Haiti, Aftershocks and Tremors: One week and two days later

By Martha St. Jean 1-22-2010

While the rest of the world has been pondering the economic and social fate of the recently earthquake-devastated island nation of Haiti, Haitian-Americans alone have asked, "What will happen to our culture?"

As a first generation Haitian-American, I like many others have striven to find the balance between the traditions of my Haitian forefathers and the modern value system of America. How do we relocate culture, without simultaneously losing its authenticity? As young Americans, we balance the old country with the new; today we question what is to become of us and those who have yet to be born if there is no old country left. The precipitous nature of our hyphenated state becomes even more precarious in light of the devastating quake and its continuing aftershocks.

As a woman, I am a carrier of culture, cultivating the seeds of Haitian tradition, knowledge, and values that my mother "planted." Yet as a first-generation American who was neither born nor reared on Haitian soil, there exists the possibility of cultural disintegration. In bridging these two worlds to form a sort of cultural hybrid, many Haitian-Americans run the risk of diluting culture or worse -- undermining its worth.

The earthquake has not only shaken our land but has sent tremors which resonate through the spirit of Haitian culture. Will the physical effects of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault which runs through Haiti lead to fractures in its people? What happens to the politics of Haitian identity if there is no physical land to which one can connect -- does it too shift? We cannot simply be content to "float" in a sea of impermanence.

We know that it will not take only 10 years to rebuild as reports state; the task will stretch years beyond the imagination. We have lost the tangible, irreplaceable centers of culture: College Canado-Haitien & Freres du Sacre Coeur, Hotel Montana, the Presidential Palace, and the list continues to grow. Though we will rebuild our familiar structures, they will evoke a strange un-acquaintance.

Our parents will no longer intimately know the roads that made up 72 Delmas or the path that led them to Teleco. Our children will have a new history -- an incomplete story whose parts have been consumed by the cracks made in the earth. This generation has the challenge of writing a new story of faith, love, hope, and most importantly, reconstruction.

Still, we are more than the land which holds our ancestral roots. Just as the fault transmits its tremors through Haitian society-at-large, here in America or spread across the greater diaspora, our families continue to pass on the values, attitudes, and beliefs in our quest to preserve what is truly important.

portrait-martha-st-jeanMartha St. Jean is a first generation Haitian-American journalist and media analyst based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and earned her undergraduate degree in communications studies at New York University. Follow her on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/MarthaStJean

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