New Orleans, Haiti linked by history and tragedy

An article just posted in USA Today focuses on the many links between New Orleans and Haiti. Here are some excerpts, with the link to the complete article below.

From the pots of red beans and rice bubbling in French Quarter restaurants to the amulet bags for sale in neighborhood botanicas, Haitian influence is seen, heard and tasted across this city. For two centuries, Haiti and New Orleans have shared deep cultural and historical ties, dating to when several shiploads of 19th-century Haitian refugees fleeing the Caribbean island’s slave revolts relocated to New Orleans, forever stamping their culture on the city.

Now the two places share another, less-desirable commonality: near-total destruction of their cities. Fundraisers and live-music benefits quickly sprouted across New Orleans after the major earthquake convulsed Haiti on Jan. 12, reducing its capital and other cities to rubble and killing perhaps 200,000 people.

New Orleanians say they can offer more than money and medicine: They can share hard lessons learned about rebuilding — both physically and psychologically — from the catastrophic floods following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which destroyed 80% of the city. “If anybody should understand this situation, we should,” says Lolis Eric Elie, a local writer and filmmaker who has written about Haiti-New Orleans connections. “New Orleanians need to be the first folks to remind the world that tragedy can happen to anyone, and humanity and charity are required of everyone.”

. . .

David Baron, a local Haitian arts dealer, was in a Port-au-Prince school tutoring Haitian students when the earthquake struck and the building nearly collapsed. He spent six days sleeping in open fields and eating campfire meals before he was able to return to New Orleans. On Saturday, he held a fundraiser in his home-gallery to raise money for Haitian friends.

“This is the most Haitian city in America, much more than Miami or New York,” says Baron, who has traveled to Haiti dozens of times over 25 years. “Part of New Orleans’ uniqueness is that it’s where France and Africa met — just like Haiti.”

New Orleans is now also connected to Haiti by disaster. The slow response in evacuating survivors and heavy-handedness of local law enforcement there is eerily reminiscent of Katrina’s chaotic aftermath, says retired Army lieutenant general Russel Honoré, who led the military effort on the Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “They’re doing all the right things,” he says. “They’re just doing it slow.”

For the complete article go to http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-01-28-Haiti-New-Orleans-connection_N.htm

Image: UNICEF Prize Photo by Belgian photographer Alice Smeets. The photo was taken in the Port au Prince neighborhood of “Cité Soleil,” or “City of the Sun.”

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