January 12 is not a typical day for Haitians. At least not since 2010. Eight years later, and they are still recovering from the devastating earthquake that took place on January 12. The morning this year was different, though, as Haiti awoke to the unpleasant (albeit unsurprising) news about careless words spoken by our President.
I’ve been to the so-called “shithole” country of Haiti, and I can tell you that it is anything but. Yes, there are problems. Serious problems. But a closer look at Haiti — and many other countries like it — reveals a deep and twisted history with the US, and a global structure that creates these problems in the first place.
Christopher Columbus first landed on the island of Hispaniola (the name he gave it) in 1942. It’s actual name, Quisqueya, was given by the native islanders who lived there, who were almost entirely wiped out after the French colonization in the west and Spanish in the east. Slavery was the backbone and foundation of the “Pearl of the Caribbean” for centuries. The famous uprising led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in the late 18th century culminated in the freedom for Haitians. For years, Haiti owed France money due to the revolt. Forced to borrow from foreign banks — banks largely based in the U.S. — yet being obstructed from trading with the U.S. market took its toll. U.S. politicians refused to trade with Haiti on principle. Until then, Haiti had provided the world with some of the richest resources.
In 1915, Woodrow Wilson led a 19 year occupation of Haiti for reasons of “war readiness.” This occupation consisted of openly white supremacist leaders and racist laws that dug the country further into its problems. The U.S. also supported dictatorships, and it is unclear how much the meddling by the U.S. effected the destabilization of the political system there. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the first democratically elected president took office.
After the earthquake in 2010, less than 1 percent of funding from around the globe actually made it to the government of Haiti. After reputable studies, an un-checked group of UN volunteers introduced Cholera to Haiti, where it had never before existed. Global warming, pollution and globalization continue to feast upon the livelihood of the island and its people.
There is no doubt that wealth exists in Haiti. But beyond what people have materially, Haitians are full of other wonderful things that I have not found in the U.S.. Gratitude, friendship and family. Culture that makes it feel like a whole new world. Respect for each other, with music, dance and language all their own.
Globalization made it easy for the U.S. to purchase cheap goods from anywhere in the world. However, it dumped a lot of waste into developing countries everywhere — including Haiti. The first time I went, I was stunned by the number of high school t-shirts and ballet jackets worn by the people in the capital city of Port-Au-Prince. These “donated” items essentially killed any chance of textile sector success, and seriously destabilized much of the economy. Along with globalization came plastics, imports and pollution in amounts that are sometimes overwhelming. I cannot look at a Styrofoam to-go box in the same way, because I know that they fill rivers in Haiti; when it rains, they flow to the lowest point and stay there — forever.
What we have done in the past is finally facing us now; occupations, coups and who knows what else. Do we keep up our walls of exclusivity and mindsets of ignorance about the realities of those who we are, in part, responsible for? Why are we afraid of outsiders? Weariness of any stranger is fair, but outright banning, blocking and drop-kicking out of our country (and theirs) seems extreme.
And why is it that the American perspective is the only one that matters? Why are our values so elite? Who said we had all the right fixes and solutions to problems? It is with this lens that we fail to see the beauty of a country like Haiti. Instead of noticing its potential, the energy of the youth, the spirit of respect, we notice the lack of our commodities and comforts we take for granted here. Most of the world will never know the wealth you and I live in, but neither will we ever know theirs. Richness in different forms, I say, not simply shiny here and shitty there.