Calling all Haitian hometown associations. Literally.

Today I called, spoke to, left messages for and emailed about 40 Haitian hometown associations between Florida and Massachusetts.  It was more fun than it sounds.

“And what are you going to do for my country?” one Brooklynite asked. I imagined him a Frederick Douglass look-alike, peering down at me through spectacles.  Another woman is traveling to Haiti for relief work in a couple of weeks. The date’s set; could I come, she wanted to know.

Haitian hometown associations are what they sound like: a group of immigrants from a certain village or town who’re building it up from abroad. Other diasporas do the same–Mexican immigrants come to mind.

These are the people–those who’ve already committed themselves to some slice of their native land–whom I want to fill out the Rebuilding Haiti survey.  In addition, they’re active here in this country. One man was running for a seat on the board of education in his New Jersey city.  Everyone I reached welcomed, thanked me and forgave my French pronunciations. And for that I’m grateful.

But while more than 100 people visited the site today the site’s been viewed more than 100 times today, so far, only 13 people have filled out the survey.  Frederick Douglass promised to link me with a woman who’s the Yellow Pages of hometown associations.  And I’ll keep working the phones tomorrow, reaching out as much as I can.  Talking to folks always reminds me why I love being a journalist, anyway.  This online stuff is super helpful but nothing beats a voice and eventually, a handshake.

I’m going to end this post and my day with an email from my younger cousin who I’d asked to visit the site. I wanted to know the vibe he got.  When I first came to this country 20 years ago, my mom and I stayed with him, his brother, my aunt, her husband and our grandmother–seven to a two bedroom apartment.  I’m smiling as I write this.

Imagine moving from a sea-side village into a cramped apartment with strangers, even if they were family.  But the years revise those feelings. My grandmother passed.  Then my aunt joined her a couple of years ago.  Life happens, people move on or die.  Natural change sometimes comes as a surprise to the immigrant though.  There’s this notion that all of you, after making the journey abroad together, will somehow go back home together.

Anyways, I trust my American-born cousin.  He’s always been a good kid and he has an honest way of seeing things:

I read it… and its cool. I get a certain feeling about it… and its hard to explain so imma just put it like this… i played a videogame called fallout 3 and it was about a world that was devastated by a nuclear attack between china and america. anyway, there are enclaves of towns across america but there were there was an independent radio station where the guy just gave the rest of the world hope and gave info on where people could go for supplies and to be careful in a very dangerous world. you are that radio station… just in a next generation version. haha…. and that’s a good thing….

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