- Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora in the Wider Caribbean
Zacaïr provides a unique edited volume on Haitian migration and anti-Haitianism in the Caribbean. This book stands out because more than half of its content is about Haitians in the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Haitian immigration to the French territories raises new questions about culture and identity that are distinct from those in the literature on the Haitian diaspora in the United States. While this perspective is refreshing, it also tends to restrict analysis to the near-present, because Haitians did not arrive in the French departments in large numbers until the 1970s. Some Haitians migrated to avoid political violence. Others left to escape poverty. All of them, however, encountered anti-Haitianism.
The book begins with a reprint of Paul Brodwin’s article “Marginality and Subjectivity in the Haitian Diaspora.” Brodwin argues that the everyday experience of marginalization shapes the collective identity of Haitians in Guadeloupe. Since the Haitians have no means to obtain French citizenship, they live under the constant threat of deportation and describe themselves as hunted animals. Guadeloupeans treat Haitians like unwanted intruders because Haitians remind them of their own colonial past, which they abandoned to become French. Guadeloupeans regret the loss of their own Afro-Caribbean culture but at the same time fear that the Haitians will corrupt their French modernity.
Zacaïr shows that this ambivalence is present in the local media and literature. Television stars Ibo Simon and Henri Yoyotte describe Haitians as profiteers who bring crime [End Page 161] and disease to Guadeloupe. While Simon and Yoyotte encourage discrimination against Haitians, other television programs and media sources celebrate Haitian history. Odile Ferly points to a similar ambivalence toward Haitians in the writings of Guadaloupeans Maryse Condé and Simone Schwarz-Bart. In Traversée de la mangrove, Condé portrays Haitians as proud, independent, lonely, and poor. Haitians are in every way the opposite of the Guadeloupeans, who have accepted a Faustian bargain with France. Schwarz-Bart also depicts the Haitian immigrant as lonely in Guadeloupe. In Ton beau capitaine, the Haitian immigrant, Wilnor, is unable to return to Haiti; he has become a materialist like the locals and has too much shame to go home poor.
Following these chapters on Guadeloupe, Maud Laëthier looks at the Haitians in French Guiana. Laëthier explains that the French Guianese see the Haitians as invaders. Many think Haitians are ignorant and violent because national origin evokes preconceived stereotypes. Pierre Minn examines how Dominicans receive Haitians who cross the border to use the hospital. While NGOs insist that Haitians have a right to health, it is humanitarian compassion, not official obligation, that motivates the Dominican doctors to help them. Sharon Clarke recalls how the Jamaican government welcomed Haitian refugees in 2004, but then tried to deport them once it became clear that the Haitians would not leave within several months. The book concludes with three testimonials about Haitians in Jamaica, French Guiana, and the United States.
Given its emphasis on anti-Haitianism, this book is as much about the Guadeloupeans and the French Guianese as the Haitians. Brodwin and Zacaïr explore the Guadeloupean psychology. In doing so, however, there is a danger that Haitians will become mere objects of anti-Haitianism and that the Haitian émigré experience will become homogenized. Zacaïr skillfully resolves this dilemma by using Haitian testimonials that retell diverse encounters with anti-Haitianism. In the testimonials, the Haitians become the subjects who respond to xenophobia. Since some Haitians, like Guadeloupeans, have admired French modernity, I was curious how Haitian migrants react to assimilation in French overseas departments. I thus appreciate how Ferly describes the complex interaction between a poor Haitian girl and a sophisticated Guadeloupean woman in “Seeing Things Simply” by Edwidge Danticat.
Although Zacaïr positions this book in the wider Caribbean, the content on Guadeloupe and French Guiana is also relevant to those interested in identity and citizenship in France. Caribbeanists might be disappointed...