Why Haiti Needs New Narratives A Post quake Chronicle

by Gina Athena Ulysse

Author Gina Athena Ulysse Isbn 0819575445 File size 7 MB Year 2015 Pages 404 Language French File format PDF Category History Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12 2010 reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians Cognizant that this Haiti as it exists in the public sphere is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that laste

Publisher :

Author : Gina Athena Ulysse

ISBN : 819575445

Year : 2015

Language: French

File Size : 7 MB

Category : History



Why Haiti Needs
New Narratives

Why

Haiti
Needs New
Narratives
A Post-Quake Chronicle
Gina Athena Ulysse
Foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley
Translated by Nadève Ménard &
Évelyne Trouillot

Wesleyan University Press
Middletown, Connecticut

Wesleyan University Press
Middletown CT 06459
www.wesleyan.edu/wespress
© 2015 Gina Athena Ulysse;
foreword © 2015 Robin D. G. Kelley;
Kreyòl and French translations © 2015
Nadève Ménard and Évelyne Trouillot.
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America
Designed by Richard Hendel
Typeset in Utopia, Sentinel, and LeHavre by
Tseng Information Systems, Inc.
Wesleyan University Press is a member of the Green Press Initiative.
The paper used in this book meets their minimum requirement for recycled paper.
Frontis photo, Petit-Goâve, Haiti, © 2010 Gina Athena Ulysse.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ulysse, Gina Athena.
Why Haiti needs new narratives : a post-quake chronicle / Gina Athena Ulysse;
foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley; translated by Nadève Ménard and Évelyne Trouillot.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
isbn 978-0-8195-7544-9 (cloth: alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-8195-7545-6
(pbk. : alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-8195-7546-3 (ebook)
1. Haiti Earthquake, Haiti, 2010. 2. Haiti—Social conditions—21st century. 3. Haiti—
Economic conditions—21st century. 4. Haiti—Politics and government—21st century.
I. Title.
hv600. h2U48 2015
972.9407′3—dc23
2014048352
5 4 3 2 1

"Typographic illustration on front cover by Gina Athena Ulysse and Lucy Guiliano."

For
Francesca, Jean-Max, Stanley
and their peers on both sides of
the water who are Haiti’s future

Tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm.
All people are human, but all humans are not the same.
—Haitian proverb

Volume Contents
Why haiti needs neW narratives (in English), 1
sa k fè ayiti bezWen istWa toU nèf (an kreyòl), 113
PoUrqUoi haïti a besoin de noUveaUx discoUrs
(en français), 251

Contents
Foreword Robin D. G. Kelley, xiii
Introduction: Negotiating My Haiti(s), xvii
PA RT I: R E S P O N DI NG TO T H E CAL L

 1

Avatar, Voodoo, and White Spiritual Redemption, 3

 2 Amid the Rubble and Ruin, Our Duty to Haiti Remains, 5
 3 Haiti Will Never Be the Same, 7
 4 Dehumanization and Fracture: Trauma at Home and Abroad, 9
 5 Haiti’s Future: A Requiem for the Dying, 12
 6 Not-So-Random Thoughts on Words, Art, and Creativity, 14
 7 Sisters of the Cowries, Struggles, and Haiti’s Future, 19
 8 Tout Moun Se Moun: Everyone Must Count in Haiti, 22
 9 Haiti’s Earthquake’s Nickname and Some Women’s Trauma, 24
10 Why Representations of Haiti Matter Now More Than Ever, 26
11

Unfinished Business, a Proverb, and an Uprooting, 32

12 Rape a Part of Daily Life for Women in Haitian Relief Camps, 34
13 Haiti’s Solidarity with Angels, 37
14 Haiti’s Electionaval 2010, 38
15 If I Were President . . . : Haiti’s Diasporic Draft (Part I), 41
16 Staging Haiti’s Upcoming Selection, 42
17 Haiti’s Fouled-Up Elections, 45
PA RT II: R E AS S E S S I NG M Y RE S P O N S E

18 Why I Am Marching for “Ayiti Cheri,” 51
19 Rising from the Dust of Goudougoudou, 53
20 The Haiti Story You Won’t Read, 59
21 When I Wail for Haiti: Debriefing (Performing)
a Black Atlantic Nightmare, 62
22 Pawòl Fanm sou Douz Janvye, 67

23 The Legacy of a Haitian Feminist, Paulette Poujol Oriol, 72
24 Click! Doing the Dishes and My Rock ’n’ Roll Dreams, 75
25 Constant: Haiti’s Fiercest Flag Bearer, 77
26 Haitian Feminist Yolette Jeanty Honored with
Other Global Women’s Activists, 79
27 Why Context Matters: Journalists and Haiti, 81
PA RT I I I : A S P I RI T UAL I M P E RAT I VE

28 Fractured Temples: Vodou Two Years after Haiti’s Earthquake, 89
29 Defending Vodou in Haiti, 92
30 Loving Haiti beyond the Mystique, 94
Coda: A Plea Is Not a Mantra, 95
Acknowledgments, 99
Notes, 103
Bibliography, 105

{ xiii

Foreword Robin D. G. Kelley
We say dignity, survival, endurance, consolidation
They say cheap labor, strategic location, intervention
We say justice, education, food, clothing, shelter
They say indigenous predatory death squads to the rescue
— Jayne Cortez, “Haiti 2004”
The longer that Haiti appears weird, the easier it is to forget that it
represents the longest neocolonial experiment in the history of the West.
— Michel-Rolph Trouillot, “The Odd and the Ordinary: Haiti, the Caribbean,
and the World”

In my circles, there are two Haitis. There is Haiti the victim, the “broken
nation,” the failed state, the human tragedy, the basket case. Depending
on one’s political perspective, Haiti the victim was either undermined
by its own immutable backwardness, or destroyed by imperial invasion,
occupation, blockades, debt slavery, and U.S.-backed puppet regimes.
The other Haiti, of course, is the Haiti of revolution, of Toussaint, Dessalines, the declaration at Camp Turel, of C. L. R. James’s magisterial The
Black Jacobins. This is the Haiti that led the only successful slave revolt in
the modern world; the Haiti that showed France and all other incipient
bourgeois democracies the meaning of liberty; the Haiti whose African
armies defeated every major European power that tried to restore her ancien régime; the Haiti that inspired revolutions for freedom and independence throughout the Western Hemisphere. Rarely do these two Haitis
share the same sentence, except when illustrating the depths to which
the nation has descended.
Gina Athena Ulysse has been battling this bifurcated image of Haiti
ever since I first met her at the University of Michigan some two decades
ago, where she was pursuing a PhD in anthropology, focusing on female
international traders in Jamaica. Then, as now, she was an outspoken,
passionate, militant student whose love for Haiti and exasperation over
the country’s representation found expression in everything else she did.
She had good reason to be upset. Both narratives treat Haiti as a symbol,
a metaphor, rather than see Haitians as subjects and agents, as complex

xiv } f o r e W o r d

human beings with desires, imaginations, fears, frustrations, and ideas
about justice, democracy, family, community, the land, and what it means
to live a good life. Sadly, impassioned appeals for new narratives of Haiti
do not begin with Ulysse. She knows this all too well. Exactly 130 years
ago, the great Haitian intellectual Louis-Joseph Janvier published his biting, critical history, Haiti and Its Visitors—a six-hundred-page brilliant
rant against all those who have misrepresented Haiti as a backwater of
savagery, incompetence, and inferiority. With passion, elegance, grace,
and wit matching Janvier’s best prose, Ulysse’s post-quake dispatches and
meditations about her beloved homeland demolish the stories told and
retold by modern-day visitors: the press, the leaders of nGos, the pundits, the experts. Of course, it is easy to see how the devastation left by the
earthquake would reinforce the image of Haiti-as-victim, but representations are not objective truths but choices, framed and edited by ideology.
Poor refugees sitting around in tent cities, a sole police officer trying to
keep order, complaints over the delivery of basic foodstuffs and water—
this is what cnn and Time magazine go for, not the stories of neighborhoods organizing themselves, burying the dead, making sure children are
safe and fed, removing rubble, building makeshift housing, sharing whatever they had, and trying against the greatest of odds to establish some
semblance of local democracy.
Ulysse is less interested in “correcting” these representations than
interrogating them, revealing the kind of work they do in reproducing
both the myth of Haiti and the actual conditions on the ground. Now.
The sense of urgency that pervades her essays is palpable. As she does
in her performances, Ulysse rings the alarm, fills the room in our head
with deafening sound, a one-woman aftershock. We need this because
the succession of crises confronting Haiti throughout the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries inured too many people to the unbearable loss of
life—some three hundred thousand souls perished in the earthquake on
January 12, 2010. Here in the United States, when ten, fifteen, twenty die
in a disaster, the twenty-four-hour news cycle kicks into high gear. But in
Haiti, these things happen. Ulysse wants to know how we arrived at this
point, when Haiti is treated much like the random bodies of homeless
people, whose deaths we’ve come to expect but not to mourn. The problem is not one of hatred, for who among us sincerely hates the homeless? It is indifference. As the late actor/poet Beah Richards often said,

f o r e W o r d { xv

“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” Indifference produces
silence. Indifference ignores history. Indifference kills.
Like many Haitians, she understands that the two Haitis do not represent polar opposites or a linear story of descent. Rather, they are mutually constitutive, perhaps even codependent. The condition of Haiti is a
product of two centuries of retaliation for having the temerity to destroy
slavery by violent revolution, for taking the global sugar economy’s most
precious jewel from the planters, traders, bankers, and imperial rulers,
and for surviving as an example for other enslaved people. The war did
not end when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haitian independence
on January 1, 1804. Remember that the war left the country’s agricultural economy in shambles; its sugar-processing machinery had been
destroyed, along with its complicated irrigation system. And even if the
people wanted to return to growing cane for export, the Western powers
established naval blockades and refused to trade with the new nation in
a failed effort to choke the life out of the revolution. Unable to reimpose
chattel slavery, they turned to debt slavery. In 1825, the French forced Haiti
to pay 150 million francs as reparations for the loss of “property” in slaves
and land. No Haitian families were compensated for being kidnapped,
forced to work for low wages, wrongful death or injury, etc. Although the
French magnanimously reduced the principal to 90 million francs thirteen years later, the indemnity nevertheless cleaned out the Haitian treasury and forced the country into debt to French banks. The banks profited from the debt and quite literally held the mortgage on Haiti’s future.
Indeed, the payment to France and French banks amounted to half of
Haiti’s government budget by 1898; sixteen years later, on the eve of the
U.S. occupation of Haiti, the debt payments absorbed 80 percent of the
government’s budget. By some measures, what Haiti eventually paid back
amounted to some $21 billion in 2004 dollars.
A life of debt and dependency on a global market was not the political
or economic vision the Haitian people had in mind. They owed the West
and their former enslavers nothing. The land belonged to them, and the
point of the land was to feed and sustain the people. They grew food,
raised livestock, and promoted a local market economy. Yet the rulers
of every warring faction insisted on growing for export, even if it meant
denying or limiting the liberty of these liberated people. In order to realize their vision, Haiti’s rulers required a costly standing military to pre-

xvi } f o r e W o r d

serve the nation’s sovereignty, preserve their own political power and
class rule, and maintain a capitalist export economy.
Crush a nation’s economy, hold it in solitary confinement, and fuel
internecine violence, and what do we get? And yet, Ulysse refuses to accept the outcome of the two-hundred-year war on Haiti as a fait accompli. Calling for new narratives is not merely an appeal to rewrite history
books or to interview the voiceless, but to write a new future, to make a
new Haitian Revolution. As her essays make crystal clear, it is not enough
to transform the state or dismantle the military or forgive the debt. She
writes eloquently about the women, their resilience as well as their unfathomable subordination under regimes of sexual violence and patriarchy. She calls for cultural revolution, for the need to create space for
expressions of revolutionary desire, to resist misery, to imagine what real
sovereignty and liberty might feel like.
And yet, it would be unfair and premature to call this text a manifesto.
She is too humbled by the daunting realities and the trauma of the earthquake, its aftershocks, and the two centuries of history in its wake to make
any bold proclamations about Haiti’s future. This text is also about one
woman’s journey, a woman of the diaspora who frees herself from exile,
negotiating what it means to be a scholar in a world where universities
and corporations have become cozy bedfellows; a woman wrestling with
a society in which adulthood is reserved for men only; an activist straddling the arts and sciences in a world where “arts and sciences” usually
only meet on a university letterhead. Gina Athena Ulysse, like her homeland, simply doesn’t fit. She refuses to fit. And this is exactly why we need
new narratives.
We say Haitian water violated
Haitian airspace penetrated
They say kiss my aluminum baseball bat
Suck my imperial pacifier and lick my rifle butt
We say cancel the debt. . . .
They say let the celebration for 200 more years of servitude begin
We say viva the Haitian revolution
Viva democracy viva independence, viva resistance, viva Unity.
—Jayne Cortez

{ xvii

Introduction Negotiating My Haiti(s)
A taste for truth does not eliminate bias.
— Albert Camus
It has become stylish for foreign writers to denounce Haiti’s
bad press while contributing to it in fact.
— Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Many years ago, when I was a graduate student, a Haitian professional
(also living in the United States) reproached me for identifying as HaitianAmerican. In the extremely intense debate that ensued, I found myself
staunchly defending the embrace of the hyphen with full knowledge that
because of history, my two joined worlds have not been and would never
be equal. I strongly believed my identity was not reducible to its point of
origin. What I did know then, and I am even surer of now, was that Haiti
was my point of departure, not my point of arrival.1
At the time, a moment best characterized by what writer Edwidge Danticat refers to as the post-Wyclef era,2 the consequences of identifying as
Haitian in some circles (for example, the academy where I have spent
a lot of time) were less hostile or, I should say, had their particular version of hostility. Regardless, the reason I insisted on my Americanness
was not shame, as this person presupposed and even verbalized, but a
rather simple mathematical equation.3 If I counted the number of years
I resided in my pays natal and the number of years spent outside it and
in Haitian circles, they would add up to over nineteen. I lived in Haiti for
eleven years. Moreover, because of several accumulated years of extensive fieldwork in Jamaica, coupled with other travels and so many different experiences, I was aghast at being boxed in personally, as well as (with
notions of essentialism) socially.

The Haiti in the Diaspora
My Haitianness, if you will, was never questionable to me, because I had
spent years critically investigating issues of identity as both social and
personal phenomena. The social analysis confirmed the individual examination, leading me to realize and make peace with the fact that I

xviii } i n t r o d U c t i o n

would always be part of two Haitis. There was the one that, due to migration, was being re-created in the diaspora, and the one in the public
sphere that continually clashed with the one in my memory. Or perhaps
there were three Haitis. In any case, the Haiti I left behind was one that
was changing in my absence, while the one I lived in, as a member of its
diaspora, had elements of stasis, as it was couched in nostalgia. Hence,
I live with a keen awareness that negotiating my Haitis inevitably means
accepting that there are limits to my understanding, given the complexity
of my position as both insider and outsider. Finally, because the Haiti of
my family and the socioeconomic world I grew up in encompassed such
a continuum of class and color and urban and rural referents, Haiti and
Haitians historically have always been plural to me.
These contemplations not only have concrete effects on my relationship with Haiti but also the role I play as a Haitian-American determined
to be of service to her birth country somehow. That said, this book, in a
sense, is the result of a promise made long ago at the tender age of eleven,
when I came to live in the United States. Upon first encountering the Haiti
that exists in the public sphere, I had just enough consciousness to vow
that I would never return to Haiti until things changed. Of course, I eventually changed my mind.
This decision to go back, which I have written about ad infinitum, reveals as much about my personal journey as it does my professional one.
With more time, the two would intertwine in curious ways, never to be
separated, as I embraced yet another set of hyphens, this time as artistacademic-activist. These identities would become increasingly distinct,
especially as I transitioned from relying less on the social sciences and
more on the arts. Moreover, irrespective of my chosen medium, I was already out there as a politically active and vocal member of Haiti’s “tenth
department.”4

Out There in the Public Sphere
I often say I did not set out to “do” public anthropology,5 but that’s not
exactly true. It’s also not a lie. The fact is I decided to seek a doctoral degree in anthropology for a singular reason, Haiti. I became progressively
frustrated with simplistic explanations of this place that I knew as complex. I became determined to increase and complicate my own knowledge of Haiti, always with the hope of eventually sharing what I learned
with others.

i n t r o d U c t i o n { xix

My plans did not immediately work out as intended; I ended up doing
my dissertation research on female independent international traders in
Kingston, Jamaica. Yet once I began to teach, I regularly offered a seminar
that sought to demystify the Haiti in popular imagination, and to help students envision a more realistic one. Besides that course, for many years,
my anthropological engagement with Haiti was off the grid of my chosen
professional track. It was the subject of my artistic pursuits—poetry and
performance—and the focus of occasional reflexive papers I presented at
conferences. That changed drastically one day in January 2010.
My transformation was punctuated by the fact that one month before
that afternoon, I did the unthinkable: I set out on a trip to Haiti for the
first time without informing my family. As an artist, and a self-identified
feminist made in the Haitian diaspora, I was curious about the impact
of migration. I experienced it as a rupture, and I continuously wondered
about my personal and professional development—whom I might have
become had I remained in Haiti. The plan was to go there and see if it was
possible for me to have a relationship with Haiti that was entirely mine.
Where exactly would I fit?
Three weeks after I returned, circumstances would not only force me to
rethink that question, but thrust me into the public sphere in the shadow
and footsteps of other engaged anthropologists who resisted the urge to
remain in the ivory tower. As fate would have it, I had already taken calculated steps to get there.

“Write to Change the World”
That’s the tagline of the one-day seminar I attended in October 2009
at Simmons College in Boston. Among other things, the Op-Ed Project
sought to empower women with the tools and skills needed to enter the
public sphere as writers of opinion pieces. The premise was to engage the
fact that upper-class white men submit more than 80 percent of all published op-eds. The project worked to change these statistics by showing
women, especially, how to write and pitch to editors. I remember pondering the reality of the remaining 20 percent, inevitably white women and a
few minorities. As a black Haitian woman, I wasn’t even a decimal point.
I had briefly dabbled in this medium before. In 1999, fresh out of graduate school, I wrote “Classing the Dyas: Can the Dialogue Be Fruitful?”—
a piece about returning to Haiti from the diaspora and the brewing tensions with those who live at home. It was published in the Haitian Times.



Why Haiti Needs
New Narratives

Why

Haiti
Needs New
Narratives
A Post-Quake Chronicle
Gina Athena Ulysse
Foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley
Translated by Nadève Ménard &
Évelyne Trouillot

Wesleyan University Press
Middletown, Connecticut

Wesleyan University Press
Middletown CT 06459
www.wesleyan.edu/wespress
© 2015 Gina Athena Ulysse;
foreword © 2015 Robin D. G. Kelley;
Kreyòl and French translations © 2015
Nadève Ménard and Évelyne Trouillot.
All rights reserved
Manufactured in the United States of America
Designed by Richard Hendel
Typeset in Utopia, Sentinel, and LeHavre by
Tseng Information Systems, Inc.
Wesleyan University Press is a member of the Green Press Initiative.
The paper used in this book meets their minimum requirement for recycled paper.
Frontis photo, Petit-Goâve, Haiti, © 2010 Gina Athena Ulysse.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ulysse, Gina Athena.
Why Haiti needs new narratives : a post-quake chronicle / Gina Athena Ulysse;
foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley; translated by Nadève Ménard and Évelyne Trouillot.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references.
isbn 978-0-8195-7544-9 (cloth: alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-8195-7545-6
(pbk. : alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-8195-7546-3 (ebook)
1. Haiti Earthquake, Haiti, 2010. 2. Haiti—Social conditions—21st century. 3. Haiti—
Economic conditions—21st century. 4. Haiti—Politics and government—21st century.
I. Title.
hv600. h2U48 2015
972.9407′3—dc23
2014048352
5 4 3 2 1

"Typographic illustration on front cover by Gina Athena Ulysse and Lucy Guiliano."

For
Francesca, Jean-Max, Stanley
and their peers on both sides of
the water who are Haiti’s future

Tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm.
All people are human, but all humans are not the same.
—Haitian proverb

Volume Contents
Why haiti needs neW narratives (in English), 1
sa k fè ayiti bezWen istWa toU nèf (an kreyòl), 113
PoUrqUoi haïti a besoin de noUveaUx discoUrs
(en français), 251

Contents
Foreword Robin D. G. Kelley, xiii
Introduction: Negotiating My Haiti(s), xvii
PA RT I: R E S P O N DI NG TO T H E CAL L

 1

Avatar, Voodoo, and White Spiritual Redemption, 3

 2 Amid the Rubble and Ruin, Our Duty to Haiti Remains, 5
 3 Haiti Will Never Be the Same, 7
 4 Dehumanization and Fracture: Trauma at Home and Abroad, 9
 5 Haiti’s Future: A Requiem for the Dying, 12
 6 Not-So-Random Thoughts on Words, Art, and Creativity, 14
 7 Sisters of the Cowries, Struggles, and Haiti’s Future, 19
 8 Tout Moun Se Moun: Everyone Must Count in Haiti, 22
 9 Haiti’s Earthquake’s Nickname and Some Women’s Trauma, 24
10 Why Representations of Haiti Matter Now More Than Ever, 26
11

Unfinished Business, a Proverb, and an Uprooting, 32

12 Rape a Part of Daily Life for Women in Haitian Relief Camps, 34
13 Haiti’s Solidarity with Angels, 37
14 Haiti’s Electionaval 2010, 38
15 If I Were President . . . : Haiti’s Diasporic Draft (Part I), 41
16 Staging Haiti’s Upcoming Selection, 42
17 Haiti’s Fouled-Up Elections, 45
PA RT II: R E AS S E S S I NG M Y RE S P O N S E

18 Why I Am Marching for “Ayiti Cheri,” 51
19 Rising from the Dust of Goudougoudou, 53
20 The Haiti Story You Won’t Read, 59
21 When I Wail for Haiti: Debriefing (Performing)
a Black Atlantic Nightmare, 62
22 Pawòl Fanm sou Douz Janvye, 67

23 The Legacy of a Haitian Feminist, Paulette Poujol Oriol, 72
24 Click! Doing the Dishes and My Rock ’n’ Roll Dreams, 75
25 Constant: Haiti’s Fiercest Flag Bearer, 77
26 Haitian Feminist Yolette Jeanty Honored with
Other Global Women’s Activists, 79
27 Why Context Matters: Journalists and Haiti, 81
PA RT I I I : A S P I RI T UAL I M P E RAT I VE

28 Fractured Temples: Vodou Two Years after Haiti’s Earthquake, 89
29 Defending Vodou in Haiti, 92
30 Loving Haiti beyond the Mystique, 94
Coda: A Plea Is Not a Mantra, 95
Acknowledgments, 99
Notes, 103
Bibliography, 105

{ xiii

Foreword Robin D. G. Kelley
We say dignity, survival, endurance, consolidation
They say cheap labor, strategic location, intervention
We say justice, education, food, clothing, shelter
They say indigenous predatory death squads to the rescue
— Jayne Cortez, “Haiti 2004”
The longer that Haiti appears weird, the easier it is to forget that it
represents the longest neocolonial experiment in the history of the West.
— Michel-Rolph Trouillot, “The Odd and the Ordinary: Haiti, the Caribbean,
and the World”

In my circles, there are two Haitis. There is Haiti the victim, the “broken
nation,” the failed state, the human tragedy, the basket case. Depending
on one’s political perspective, Haiti the victim was either undermined
by its own immutable backwardness, or destroyed by imperial invasion,
occupation, blockades, debt slavery, and U.S.-backed puppet regimes.
The other Haiti, of course, is the Haiti of revolution, of Toussaint, Dessalines, the declaration at Camp Turel, of C. L. R. James’s magisterial The
Black Jacobins. This is the Haiti that led the only successful slave revolt in
the modern world; the Haiti that showed France and all other incipient
bourgeois democracies the meaning of liberty; the Haiti whose African
armies defeated every major European power that tried to restore her ancien régime; the Haiti that inspired revolutions for freedom and independence throughout the Western Hemisphere. Rarely do these two Haitis
share the same sentence, except when illustrating the depths to which
the nation has descended.
Gina Athena Ulysse has been battling this bifurcated image of Haiti
ever since I first met her at the University of Michigan some two decades
ago, where she was pursuing a PhD in anthropology, focusing on female
international traders in Jamaica. Then, as now, she was an outspoken,
passionate, militant student whose love for Haiti and exasperation over
the country’s representation found expression in everything else she did.
She had good reason to be upset. Both narratives treat Haiti as a symbol,
a metaphor, rather than see Haitians as subjects and agents, as complex

xiv } f o r e W o r d

human beings with desires, imaginations, fears, frustrations, and ideas
about justice, democracy, family, community, the land, and what it means
to live a good life. Sadly, impassioned appeals for new narratives of Haiti
do not begin with Ulysse. She knows this all too well. Exactly 130 years
ago, the great Haitian intellectual Louis-Joseph Janvier published his biting, critical history, Haiti and Its Visitors—a six-hundred-page brilliant
rant against all those who have misrepresented Haiti as a backwater of
savagery, incompetence, and inferiority. With passion, elegance, grace,
and wit matching Janvier’s best prose, Ulysse’s post-quake dispatches and
meditations about her beloved homeland demolish the stories told and
retold by modern-day visitors: the press, the leaders of nGos, the pundits, the experts. Of course, it is easy to see how the devastation left by the
earthquake would reinforce the image of Haiti-as-victim, but representations are not objective truths but choices, framed and edited by ideology.
Poor refugees sitting around in tent cities, a sole police officer trying to
keep order, complaints over the delivery of basic foodstuffs and water—
this is what cnn and Time magazine go for, not the stories of neighborhoods organizing themselves, burying the dead, making sure children are
safe and fed, removing rubble, building makeshift housing, sharing whatever they had, and trying against the greatest of odds to establish some
semblance of local democracy.
Ulysse is less interested in “correcting” these representations than
interrogating them, revealing the kind of work they do in reproducing
both the myth of Haiti and the actual conditions on the ground. Now.
The sense of urgency that pervades her essays is palpable. As she does
in her performances, Ulysse rings the alarm, fills the room in our head
with deafening sound, a one-woman aftershock. We need this because
the succession of crises confronting Haiti throughout the twentieth and
twenty-first centuries inured too many people to the unbearable loss of
life—some three hundred thousand souls perished in the earthquake on
January 12, 2010. Here in the United States, when ten, fifteen, twenty die
in a disaster, the twenty-four-hour news cycle kicks into high gear. But in
Haiti, these things happen. Ulysse wants to know how we arrived at this
point, when Haiti is treated much like the random bodies of homeless
people, whose deaths we’ve come to expect but not to mourn. The problem is not one of hatred, for who among us sincerely hates the homeless? It is indifference. As the late actor/poet Beah Richards often said,

f o r e W o r d { xv

“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” Indifference produces
silence. Indifference ignores history. Indifference kills.
Like many Haitians, she understands that the two Haitis do not represent polar opposites or a linear story of descent. Rather, they are mutually constitutive, perhaps even codependent. The condition of Haiti is a
product of two centuries of retaliation for having the temerity to destroy
slavery by violent revolution, for taking the global sugar economy’s most
precious jewel from the planters, traders, bankers, and imperial rulers,
and for surviving as an example for other enslaved people. The war did
not end when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared Haitian independence
on January 1, 1804. Remember that the war left the country’s agricultural economy in shambles; its sugar-processing machinery had been
destroyed, along with its complicated irrigation system. And even if the
people wanted to return to growing cane for export, the Western powers
established naval blockades and refused to trade with the new nation in
a failed effort to choke the life out of the revolution. Unable to reimpose
chattel slavery, they turned to debt slavery. In 1825, the French forced Haiti
to pay 150 million francs as reparations for the loss of “property” in slaves
and land. No Haitian families were compensated for being kidnapped,
forced to work for low wages, wrongful death or injury, etc. Although the
French magnanimously reduced the principal to 90 million francs thirteen years later, the indemnity nevertheless cleaned out the Haitian treasury and forced the country into debt to French banks. The banks profited from the debt and quite literally held the mortgage on Haiti’s future.
Indeed, the payment to France and French banks amounted to half of
Haiti’s government budget by 1898; sixteen years later, on the eve of the
U.S. occupation of Haiti, the debt payments absorbed 80 percent of the
government’s budget. By some measures, what Haiti eventually paid back
amounted to some $21 billion in 2004 dollars.
A life of debt and dependency on a global market was not the political
or economic vision the Haitian people had in mind. They owed the West
and their former enslavers nothing. The land belonged to them, and the
point of the land was to feed and sustain the people. They grew food,
raised livestock, and promoted a local market economy. Yet the rulers
of every warring faction insisted on growing for export, even if it meant
denying or limiting the liberty of these liberated people. In order to realize their vision, Haiti’s rulers required a costly standing military to pre-

xvi } f o r e W o r d

serve the nation’s sovereignty, preserve their own political power and
class rule, and maintain a capitalist export economy.
Crush a nation’s economy, hold it in solitary confinement, and fuel
internecine violence, and what do we get? And yet, Ulysse refuses to accept the outcome of the two-hundred-year war on Haiti as a fait accompli. Calling for new narratives is not merely an appeal to rewrite history
books or to interview the voiceless, but to write a new future, to make a
new Haitian Revolution. As her essays make crystal clear, it is not enough
to transform the state or dismantle the military or forgive the debt. She
writes eloquently about the women, their resilience as well as their unfathomable subordination under regimes of sexual violence and patriarchy. She calls for cultural revolution, for the need to create space for
expressions of revolutionary desire, to resist misery, to imagine what real
sovereignty and liberty might feel like.
And yet, it would be unfair and premature to call this text a manifesto.
She is too humbled by the daunting realities and the trauma of the earthquake, its aftershocks, and the two centuries of history in its wake to make
any bold proclamations about Haiti’s future. This text is also about one
woman’s journey, a woman of the diaspora who frees herself from exile,
negotiating what it means to be a scholar in a world where universities
and corporations have become cozy bedfellows; a woman wrestling with
a society in which adulthood is reserved for men only; an activist straddling the arts and sciences in a world where “arts and sciences” usually
only meet on a university letterhead. Gina Athena Ulysse, like her homeland, simply doesn’t fit. She refuses to fit. And this is exactly why we need
new narratives.
We say Haitian water violated
Haitian airspace penetrated
They say kiss my aluminum baseball bat
Suck my imperial pacifier and lick my rifle butt
We say cancel the debt. . . .
They say let the celebration for 200 more years of servitude begin
We say viva the Haitian revolution
Viva democracy viva independence, viva resistance, viva Unity.
—Jayne Cortez

{ xvii

Introduction Negotiating My Haiti(s)
A taste for truth does not eliminate bias.
— Albert Camus
It has become stylish for foreign writers to denounce Haiti’s
bad press while contributing to it in fact.
— Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Many years ago, when I was a graduate student, a Haitian professional
(also living in the United States) reproached me for identifying as HaitianAmerican. In the extremely intense debate that ensued, I found myself
staunchly defending the embrace of the hyphen with full knowledge that
because of history, my two joined worlds have not been and would never
be equal. I strongly believed my identity was not reducible to its point of
origin. What I did know then, and I am even surer of now, was that Haiti
was my point of departure, not my point of arrival.1
At the time, a moment best characterized by what writer Edwidge Danticat refers to as the post-Wyclef era,2 the consequences of identifying as
Haitian in some circles (for example, the academy where I have spent
a lot of time) were less hostile or, I should say, had their particular version of hostility. Regardless, the reason I insisted on my Americanness
was not shame, as this person presupposed and even verbalized, but a
rather simple mathematical equation.3 If I counted the number of years
I resided in my pays natal and the number of years spent outside it and
in Haitian circles, they would add up to over nineteen. I lived in Haiti for
eleven years. Moreover, because of several accumulated years of extensive fieldwork in Jamaica, coupled with other travels and so many different experiences, I was aghast at being boxed in personally, as well as (with
notions of essentialism) socially.

The Haiti in the Diaspora
My Haitianness, if you will, was never questionable to me, because I had
spent years critically investigating issues of identity as both social and
personal phenomena. The social analysis confirmed the individual examination, leading me to realize and make peace with the fact that I

xviii } i n t r o d U c t i o n

would always be part of two Haitis. There was the one that, due to migration, was being re-created in the diaspora, and the one in the public
sphere that continually clashed with the one in my memory. Or perhaps
there were three Haitis. In any case, the Haiti I left behind was one that
was changing in my absence, while the one I lived in, as a member of its
diaspora, had elements of stasis, as it was couched in nostalgia. Hence,
I live with a keen awareness that negotiating my Haitis inevitably means
accepting that there are limits to my understanding, given the complexity
of my position as both insider and outsider. Finally, because the Haiti of
my family and the socioeconomic world I grew up in encompassed such
a continuum of class and color and urban and rural referents, Haiti and
Haitians historically have always been plural to me.
These contemplations not only have concrete effects on my relationship with Haiti but also the role I play as a Haitian-American determined
to be of service to her birth country somehow. That said, this book, in a
sense, is the result of a promise made long ago at the tender age of eleven,
when I came to live in the United States. Upon first encountering the Haiti
that exists in the public sphere, I had just enough consciousness to vow
that I would never return to Haiti until things changed. Of course, I eventually changed my mind.
This decision to go back, which I have written about ad infinitum, reveals as much about my personal journey as it does my professional one.
With more time, the two would intertwine in curious ways, never to be
separated, as I embraced yet another set of hyphens, this time as artistacademic-activist. These identities would become increasingly distinct,
especially as I transitioned from relying less on the social sciences and
more on the arts. Moreover, irrespective of my chosen medium, I was already out there as a politically active and vocal member of Haiti’s “tenth
department.”4

Out There in the Public Sphere
I often say I did not set out to “do” public anthropology,5 but that’s not
exactly true. It’s also not a lie. The fact is I decided to seek a doctoral degree in anthropology for a singular reason, Haiti. I became progressively
frustrated with simplistic explanations of this place that I knew as complex. I became determined to increase and complicate my own knowledge of Haiti, always with the hope of eventually sharing what I learned
with others.

i n t r o d U c t i o n { xix

My plans did not immediately work out as intended; I ended up doing
my dissertation research on female independent international traders in
Kingston, Jamaica. Yet once I began to teach, I regularly offered a seminar
that sought to demystify the Haiti in popular imagination, and to help students envision a more realistic one. Besides that course, for many years,
my anthropological engagement with Haiti was off the grid of my chosen
professional track. It was the subject of my artistic pursuits—poetry and
performance—and the focus of occasional reflexive papers I presented at
conferences. That changed drastically one day in January 2010.
My transformation was punctuated by the fact that one month before
that afternoon, I did the unthinkable: I set out on a trip to Haiti for the
first time without informing my family. As an artist, and a self-identified
feminist made in the Haitian diaspora, I was curious about the impact
of migration. I experienced it as a rupture, and I continuously wondered
about my personal and professional development—whom I might have
become had I remained in Haiti. The plan was to go there and see if it was
possible for me to have a relationship with Haiti that was entirely mine.
Where exactly would I fit?
Three weeks after I returned, circumstances would not only force me to
rethink that question, but thrust me into the public sphere in the shadow
and footsteps of other engaged anthropologists who resisted the urge to
remain in the ivory tower. As fate would have it, I had already taken calculated steps to get there.

“Write to Change the World”
That’s the tagline of the one-day seminar I attended in October 2009
at Simmons College in Boston. Among other things, the Op-Ed Project
sought to empower women with the tools and skills needed to enter the
public sphere as writers of opinion pieces. The premise was to engage the
fact that upper-class white men submit more than 80 percent of all published op-eds. The project worked to change these statistics by showing
women, especially, how to write and pitch to editors. I remember pondering the reality of the remaining 20 percent, inevitably white women and a
few minorities. As a black Haitian woman, I wasn’t even a decimal point.
I had briefly dabbled in this medium before. In 1999, fresh out of graduate school, I wrote “Classing the Dyas: Can the Dialogue Be Fruitful?”—
a piece about returning to Haiti from the diaspora and the brewing tensions with those who live at home. It was published in the Haitian Times.

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