Diaspora and the Haitian Earthquake

January 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

I spent a chunk of my weekend reading theory on diaspora and transnationalism, as I begin the process of writing the Introduction to the book, so these topics were fresh in my mind when I read The Gazette today.  Today, here in Montréal, a group of global bigwigs, including US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, as well as foreign ministers from Canada, Japan, Brazil, and a hanful of other nations, plus the UN, are meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to discuss rebuilding plans for Haiti. 

Upon arriving in Montréal yesterday and meeting with Québec Premier Jean Charest, Bellerive told reports that the Haitian diaspora is fundamental to the re-building of his nation:

We need a direct, firm and continuous support from them. This cataclysm has amplified the movement (of people) out of Haiti, unfortunately. We will have to work hard to encourage them to come back to Haiti…I’m very happy that the help has now arrived and is being distributed, because we had a lot of logistical problems in my country.

In other words, the Haitian diaspora is a transnational one, as it stretches across several nations in addition to Haiti (including Canada and the US), and a dynamic relationship exists between Haiti and its diaspora, diasporic Haitians have not just settled in places like Montréal and New York City, they also continue to send money back to Haiti, establish charities and trusts, and so on.  In the days since the earthquake there, and its aftershocks, I’ve been struck by the actions of prominent diasporic Haitians, such as Indianapolis Colts’ receiver Pierre Garçon, former Montréal Canadiens’ tough-guy Georges Laraques, Philadelphia 76ers’ Samuel Dalembert, and musicians such as Wyclef Jean and the Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne, amongst others.  They, along with less-well-known Haitians, have been working feverishly raising funds, visiting Haiti, helping in rescue efforts and so on.  Indeed, the Haitian diaspora has been instrumental in not just raising consciousness, but in keeping Haiti in the global consciousness beyond the initial burst of news of the earthquake, to work towards a rebuilding plan for a devastated nation. 

Bellerive’s recognition of that is impressive, as national leaders tend not to recognise the importance of their nations’ diasporas, even in times of trouble.  And yet, transnational diasporas are central to the homeland nation, as the Haitian example makes clear.

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