Saturday, May 19, 2007

Celebrating Haitian Heritage

Yesterday, May 18th, Haitian Flag Day was observed as a national holiday in Haiti and was also celebrated throughout much of the Haitian diaspora. In some school districts and municipalities in Southern Florida, the entire month of May has been designated as Haitian Heritage Month.

Here in Nassau, Haitian Flag Day festivities will be held today--May 19th--at Cable Beach. Hopefully, my wife and I will be able to participate in the Haitian Flag Day activities this evening. If so, I will provide an update to this post in the next day or so.

UPDATE (as of 5/25): Estela and I did go to this activity and it turned out to be pretty typical as far as outdoor festivities in the Bahamas go. Haitian Flag Day celebrations were held in the parking lot of Fidelity Bank at Cable Beach and there were several vendors' tables where Haitian food and souvenirs (e.g., Haitian flags and t-shirts) were sold as well as live entertainment provided by local Haitian artists.

What I found to be REALLY interesting about the event, though, was the demographic. There were probably at least three generations of folks present at the event, ranging from very small children to middle-aged adults who were all clearly born in or grew up here in the Bahamas. Most of the Haitians that we encounter through our work in the local churches are immigrants from Haiti. Their children are often born in the Bahamas but it is rare for many of them to stick around in the church after they become teenagers and I could easily count on one hand the number of Bahamian-born Haitians that I know who attend a Haitian church. So this event was a good opportunity to observe a whole segment of the Haitian community that we rarely come into contact with. More importantly, it is a poignant reminder of the challenge the Haitian churches face in finding more effective ways of ministering to their youth and building up a new generation of leaders rather than remaining dependent on the constant flow of immigrants from Haiti to grow their membership.

I was also inspired by the theme for the event, chaj pou youn, se chaj pou tout (or, loosely translated as "the burden for one is the burden for all." In a social context where the black crab complex (as defined by Bahamian author Patricia Glinton-Meicholas) seems to plague Haitians as much as Bahamians, the theme was a welcome reminder of the importance of working together and supporting one another for the good of the Haitian community rather than fostering rivalries and competition. In terms of community development, I would like to find ways to develop this theme by fostering greater collaboration between Haitian immigrants and Bahamians of Haitian descent. Too often, our churches themselves have simply reenforced negative patterns of individual competition and have done little to promote a sense of social responsibility.

Read more about this event here.

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