- A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec by Sean Mills
Building upon The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal, University of Toronto Historian Sean Mills incorporates his past analysis into this nuanced discussion of the interconnected histories of Canada, Quebec, and Haiti. Chronologically structured, A Place in the Sun opens with the 1937 Congress on the French Language in Canada. Constructed as a part of a broader Latin and Catholic culture by Quebecois and Haitian intellectuals, Mills argues, both societies nevertheless existed in a profoundly asymmetrical relationship with each other. Persistent representations of “Haiti as a parallel society upholding French civilization and Haiti as an infantilized Other” were bound by the metaphor of the family and shaped by race, class, and gender (5). After François Duvalier rose to power in 1957 many Haitians fled the country, instigating the predominantly elite emigration of the 1960s and soon followed by working-class emigration in the 1970s and 1980s. This racial minority, in a society largely composed of a linguistic minority, operated within the shifting discourses of the Quiet revolution, Quebec sovereignty, and international solidarity movements to challenge systems of power that acted upon Quebeckers and Haitians in different ways; they asserted “themselves as creative and political actors in Quebec’s rapidly shifting public sphere” (10). The story comes to an unsettled end in 1986 with the fall of the Duvalier regime and fears of ongoing instability in the country.
The book is meticulously researched and documented. Drawing on official archival and library collections, Mills also weaves in the records of church groups, missionaries, television and documentaries, unofficial archival holdings, oral histories conducted by the Life Stories Project at Concordia University, and a wide range of secondary sources. Divided into two parts, part 1 (chapters 1 and 2) explores the persistent representations of Haiti by Quebec’s intellectuals and missionaries who used language and religion to define “unity through difference” (24). Part 2 then reverses the perspective, taking us first (chapters 3 and 4) into the social worlds of 1960s political exiles and intellectuals. Joining Quebec’s intellectual circles in their criticisms of empire and the marginalization of the French language, Haitian men and women were able to establish many of the institutions for future activism, such [End Page 153] as the non-religious Maison d’Haïti and the Bureau de la communauté chrétienne des Haïtiens de Montréal. For Mills, the language of Third World liberation united Haitian and Quebec radicals in debates about the legacy of French-Canadian missionaries, tourism, and Canadian aid to Haiti. He then masterfully brings all these threads together in chapter 5: “Migrants and Borders”. Drawing on Mae M. Ngai’s Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, he shows how activists mobilized in the 1970s to challenge the creation and racialization of non-status migrants during the “crisis of the 1,500” and later deportation debates. In anti-deportation campaigns, Paul Dejean emerged as a crucial ‘broker’ (Lisa R. Mar’s Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885–1945) and helped position Haitians as the ideal francophone immigrants, giving them “important symbolic power” as a model minority in Quebec, and making this a question of wresting sovereignty from the federal government (12).
Chapter 6 then takes us into the intellectual world of grassroots Haitian activists in the 1970s and 1980s and succeeds in shedding light on both this particular group and the history of the national community. Haitian domestic servants, labourers, and taxi drivers, who arrived with fewer cultural and material resources and faced isolation, discrimination, and downward social mobility, were able to claim a public voice to question the very meaning of democracy in Quebec. Finally, chapter 7 offers a case study of Dany Laferrière and his Comment faire l’amour avec un Nègre sans se fatiguer. Engaged in the intimate sphere of sexuality, Mills argues, Laferrière spoke to conceptions of francophone...