May is Haitian Heritage Month

Haitian Heritage Month leads up to Haitian Flag Day, which is celebrated on May 18. The following article highlights events that are helping young Haitians in the diaspora regain a sense of identity and cultural pride:

May is Haitian Heritage Month and poets, musicians and historians across South Florida will be addressing issues of Haitian identity and cultural pride.

“Our goal is to build up the self-esteem of all Haitians in our community and the whole world,” said Joseph Bernadel, co-founder of Toussaint L’Ouverture High School for Art and Social Justice in Boynton Beach and chairman of the Palm Beach County‘s Haitian Heritage Month Celebration committee.

The committee held its kickoff ceremony at the Lantana Road Library on Tuesday evening and has planned a wide range of programs throughout the month, listed at palmbeachschools.org.

The prominence of Haitian-Americans such as writer Edwidge Danticat, musician Wyclef Jean, and Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, has some saying it’s time people drop the negative ethnic stereotypes. “Haitians are becoming more involved in the fabric of the United States,” said Francois Leconte, CEO of Minority Development and Empowerment Inc. “This community understands not only in Florida but throughout the United States that if you’re not a part of the system you don’t have a seat at the table. And they want to make sure their concerns are heard,” he said.

South Florida is home to the 275,000 Haitians, the largest community outside of Haiti, according to 2009 Census figures. Community advocates say that estimate is too low.

Sylvain, 44, said former colleagues would see him in a shirt and tie, with no accent, and assume he wasn’t Haitian. He wrote the poem “I don’t look Haitian?” in 2006. [. . .] Prosper Sylvain, an insurance claims examiner from Davie, grew tired of being told: “You don’t look Haitian.” So he wrote a poem in response. One of the stanzas sums it up: “I’m sorry if you thought you’d find me in some sugar cane field/ I know how many of you must feel/ catching me with a pen in my hand instead of a machete/ beating a gavel instead of a drum…”

Eveline Pierre, executive director of the Haitian Heritage Museum in Miami, said she is noticing more cultural pride among Haitian-American students compared to eight years ago, when the museum was launched. “I truly believe the reason for this is because the students have a road map and now they know about their culture and rich heritage,” Pierre said. On Saturday, the museum will host poet Yanatha Desouvre, of West Palm Beach, who created a “Proud to Be Haitian,” smartphone app. And it will open a private collection of primitive Haitian art.

For original article, see http://southflorida.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-haitian-heritage-20120504,0,2676357.story

Photo: Joseph Bernadel, co-founder of Toussaint L’Ouverture High School for Art and Social Justice  in Boynton Beach and executive director of the Milagro Center, a community outreach organization in Delray Beach.

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