- Dany Laferrière and Michaëlle Jean:Two Haitian Diasporic Players on the World Stage
On December 12, 2013, the Francophone world heard that Haitian Canadian writer Dany Laferrière was elected to be a member of the prestigious Académie française. The news of this lifetime appointment of historic significance immediately spread like wildfire on the Internet. Haitians in Haiti and from every corner of the diaspora were forwarding email after email and link after link to colleagues and friends. Such an important piece of news had to be disseminated. After all, a member of the Haitian community had just been catapulted to unimaginable heights. To be elected to serve as an immortel in such a preeminent French institution, one that was established in 1635 and has stood the test of time, is, indeed, not a mince affaire (an inconsequential matter). As Haitians would say: se gwo zafè (a big deal). Indeed, this affair culminated in a celebratory event organized by the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United States and the Consulate of Haiti in New York on January 24, 2014, at the office of the United Nations in New York. The Quebec Delegation in New York participated in the event, as did the Canadian Mission.1
About a year later, on November 30, 2014, the Francophone world learned another significant piece of news involving another member of the Haitian diasporic community. Haitian Canadian Michaëlle Jean was chosen to be the new head of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), a position that had previously been held by African leaders. Once again, Haitians were busy on the Internet, sharing this news, also of historic significance, about a daughter of Haiti. It is important to recall that the appointment of Michaëlle Jean at the OIF is the latest in a long list of well-respected positions she has held in the course of her impressive career. Let us briefly recall that she served as a successful journalist and broadcaster for Radio Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1988 to 2005. As such, she became part of the Quebec landscape. From September 2005 to October 2010, she served as governor general of Canada, representing Canada in the Commonwealth of Nations headed by [End Page 172] British Queen Elizabeth II. In February 2012, she was chosen to become the chancellor of the University of Ottawa. Indeed, she epitomizes a “life of many possibilities.”2 This is undoubtedly another gwo zafè. As times passes, a great deal will probably be written about both avènements and événements (accessions and events).
Initially, I was filled with immense pride and even euphoria at the news of the resounding success of two members of the Haitian community. At a time when the news about Haiti is so grim, always replete with pessimism, despair, and more dèyè mòn gen mòn comments, I really felt that Haitians could achieve greatness in their chosen fields, compete on the world stage, and make long-lasting contributions that would be recorded by history.3 I remember sending an email to my departmental colleagues to inform them of the news and share my excitement: “Je me réjouis que les membres de la diaspora haïtienne soient ‘à la une,’ pas pour être des ‘boat people’ ou pour leur appartenance au groupe des sidaïques (et à d’autres encore plus dégradants), mais pour ce qu’ils valent et ont pu accomplir.”4 Moreover, since my department covers French and Francophone studies, I added that those new developments were interesting, and that “l’histoire linguistique contemporaine de la France et de la Francophonie se déroule sous mes yeux bien écarquillés.”5 Students of French in US universities and others around the globe will eventually learn who those prominent Haitian-born individuals are and what they represent for issues of French linguistic history and the evolution of Francophonie.
As time passed, my initial euphoria subsided and gave way to more reflection on the social and linguistic significance of the respective appointments of Dany Laferrière and Michaëlle Jean to high-status offices at the heart of two of...