers of UN soldiers in the streets - a reminder to him of how much work lay ahead, even before the earthquake toppled the capital.

Asking Haitians in Haiti what they need, since this is their everyday experience; asking Haitians in the United States what they think about whats going on - thats a good model, said Pei Desrosiers. Thats why I came here today."

Related Articles:

NAM Poll: Haitian Quake Leaves Diaspora Grieving

Poll of the Haitian Diaspora on the Earthquake

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