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Reviewed by:
  • Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora ed. by Regine Ostine Jackson
  • Carolyn Cooper
Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. Edited by Regine Ostine Jackson New York: Routledge, 2011. 348 pp. $132.95.

Edited by Regine O. Jackson, this trans-cultural, multi-disciplinary collection on Haitian migrant communities comprehensively delineates the complexities of “glocalization” over several generations and in disparate directions. As Jackson posits in her lucid introduction, “Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora aims to interrupt the continuity of scholarship on diaspora where binary oppositions – between diaspora and territory, or identity and place – have become commonplace.” Arguing instead for the simultaneity of “here” and “there,” Jackson proposes a reconceptualization of diaspora as a “metageography” that “opens up a space to challenge bounded perspectives on place and to accentuate discontinuous spaces.” Indeed, Haitians dispersed in the Caribbean, North America and Europe wrestle with the politics of place and displacement.

Gina Ulysse’s lyrical evocation of the “past that is now archived in our bodies” emblematizes the reverberant preoccupations of Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. Bodies travel, carrying with them the inscriptions of history. Memories, both personal and communal, transcend spatial boundaries. The subtitle of Ulysse’s poetic reflections, “Coffee Memories, Peasant Food and the Vodou Some of Us Do,” intimates the primacy of food culture and religion as potent markers of identity. A vagrant scent or a fragment of song can evoke home, destabilizing one’s sense of locatedness in diaspora.

The essays in Part I, “Lateral Moves,” examine the unsettling complications of migration within the Caribbean: Jamaica, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Bahamas. They acknowledge the role that social variables such as color and class play in determining the degree of acceptance of Haitian migrants in often-reluctant host societies. Matthew Smith’s historically grounded essay, “From the Port of Princes to the City of Kings: Jamaica and the Roots of the Haitian Diaspora,” the first chapter of the collection, privileges the “illustrious exiles” who sought refuge in Jamaica in the 19th century. The political elites Boyer, Soulouque and Geffrard did not all fare the same. Smith reports the contempt with which Soulouque was dismissed by the racist proprietor of lodgings at which he sought accommodation: “I won’t keep a house for black men… [End Page 290] I would despise myself to have a black king. As for that black beast and his black women – Bah! … Queen Victoria is my king.” The animosity of this proprietor prefigures the disdain that future generations of Haitians would be forced to endure across the Caribbean, especially those deemed “low-class” and of the “wrong” color.

Paul Brodwin’s “The Dialectic of Marginality in the Haitian Community of Guadeloupe, French West Indies” documents the precarious spaces inhabited by undocumented migrants. Similarly, the Haitians in the Dominican Republic who are the subjects of Samuel Martinez’s essay suffer multiple oppressions. Deploying the metaphor of the onion, Martinez exposes the layers of abuse that these alienated migrants are forced to endure.

Marginalization is a recurring trope in the collection, as evidenced in Yanique Hume’s revisionist essay, “On the Margins: The Emergence of a Haitian Diasporic Enclave in Eastern Cuba.” Contesting conventional conceptions of the experience of diaspora, Hume argues that, “the almost exclusive emphasis placed on transnational flows between home and host societies impedes an examination of diaspora as a condition of dwelling.” Conversely, Hume offers a “redemptive reading” of the ways in which Haitian migrants in Cuba have settled themselves into hyphenated definitions of home. Despite the persistent marginality of their location, both geographic and ideological, they reclaim their collective identity as a vibrant community, not just an “agricultural outpost.”

Ermitte St. Jacques’s essay, “Between Periphery and Centre in the Haitian Diaspora: The Transnational Practices of Haitian Migrants in the Bahamas,” foregrounds hierarchies of marginality. St. Jacques pointedly observes that, “[t]he destinations that form the geography of the Haitian diaspora demarcate central places as Miami and marginal locations as Nassau that correspond to their position within global and regional geo-political hierarchies.” The Bahamas is imagined as a transit point to more favorable destinations. But those Haitians who do choose to settle in the Bahamas find themselves trapped on...