Haitians face identity crisis
As the Bahamas seeks to deport undocumented Haitians and other
migrants, many Bahamians of Haitian descent remain torn about
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES, jcharles@MiamiHerald.com , April 18, 2006
| Miami Herald
NASSAU, Bahamas - Nearly six decades
ago, Valentino O'Bainyear's father moved to these sun-bleached
shores to start his new life as a Bahamian. He became William
Bain, a new name for a new beginning.
He passed that new life to his son, who grew up thinking most
of his identity was rooted in the Bahamas. Then he realized it
didn't know anyone who was a Bain,'' said O'Bainyear, 48, a telecommunications
expert who in 1984 reached into his father's past and changed
his name back to its Haitian roots. ``I consider myself 75-percent
Bahamian, 25-percent Haitian.'' i
Therein lies the
struggle of the Haitian-Bahamian community: Many feel unable to
celebrate fully who they are in a country where Haitians remain
Even the children of Haitian migrants born in the Bahamas do not
automatically become Bahamians. They and other children of migrant
parents have one year -- when they turn 18 -- to apply for Bahamian
citizenship, and there's no guarantee they'll get it.
AN URGENT STRUGGLE
The struggle of those born here of Haitian descent has become
even more urgent as Haitians living in the chain of islands face
get-tough immigration policies. This past weekend, more than 300
suspected illegal migrants -- most of them Haitians -- were rounded
up in Eleuthera, Exuma and Ragged Island, alarming Amnesty International's
Bahamian office, which has asked its London office to investigate.
About half of those initially detained were found to be illegal
and will be returned to Haiti, said Shane Gibson, the Bahamas'
immigration minister. The latest roundups come on the heels of
nightly ''Quiet Storm'' operations where police and immigration
officers go into communities to arrest illegal migrants, whose
numbers have been rising. Unlike Cubans, detained Haitians are
returned within days.
Indeed, this is not the first time the Bahamas has attempted to
get rid of Haitians, the largest and most visible ethnic minority
in the tiny nation of 301,790. Long a staging ground for migrants
trying to illegally enter the United States, the Bahamas has become
a final destination for Cubans, Chinese and Jamaicans, too.
''Anytime you have illegal immigrants coming into your country
you have to find some way to stanch that flow,'' said Immigration
Director Vernon Burrows, who noted that in 2001.
No one can say what percentage of the Bahamas' population is Haitian
or of Haitian descent, but at least 21,426 identified themselves
as Haitians in the Bahamas' 2000 census.
The Haitian presence is creating concern that the Bahamas will
soon be overwhelmed even as Bahamians concede that Haitians do
the low-skilled work they won't do. Similar sentiments exist in
nearby Turks and Caicos Islands, where the government has toughened
''The flood today, we cannot handle, and Bahamians are beginning
to resent that,'' said Arthur Foulkes, a Bahamian-born former
ambassador whose mother migrated to the Bahamas from Haiti in
Foulkes, like O'Bainyear, offers little sympathy for undocumented
migrants -- despite their own Haitian lineage.
Their position is not that unusual, said Reber Dunkel, a sociologist
at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., who has studied Haitian
migration in the Bahamas.
Dunkel noted that talk in the Bahamas of cracking down on illegal
migrants is no different from what is happening in the United
''Ethnicity is just as powerful a potential social conflict as
race,'' Dunkel said.
Many Bahamians of Haitian descent -- born and educated in the
Bahamas -- have gone undercover, shunning their Haitian heritage
and assimilating into the Bahamas' nationalistic way of thinking.
''It's taboo to say you are Haitian,'' said Mary Lauriston Reckley,
50, who moved here from Haiti at age 5.
Reckley says there are plenty of Haitian Bahamians who are lawyers,
doctors -- and even politicians. As a group straddling both worlds,
they can build bridges in Bahamian society, she said, and transform
the social dynamic by influencing the debate on the ``Haitian
'The image of Haitians is so bad here, they don't have the guts
to go out and say, `I'm Haitian,' '' said Louis Harold Joseph,
Haiti's ambassador to the Bahamas.
Though the plight of Haitian Bahamians has often been framed within
the Bahamas' refusal to grant them automatic citizenship, Joseph
and others point to Haitians' own ambivalence.
''There are plenty of Haitians here who would like for me to say
Haitians are stateless,'' Joseph said. ``I cannot. According to
the Haitian Constitution...... regardless of where you are born,
as long as you can prove one of your parents is Haitian you are
entitled to a Haitian passport. They don't want their Haitian
citizenship. They want the Bahamian one.''
Joseph has tried to celebrate Haitian heritage by sponsoring cultural
programs on Haiti. Few show up.
LACK OF INTEGRATION
Average Bahamians often lament that Haitians refuse to integrate.
They complain that many Haitians prefer to live in isolated, dilapidated
communities, known as Haitian villages, where rotted slabs of
plywood form makeshift homes.
In the past few months, the Bahamian government has been bulldozing
many of the houses, which have been illegally built on government-owned
land, to make way for low-cost affordable housing.
''If you want to integrate . . . you don't create bidonvilles
[barrios], you don't build out of the rules and regulations of
the country,'' Reckley said. ``That is what I don't like. You
go somewhere, and you can see that is a Haitian village.''
Although Haitians bear some responsibility for Bahamians' attitudes
toward them, Reckley said some politicians also feed the frenzy
by spewing anti-immigrant comments in the press and exaggerating
the gravity of the problem.
Reckley grew up in a predominantly Bahamian neighborhood, and
like many Haitian children -- then and now -- was taunted by Bahamian
parents forbidding their children from playing ``with that little
Friend and business partner Julie Georges Smith, 46, was born
in the Bahamas to Haitian parents. Like O'Bainyear's father, Georges
Smith's also changed his name.
Unlike Reckley, Georges Smith was raised in a Haitian-influenced
Still, the businesswomen share something in common: Despite their
ability to blend in with their perfect, Bahamian-accented English,
they have embraced their ``Haitianness.''
''You can't hide it -- it will come out one day,'' said Georges
Smith, who, like Reckley, speaks equally flawless Creole.
Dieuritha Ernest, a mother of three who recently had to leave
her bulldozed shack near Joe Farrington Road, said many Bahamians
miss the reality of her day-to-day challenges.
Many like her cannot find a job, despite having work permits.
Even when they do work, they may not get paid. Although Ernest
managed to scrape up $750 to rent a home, she and her husband
have no idea where they will be in the coming days.
''Moving back to Haiti will not be good for us,'' she said.
`NOT AT EASE'
Leaning against a makeshift grocery store across from a makeshift
church in the Haitian village's Bwapen -- Creole for pine, or
the woods -- Ernest said she's waiting to see what her husband
decides. Like countless Haitians, she has heard the government's
new edict: Work for someone other than those who sponsor your
work permit, you will be deported. Stay without papers, and, if
caught, you will be fingerprinted to prevent your immediate return.
''I am not at ease living here,'' Ernest, 30, said before thinking
about her three young children born in the Bahamas. ``The ones
who are born here, they can make a difference.''
THE CALL: Join
Help protect the Feb. 7, 2006 Haitian
join our list of sponsors this year. Please
send an e-mail to Erzilidanto@yahoo.com
To sponsor a FreeHaitiMovement
event: The Free Haiti Movement: Dessalines Is Rising Worldwide
are encouraged to endorse the Haiti Resolution, join HLLN's letter
writing campaigns, (such as, our Media campaigns to stop the lies
and fabrications and criminalizations of the poor majority in
Haiti, "stop UN massacres in Site Soley" and the "free
the political prisoners campaigns"). Endorsers are encouraged
to sponsor a "To-Tell the truth about Haiti Forum",
to sponsor teach-ins, rallies, vigils and lectures, throughout
the year, but especially on May
18, Haiti's flag day, on August 14 -the anniversary
of Bwa Kayiman, the ceremony that begun the great Haitian revolution,
and, on October 17th - the anniversary of Dessaline's death, and
Haiti's very first coup d'etat. Sponsors and endorsers of the
Haiti Resolutions are encouraged to learn and teach their communities
about Haiti's historical accomplishments. HLLN, shall provide,
upon request, access to suggested written materials, audio and
video streaming for internet and DVD distribution of testimony
from victims and resisters of the coup d'etat; letter campaigns,
media outreach campaigns; HLLN suggests the wearing and flying
of the blue and red colors of Haiti; and, that each year, at least
on May 18, August 14 and Oct. 17, sponsors and endorsers commit
to fax, call-in and deliver to the French, Canadian and US Embassies
and Consulates worldwide, the People of Haiti's demand that France,
Canada, the US and the international community respect Haitian
sovereignty, stop inflicting Haiti with their traditional "benevolence,"
racism, patriarchy and incessant corrupt intervention in Haiti's
affairs, through foreign "aid" and debt. Sponsors are
encouraged to support Haitian culture and artists. See
Campaign 4: Art with soul.
HLLN call for investigation of electoral fraud to dilute the People's
Feb. 7th vote - Some of the factors to be investigated:
There were fewer than 800 polling
stations for the 2006 election, with no stations in Site Soley
and the poorest areas, where President Aristide and President
Préval's supporters live, compared with 12,000 polling
stations in 2000 when the International Community wasn't in charge
of Haiti's government and Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)
as they are with the imposed Boca Raton regime.
Even without campaigning because of the coup d'etat repression
and for fear of being thrown in jail to join the other Lavalas
political prisoners, President Preval won by a clear LANDSLIDE,
garnering four/five times more votes than the Coup D'etat candidates
supported by the International Community - the next highest per
cent reported after Préval was 12.8%. And, that’s
not taking into consideration the burnt dumpster ballots, and
blank-ballot stuffing which, if these were not a factor, could
only increase Renè Préval’s proportion and
reduce his coup d'etat opponents percentages.
HLLN insists on a full investigation into the Internationally-run
and financed 2006 Haiti election, including discovering exactly
where the ballots found in the dumpster came from? Why was the
truck carrying the ballots to the dumpster for burning HIRED by
the UN/MINUSTHA forces in charge of keeping ballots safe and secure?
If these sorts of allegations were made in any other country about
the UN representatives, if thousands of ballots found in a dumpster
while the ballot-counting process was still ongoing had happen
in the US, France or Canada, you’d expect an investigation?
Why not the double standard? Why not the same respect for an election
in Haiti, especially given the totally illegal bi-centennial Coup
d'etat that preceded the Feb. 7th elections, especially in light
of the fact the UN Security Council which refused to send help
to Haiti's elected government BEFORE to coup, sent help to uphold
the coup detat regime after President Aristide was flown out of
Haiti under military pressure from France, Canada and the US!
The world owes the innocent Haitian people more respect for their
sovereignty and the international community which trivialized
Haitian democracy and justice, at its whim, shares a grave responsibility
for the more than 20,000 dead since the coup and for the current
attempt, by Jacques Bernard, CEP executive director and, Reginald
Boulos (OAS-financed printer of Haiti's ballots and key coup d'etat
player), et al, to rig the 2006 parliamentary elections by summarily
excluding the Lavalas and L'espwa candidates from the second rounds.