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Haiti and the Americas is a critical, interdisciplinary investigation of Haiti’s central role in the Americas since the Revolutionary beginnings of the Republic. The edited collection, the fruit of a conference held at Florida Atlantic University in October 2010, aims to open up the colonial and postcolonial archive to explore the implication of Haiti’s status as crossroads while advancing a “new archive of the counterdiscourses that Haiti’s positioning has enabled” (3). The nine contributing chapters are organized into a vaguely chronological sequence: “Haiti and the Hemispheric Independence,” “Haiti and Transnational Blackness,” “The U.S. Occupation,” and “Globalization and Crisis.” Together, they paint an image of Haiti as a crossroads, yon kafou. It is a site of hemispheric exchanges and a source of inspiration—a centrality that might be rooted in but does not end with the Haitian Revolution.
The collection opposes negative portrayals of the Revolution as a haunting spectre, emphasizing, instead, the ways in which the event’s influence allowed to forge new hemispheric ties. The opening essays by Sibylle Fischer and Matthew Casey examine some of the ways in which this movement of “people and ideas between Haiti and its neighbors shaped the decolonization and independence in Latin America” (14). Fischer’s contribution uses textual and contextual material, such as letters between Simon Bolívar and Alexandre Pétion, in order to analyze how Haiti’s post-revolutionary politics influenced Bolívar’s republican thought and the region as a whole. Directly challenging the assumption of Haiti’s exceptionalism and the image of the country as an isolated and peripheral state, Fischer paints a picture of Haiti as a cosmopolitan meeting-place with close ties to revolutionary movements elsewhere in the region.
Matthew Casey, for his part, scrutinizes manifestations of Cuban anti-Haitianism in the nineteenth and the early-twentieth century, tracing two moments when Haitian and Cuban “political activists, motivated by their opposition to imperialism, circumvented these ideologies” (56). The first moment was during Cuba’s war against Spain (1868-1878) when Cuban exilés in Haiti raised money for the fight against Spain. The Haitian government actively supported these efforts, providing material, logistical, and diplomatic support to the cause of independence. The second instance took place during the American Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) when Haitian migrants formed a branch of l’Union Patriotique in Cuba. Cuba’s unmatched response to the 2010 earthquake suggests that this solidarity, rooted in the recognition of countries’ “shared histories of slavery and imperialism,” is indeed still possible (60). [End Page 723]
Following on from the examination of Haiti’s regional links, part 2 explores the relationship between the world’s first black republic and other communities of black descent across the Americas. Jeff Karem’s careful analysis of Haiti’s contribution to Pan-Africanism demonstrates how “Pan-Africanism, along with the unified sense of cultural resistance that would culminate in the New Negro Renaissance, was the product of collaborative and dialogic relationships throughout the black Atlantic, born of mutual exchanges among U.S. and Caribbean writers” (77). Karem underlines Anténor Firmin’s and Benito Sylvain’s impact on the movement and, in so doing, directly challenges scholarly narratives which portray W. E. B. Du Bois as a unitary father figure of Pan-Africanism. Rather, Du Bois’s thought was directly shaped by Firmin’s and Sylvain’s earlier work. Hopefully, new scholarly work can recover these silenced voices which contributed to the rethinking of the full range of the black Atlantic experience.
David P. Kilroy’s richly documented essay is an attempt to untangle a very different knotted historical moment, namely the intelligence mission of Charles Young—an African American military attaché to Haiti and the Dominican Republic between 1904 and 1917 and, later on, to Liberia. Young’s ethnic background, deeply problematic for the army committed to upholding segregation, became a “key asset to be used in gathering strategic intelligence to be employed in the event that Washington determined a U.S. invasion of either island was...