As Haitian Americans prepared to commemorate their homeland’s 214th anniversary as the world’s first black republic, many were still outraged over derogatory remarks allegedly made by U.S. President Donald Trump about Haitians.
“No, we’re not one of the four H’s for AIDS. One, we’re not going back to that and two, never again will we be pulled into the dark, feeling like you have to hide being Haitian because of the fear of name calling especially for our young kids,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, chairwoman of the New York-based Haitian Roundtable, which called Trump’s alleged comment “reprehensible” in a statement. “My hashtag is #Neveragain.”
The New York Times reported last month that Trump exploded with vitriolic and racist comments, in a heated White House meeting with his top policy advisors in June in attempting to advance his immigration agenda, saying that all Haitians have AIDS and mocking Nigerians.
According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting, the paper said Trump then began reading aloud from a document, which his domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting.
The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017, the Times said.
It said more than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.
Haiti had sent 15,000 people, the Times said.
‘“They ‘all have AIDS,’” the paper said that Trump grumbled, basing its information on “one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.”
But Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, denied to the Times that Trump had made derogatory statements about immigrants during the meeting.
But the Times said while the White House did not deny the overall description of the meeting, it said officials “strenuously insisted” that Trump never used the words “AIDS” or “huts” to describe people from any country.
Several participants in the meeting told Times reporters that they did not recall the president using those words and did not think he had, but the paper said “two officials who described the comments found them so noteworthy that they related them to others at the time.”
In 1990, tens of thousands of Haitians marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, causing a massive traffic jam as they demanded that the U.S. government lift a ban on blood donations by Haitians after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they were in a high-risk group for HIV infection.
The Miami Herald reported that the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had “previously and unscientifically assigned Haitians to a group referred to as the ‘Four Hs’ — homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs and heroin addicts — meaning they are at higher risk for the virus that causes AIDS.”
The Herald said the policy stigmatized Haitians, the country’s image and tourism were damaged, Haitian children in the U.S. found themselves bullied and beaten at school as fights broke out.”
Many Haitians had believed that ugly period was history — until Trump’s alleged remarks, according to the Herald.
Still, the paper said, for Haitian Americans who were preparing to commemorate their homeland’s 214th anniversary as the world’s first black republic, the headline “reopened a painful wound — while also igniting a determination to never go back to the days when being Haitian felt like a liability.
“So, while Haiti will commemorate its Independence Day Monday with a ceremony in Gonaives, the city where slave-turned-revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the country free from French rule on Jan. 1, 1804, Haitians Americans are planning to commemorate another way,” the Herald said. “They will take to social media to counter the AIDS stigmatization by highlighting their contributions in the United States.”
“We are a people who have made very significant contributions to the United States going as far back as to our independence,” Pierre-Louis, whose group has honored 152 Haitians in the US over the past five years as part of its prized 1804 list,” told the Herald.
“In the state of New York, we’re the second largest ethnicity of doctors in the state, only second to doctors of Jewish descent,” she added. “In the health field, we have made tremendous strides, not only in medicine but across professions.”
She also noted other contributions, including Haitians’ role in the Louisiana purchase, in the Battle of Savannah in 1779, in the founding of Chicago and in contributions through present-day films and books, according to the Herald.
“There has been this really concerted effort to redefine the narrative about Haitians and to provide a three-dimensional perspective of who we are as a community and to help create a better understanding of us as an important constituent not only in our various cities but in the United States,” Pierre-Louis said.
Joel Dreyfuss, a member of The Haitian Roundtable’s board and co-founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest minority group of journalists in the U.S., said “the success of Haitians in America is the best antidote to the poison of the AIDS slur.”
Dreyfuss recently responded to Trump in a Washington Post op-ed titled, “No, President Trump, we Haitians don’t all have AIDS,” according to the Herald.
Dreyfuss said, despite the White House’s denial, the disparaging comment “sounds like something Trump would say because of all the other horrible things he’s said about immigrants.”
“My first reaction to the Trump comments was: Haitians are doomed to be stigmatized,” Dreyfuss told the Herald. “We always have been, one way or the other — for daring to be free, for daring to abolish slavery, for supporting independence movements elsewhere — Latin America, Greece — for daring to work hard wherever we go.”
The report comes just a month after the U.S. federal government announced that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians will end in 2019, despite extensive lobbying by Haitians and immigrant rights advocates for the Trump administration to extend the humanitarian relief program, the Herald noted.
Under the TPS program, it said nearly 60,000 Haitians have been able to legally live and work in the U.S. since the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake.
Guerline Jozef, of the San Diego-based Haitian Bridge Alliance, which issued a statement demanding an apology from the president, said: “we can’t help but to wonder if this is not the reason why they terminated TPS for Haitians. It would make sense if [the President] believes that Haitians have AIDS.”
Haitian-American blogger Wanda Tima-Gilles said the damage has already been done, according to the Herald.
“People are hurt on so many levels,” said Tima-Gilles, whose L’Union Suite Twitter and Instagram accounts and Haitian-American Facebook page amassed well over 1 million opinions on the issue after the news broke.
“Whether he said it or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s been trending now for a week, and we’re being used as a pawn for these other communities and whatever narratives they are pushing,” she said.
Similar to the push by the Haitian Roundtable, the Herald said Tima-Gilles asked Haitians to post pictures, tweet and update their social media status in English, French and Creole with facts, history and contributions of Haitians using the hashtag #HaitianAffirmation.
“It’s even more important for us to tell our stories, bring awareness to what we’ve done and what we continue to do in different ways to contribute to this country,” she said. “We can’t wait anymore. We have to seriously become responsible for our own narrative.”