Panel to examine Haitian Diaspora and history

The Brooklyn Historical Society is hosting a panel featuring two Haitian-American speakers who are going to discuss Haitian identity and history in observation of Haitian Heritage Month on May 23. The society is hosting the discussion “Celebrating Haitian History,” and bringing together journalist and founder of the Haitian Times, Garry Pierre-Pierre, and professor and scholar Dr. Carolle Charles. The pair will analyze how history between the United States and the island nation have led to how both countries are viewed today, said a program director.

“They’re going to talk about the Diaspora, living here in Brooklyn, and how the history of the United States has impacted and shaped the way Haiti and its people are viewed in America,” said Marcia Ely.

Just months after President Trump allegedly made derogatory comments about Haiti and immigrants, which quickly prompted reaction and protests — and two months before the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians expires in July — the head of state is sure to come up during the discussion. And that subject is an opportune time to revisit and examine how the Haitian community has had to grapple with similar issues, added Ely.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the Haitian communities here, and the struggles they face here and at home — and that strongly ties in with Haitian identity,” she said. “Brooklyn has the largest population of Haitians in the city, so we wanted to put together what we think is a great panel that can address that.”

The event will be moderated by Haitian-American comedian and writer Tanael Joachim, and each will bring a set of different experiences and viewpoints that encompass what it means to be Haitian, said Ely.

“We have Carolle, who concentrates on Haitian society and Haitian immigrant communities, Gary, who is like the grandfather of Haitian press in the city, and we’re having Tanael moderate because he came to our attention for his New York Times editorial,” she said.

One of the major topics to be discussed is the United States occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, and Haitian immigration to the states — particularly to New York, said Garry Pierre-Pierre.

“The occupation I believe — was a time that really shaped the relationship between Haiti and United States for the worse and we’re going to briefly look at that invasion,” he said. “We’re also going to take a look at migration from the late 60s to present. It was a difficult time and Haitians faced a lot of prejudice and racism to get where we are now.”

Ely said the event will shed light on historical international relationships that may be unknown to many, and allow visitors to learn about the Haitian experience.

“It’s fascinating and important history. We hear about Haiti in the news regularly and there has always been a lot of interaction with our government and Haiti,” she said. “But many people in Brooklyn might not realize that there’s a big Haitian community right here in our midst, and this is an opportunity to learn about our neighbors.”

Pierre-Pierre says without Haiti, the history of the states would have had a different outcome and people should be well-informed about the history that allowed it to be what it is.

“I just hope people have a better understanding of the contributions Haiti made to the United States,” said Garry Pierre-Pierre. “The Haitian Revolution had a huge impact on the United States because after Haiti defeated France, Napoleon’s need for money after the war is what led him to sell the Louisiana Territory, which allowed the United States to double in size and pave the way for westward expansion.”

“Celebrating Haitian History” at Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights,, (718) 222-4111]. May 23; 6:30-8pm. $5 (Free for members.)

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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