Haiti may get some attention from U.S. media during the 2012 election season. Utah mayor and Brooklyn-born daughter of Haitian parents, Mia Love, is supposedly on track to become the first black Republican woman in Congress. I say, supposedly, because even if the media and some Republicans are excited by the novel rising star, Love’s up against a six-term Democrat who’s also a fiscal conservative. Caution is in order, and definitely more than the media will exercise for a black, Mormon Republican woman who has said she wants to take apart the Congressional Black Caucus from the inside-out. Love’s politics aside, what caught my attention a couple of months ago was the extent to which her Haitian immigrant identity is integral to how she sells herself to voters. She mentions her parents’ influence quite a bit, specifically their aversion to handouts.
“[My father] said: ‘Mia, your mother and I never took a handout. You will not be a burden to society,’ ” she said with a stern smile. “ ‘You will give back.’ ”
I’m not taking a huge leap when I say that the subtext here is one with which Caribbean and African blacks are intimately familiar: “we” are not like black Americans.
It’s usually said outright, sometimes hinted at. But most often I get the sense that many foreign-born blacks, some in the Haitian diaspora too, wake up in the morn and first thing they do before heading to the bathroom is thank the heavenly hosts that whatever else they may be, they’re not black Americans. It’s one of the most asinine beliefs I’ve heard in my life and its popularity is a testament only to a poverty of education and exposure. It’ll be interesting, now that Love’s on the scene, to watch her immigrant-influenced “separate from black Americans” narrative take center stage on the national Republican stage. The party might even do well to sift the children of the foreign born for more acolytes.
But the folks I most want to know about however are Love’s parents. Was it their Haitian or US experience that so fixed their minds against, as Love household called them, “handouts”? Where are the parents from in Haiti? Under what circumstances did they leave the country? What are their thoughts about Haiti, known with some chagrin, as a Republic of NGOs? Do they go back? I would love to interview them.