My friends and I worried about the negativity that would emerge when the Department of Homeland Security granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian nationals, allowing them to remain in the U.S. for 18 months while conditions at home improve. Rush Limbaugh's hostile comments regarding aid for Haiti -- "Besides, we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax" -- I fear are only the tip of the iceberg.
Already, ABC News is reporting that William Gheen, president of the conservative Americans for Legal Immigration PAC has said,
Apparently, there's nothing temporary about a temporary protected status order, and we do not want to see millions of Haitian refugees permanently transplanted to the United States in the middle of the economic nightmare we're in the middle of.
Last September, I discussed with notable Haitian author Edwidge Danticat the different narratives that existed about Haitians: boat people, AIDS carriers, and a permanent state of political unrest. These were the politics of identification that made and continue to make it difficult for some to understand Haiti and Haitians.
The stigma of being labeled "AIDS carriers," following the recommendation, made by the Food and Drug Administration, that local blood banks exclude groups of Haitians from donation led to feelings of "shame" and "inadequacy" among members of my generation. I do not want the young Haitian-Americans growing up in the Diaspora today to experience those feelings.
The late '80s and early '90s were a time when many first-generationers choose to not divulge their roots; the negativity encountered encouraged a distancing from their ancestral identity. In college, the exploration began providing a place of positive reinforcement. No longer did many depend solely on parents or neighbors to explain to them what it meant to be Haitian or provide feelings of validation.
I do not want the younger generation to allow current attitudes or those yet to be revealed to serve as a measure of their worth. The earthquake is allowing us to build a new map, with a new geography. One where the words boat people, AIDS carriers, and politically unstable need not apply for residence upon its topography.
I encourage Haitians to claim their identity as the posterity of the first black republic, not as descendants of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is not political strength, hurricanes, or earthquakes that define us. We are a people whose culture radiates the essence of Africa, illuminating the beauty of a nation that may be physically destroyed.
Martha 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