On January 1st, I sat at my uncle’s dining room table, taking in spoonfuls of the soup joumou while listening to him explain to my boyfriend the importance of having the vegetable and pasta-heavy pumpkin dish at the top of each year. It wasn’t for good luck and fortune, much like how Americans from the south eat collard greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It was a 214-year long tradition rooted in independence.
After enslaved Haitians defeated Napoleon’s military (the world’s most powerful army at that time), they celebrated their victory and freedom by having pumpkin soup. This was the very same pumpkin soup they’d cook for their slave masters; a dish they were forbidden from enjoying themselves. The act continues to proudly serve as a reminder that Haitians are a free people and pays homage to our ancestors who fought for our freedom — a fight which we are still feeling the reverberations of to this day.
On Wednesday, President Trump once again spoke disparagingly about Haiti, my father’s homeland. He referred to it as a “shithole” — along with El Salvador and an unspecified group of African countries. Previously, he reportedly said that all Haitian immigrants have AIDS. It’s a stereotype Haitians have long fought to erase, reinforced by the leader of the free world. In fact, in 1990, my parents were part of the 80,000 who marched across New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge to protest the FDA’s policy banning all Haitians from donating blood.
Trump’s words are even more ridiculous because they came just a day before the eighth anniversary of the January 12th earthquake. The 7.0 magnitude quake that killed as many as 300,000 Haitians and displaced upwards of a million. That feels incredibly pointed for we Haitians living here.
Here’s the thing about Haiti. It’s a magical island nation — with some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. You’ve just never seen nor heard about those elements, because of this constant AIDS and “shithole” narrative. From the green hills in the countryside of northern Haiti to the many white, sandy beaches to the south, the land remains a hidden treasure to the outside world.
Oh, and the people! Haitian people — my people — are some of the strongest and most resilient humans on the planet. Just ask Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon or… any human who has visited. We are not the lazy-beggars-waiting-for-handouts that we’re often portrayed to be.
Part of this, of course, can be blamed on cable news media’s seeming obsession with disaster and poverty porn. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been hammered with images of Haitians in despair and pleading for help. Political unrest and natural disasters brought many cameras in Haiti, showing the suffering without any of the joy — thus skewing the world’s perception of the country.
It’s as if we don’t have the Citadelle, a historical man-made marvel sitting majestically atop a mountain in Cap-Haitian, often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World. As if Haiti isn’t home to Bassin Bleu, one of the world’s most scenic waterfalls and natural pools. As if Haiti doesn’t have Kabik beach, Wahoo Beach, Labadee and all the other postcard-worthy beaches that ring the island and Ile-A-Vache.
Sorry, Don: There’s nothing shithole about a place where you can lounge in a beach hammock while reading a book.