by Deborah D. David
Of all the obstacles to face when returning home to Haiti, I never would have guessed my own people would be one of them. Years ago when I was preparing to graduate college, an organization in Port-au-Prince hired me to work with ti machann, street vendors. I was really excited; I’d written my senior thesis about microcredit in Haiti. What my university work could not prepare me for however, was the resistance of my Haitian co-workers to the “just come” in their midst.
When I tried to find out more about how programs operated, suspicious program managers wanted to know why. When I did my own research and discussed my understanding of operations, people became tight-lipped and rarely confirmed or disagreed. When I suggested how we could operate more efficiently, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about because I hadn’t lived in the country.
For the past seven months, I have thought extensively about how Haiti can do a better job integrating its sons and daughters living abroad back into society. It must start at the top.
Disappointingly, when forming the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Haitian government did not consider the Diaspora–even though we contribute an estimated $2 billion in remittances each year. It was only after a request and I assume some political pressure that the government agreed to a non-voting position, only, for the Diaspora.
Haiti’s next government must be different. It should include a reasonable number of qualified Diaspora.
Right now, one of the catchwords of the international aid community in Haiti is “capacity building.” The state is weak. Even if it wanted to help its people, especially since the earthquake’s death toll, the government doesn’t have the human resources to do so. It’s clear that the expertise is going to come from abroad. Who better to advocate for Haitians than their brothers and sisters who understand both their social norms and those of the foreign aid community?
Even now though, the Diaspora face difficulties when returning home. One gentleman in a recent Miami Herald article said that for the first few years, he was called blanc, foreigner.
Haitians don’t seem to realize that many first generation Haitians living abroad rarely become so assimilated that they forget that they are Haitian. Therefore, their distancing attitude places us in cultural purgatory; we are too foreign for both our host countries and the land of our birth, too.
Despite the resistance, Diaspora who go to Haiti to help as many have been since the earthquake, should not take passive roles. Continue to organize. And fight to ensure that our opinions and voices help to shape the future of Haiti.
Deborah D. David is a Haitian-American living in Caracas, Venezuela with her husband and two children. She holds a master’s of science in administration from the University of West Florida and currently blogs at Balanced Melting Pot about raising her children as second-generation immigrants.