kiskeyAcity interviewed by Global Voices Online

On Friday, while still digesting my Turkey Day meal, I chatted with Georgia Popplewell of Caribbean Free Radio over at Global Voices Online on the state of the Haitian blogosphere, Haitian punditry, literacy in Haiti, the Haitian internet presence and whatever else she felt like asking...

- - -

Have a comment? Please post it under Comments below.
To email this to a friend, click on the envelope below.


What Exactly is a Creole from Belize?

My friend Nyasha is in a band, Asiko. Great way to put her New York University legal education to use, I say. While surfing Asiko's website one day, I noticed that Nyasha describes herself as Creole from Belize. Since I had just attempted to define Creole, that ridiculously elusive concept here, I asked her "What do you mean by that?"

My question prompted this blog entry over at the Global Parish. Enjoy. (I'm that friend "Eddie." She fancies calling me by my middle name, for some reason. LOL.)

Oh and yes, I will review an Asiko performance as soon as I attend one.

While you're at the Global Parish, make sure to savor the gorgeous snapshots from her latest Belizean journey.

- -
Have a comment? Post it under Comments below. To send this to a friend, click on the envelope icon below.


Customs Coutumes

Candidates and real problems

I'm sure those of us who hail from the Perle des Antilles do not need a fancy report with an international logo to confirm what we have known forever about Haitian customs. But just to rub salt in the wound and to remind us of some of our self-imposed barriers on exports, the World Bank/IFC has officially ranked us last in regional customs efficiency. (If it's any consolation, The DR is right above us.)

I hope those of us who are being invited to fancy campaign fundraisers that cost $150 a pop will make sure to ask those seeking the coveted presidential chair what their plans are to clean up La Douane.

Cuba anba dlo

MadBull has some breathtaking pictures of Cuba under water. A city that looks like this under water has got to be breathtaking dry. Just scroll down to the power point slide show and enjoy or ignore the bathing suit shots of Miss Jamaica, depending on your politics. (If it helps your assessment of Mad Bull's motivation for posting them, she does go to vet school in Cuba. LOL.)

- - - - -

Have a comment? Post it under Comments below.
To send this to a friend, click on the envelope icon below.


Pundit-free Blogosphere = Fresh Air

  • Check out this interesting chat on the state of the Caribbean blogosphere featuring Georgia Popplewell of Caribbean Free Radio (the first Caribbean podcast) and Nicholas Laughlin, both Trinis who monitor the region's weblogs for Harvard's Global Voices Online. They're concerned that Caribloggers, unlike their American counterparts, tend not to be political pundits. Instead the region favors diary-style weblogs filled with personal anecdotes. (Georgia by the way generates comprehensive weekly digests on Global Voices for your pleasure.)
  • In my view, there's no particular need for caribloggers to mirror anyone. If Jamaicans had merely mimicked the R&B they captured through New Orleans airwaves in the 50s, there'd be no reggae. Aren't we about the blending of old disparate forms into new ones?

Pundit Tree

  • Georgia and Nicholas report that Haitian pundits are an especially rare species in blogland. Since they're in no danger of extinction in that thickest of jungles, the Haitian listosphere, I'm out in the clearing happily breathing the fresh air. Don't tell anyone, but it's okay with me that they haven't swarmed this technology.
  • After all, punditry is to Haiti what cricket is to anglo-caribbeans: the national sport. (Soccer too, of course, but since we don't actually have a team that can make headlines, it can't compete with the pros who've traditionally talked or written their way onto that coveted presidential fotey boure.) Punditry has and will punctuate all my family gatherings. All through my childhood when Manmi rocked me to sleep singing Dodo Titit, Jean Dominique himself or even Serge Beaulieu provided the baritone to her sleepy falsetto, the resulting cacophony and loud commercials provoking nightmares filled with radio broadcasts and talking heads.
  • Luckily these days national and transnational Haitian pundits populate list-serves such as Corbett or haitianpolitics@yahoogroups rather than my dreams. I can pop in to their world when I need the exercise but pop out as soon as I'm about to pass out from deja-vu asphyxiation. Sheesh, haven't some of these people been around since before I was born?

Saving Grace

  • When the best, youngest and freshest of the pundits, Haitian Mofo a.k.a Jean-Claude Jasmin finally defected from the list ghetto to blogland earlier this year, I was elated. Alas after three worthy months, he stopped blogging and vanished. Guess where he was recently spotted, debating the qualifications of one Texas-based Haitian-American CEO with no pundit experience who nevertheless wants to be President? You got it, haitianpolitics@yahoogroups. Yikes!
  • But even I have a soft spot for the national sport and it's been hard to completely avoid echos of the lists. I can't ignore the raging double-nationality debate easily summarized as the Haitian political class (read the professional pundits/presidential candidates) telling the Haitians with other passports: "remittances? sure! voting rights? hell no!" And I too am impatiently waiting for the Charlito v. Dumas showdown coming soon to an election theatre near you. But I can only handle superfluous testosterone in tiny doses and so I try very hard to screen substance from piss fights, often in vain.
  • Thank God for MBAyisyen's serene diaries. And Yon Ayisyen, I hope you're only taking a break: your weekly take on politics as usual may be in French but it's not the usual patata.

- - -

Have a comment? Post it under Comments below. To send this to a friend, click on the envelope below.


Compass for Konpa

In a recent discussion on second generation Haitian-Americans, wayneandwax had this to ask:

i'm getting the sense that the increasingly visible (and audible) haitian population around here is slowly changing some of this stigmatization. Boston's caribbean community has been slowly accommodating these changes, and there is now a sense among local reggae selectors that the majority of folks coming out to reggae/calypso events are haitian. but, then, you have to wonder: where's the konpa? soon come?

It's definitely in my headphones as well as most Haitians' whether they call Port-au-Prince, Paris, Boston or New York home. Also, Martiniquans, Guadeloupeans, French Guyanians, St-Lucians and Dominicans have listened to konpa (also spelled kompa, compa and compas) and even formed konpa bands long before Zouk was born. (In fact early zouk manifestos often positioned zouk as a revolt against haitian domination of Martiniquan and Guadeloupean music markets.)

Here in NY, it's danced by a broad cross-section of people at SOB's on Friday nights. I haven't been in a while but I surmise that crowd to be broad although mostly haitian. And of course Haitians are dancing it at humongous gawdy hotel ballrooms in Queens, Long Island and Jersey for upwards of 20 bucks a person every weekend. My non-Haitian friends of all colors and creeds love to dance it when I entertain them, but then again it could be to kiss up to me. Okay, fine, I'm not that important. They may just enjoy it.

Language barrier?

There may be a language barrier, although it has not stopped latin music, probably because its own market carries it and because it's been accessible to Americans for longer. So the question to ask is can and will the haitian-american market carry konpa or other Haitian music genres to the mainstream --or at least to its fringes, kind of like Kevin Little has done for soca? Your guess is as good as mine.


The Labor Day parade is definitely giving it exposure beyond its usual audience but community will and musician organization have to be tight as well. The documentary Catch a Fire proves that Bob Marley's music was marketed to American and European audiences after much calculation by Chris Blackwell and others, using instruments and musicians familiar to these audiences, occasionally washing the music down as in "Three Little Birds." Is anyone doing that for Haitian music? I'm not sure. And neither is a commentator from www.heritagekonpa.com, in an interesting article on Papa Jube's role in promoting and producing Haitian music. In the article, Jube deplores the lack of adequate infrastructure and organization among haitian music actors in marketing Haitian music. (Interestingly, the article reaches a lot of the conclusions I had intuited.)

Of course Tabou Combo has held steady with non-haitian francophone audiences for over 25 years and Wyclef Jean is definitely trying to bring the music to even broader audiences. (Cf the Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 album on his Sak Pase label.) Time will tell... I'd love to hear what the musicians and ethnomusicologists think... Where is our resident musician poster Markus Schwartz when we need him?

- -

Have a comment? Post it under Comments below.
To send this to a friend, click on the envelope icon below.


Home Can Be Draining But Are We Draining Home?

What the Heck Are You Going to Haiti For?
Since last week's interview with Mill Polyne, I've come across other links about second generation haitian-americans who take an interest in Haiti professionally.

The first is an article about Pascal Antoine, founder of www.haitixchange.com. Much like Mill, he tells of discovering Haiti as an adult (in his case, via a trip) and against his relatives' advice.

Then, still on HaitiXchange, rapper Mecca a.k.a. Grimo, born in Brooklyn and raised in Miami, talks about rapping in Creole.

Brain Drain through Caribbean Lens
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the New York Times article on the World Bank's stats that 80% of Haitian and Jamaican college graduates and over 85% of Surinamese and Guyanese college graduates live abroad. (Compare with 3 to 5% for India and China.) According to the article, the World Bank's report seems to make a causal link between the brain drain and some developing countries' developing status.

Today's Jamaica Gleaner has a rather interesting editorial about this issue which unveils a caribbean perspective --one of many, I'm sure--on the World Bank's stats. The article suggests that Jamaica's saturated job market cannot absorb all the "brains" produced anyway and that high volumes of remittances sent home by Jamaican migrants (about 1.4 billion for Jamaica and 1 billion for Haiti) may make the "drain" worthwhile. It also talks about Jamaica being in the "business of education for export" and mentions that it might not be a bad idea for migrant "brains" to compensate Jamaica for the education somehow. Hmmm...


Second Generation Nation: Mill Polyné PhD on Growing up Haitian in America

Dr. Millery Polyné, 31, is Assistant Professor of History at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. He holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and is writing a book on the history of relations between Haitian and African-American leadership.

Born and Raised in Boston

Alice says -- So you are of Haitian parents born and raised in the United States. You are what many call a second generation Haitian-American. You're obviously bright and you could have become a doctor or lawyer or a rapper or whatever else. Why History and Haitian History specifically?

Millery says --Why Haitian history? Well, I grew up basically during a time when to be Haitian in Boston was to be ostracized to the margins.

Millery says -- I went to Morehouse College and I had a Liberian professor who spoke to me about the Haitian Revolution which blew my mind. It wasn't until my junior year of college that I actually took some real pride in my Haitianness. It's sort of a typical story of a child of immigrants discovering their identity late in the game.

Alice says -- What do you mean by "to be Haitian in Boston was to be ostracized to the margins"?

Millery says -- Boston has a significant Haitian population. In the 1970s and 80s, many Haitians were seen as refugees, low wage earners, vodou practicing people. The black and white American communities, as is typical in most places, tend to marginalize new ethnic groups on the block. Kids are picked on. Mothers and fathers are insulted. Employers relegate them to certain jobs.

Alice says -- I hear that.

Millery says -- Similar to many Haitian mothers, my mother entered into the economic niche of a nurse’s aid in a convalescent home -- when she had other aspirations.

Alice says -- Right. So how did you relate to Haiti before that magic junior year in college?

Millery says -- Well, it's a mixed bag. I loved to hear my family or other Haitians discuss politics. And I was always interested in the current political situation. But, it was clear to me from an early age that non-Haitians treated us differently. I despised being the Other.

Alice says – Did you feel more the Other than the average African-American? Or the average non-Haitian West Indian?

Millery says -- Possibly. I was the Other in terms of being darker skinned; the Other because of not speaking Kreyol well; the Other because of different traditions in the household.

Alice says – Just to play devil’s advocate, each of those things may or may not have to do with being Haitian... no? I mean, one could be Bajan or Jamaican or Trini and similarly complexioned to you and other immigrant groups might have had different traditions in the home too, no?

Millery says -- Well, because of the popularity of reggae to be Jamaican was, in my opinion, cool. Most other Caribbean peoples were typically thrown into the British Caribbean crowd. People from the British/American Caribbean had an easier time transitioning because of language and in terms of youth culture it was easier to digest without a longer legacy and memory of "voodoo" and all the ignorance.

Alice says – Right.

Teen-Aged and Haitian in the 80s and 90s
Alice says -- Wyclef Jean does a very good job I think of bringing home what it was like to be Haitian and a teen in those years (and even today I’m sure).

Millery says -- I wish Wyclef was popular in the 1980s. For some reason you need these popular figures to validate your existence in some ways.

Alice says -- In his song Lavi New York (Life in New York) he talks in Creole about being attacked and beaten up in public school. He says "Male lekol/ Ameriken te atakem, panikem, maltretem/ Fe saw vle, ou pakab dechoukem/...Respekte Ayisyen natif natal" ("I went to school/ Only to be beaten up/ However much you tried you couldn't uproot us/... Better learn to respect us Haitians.") I get goose bumps when I hear that song. And you get a sense that what he is saying is : "How ya like me now?"

Millery says -- YES! And I think a part of that attitude informed my path to academia and educational achievement. And people all over the world are becoming more and more interested in Kreyol and Caribbean identity. I presume Wyclef and I are around the same age. And it is important for the Wyclefs and Danticats to keep telling our stories.

On the Path to History
Alice says -- So walk us through the process of you going from this state of not liking that Otherness that others projected on you presumably because of Haitianity to running into the Liberian professor to deciding : “I'm going to become a Historian of Haiti.”

Millery says -- Well, the process, in many ways, is quite simple. It's a mixture of being confused about what role identity should play in one's life--African Americanness/Haitianness. I went from a confused state of not letting ethnic identity define me to a hip hop culture where Public Enemy, black consciousness and African medallions became quite influential in my life.

Alice says – Right.

Millery says -- From there Boyz N the Hood came out and at the end Trey went to Morehouse and one of my high school mentors was a graduate of the college.

Alice says – LOL.

Millery says -- Professor Augustine Konneh was the influential Liberian teacher in my life and he connected many of the African diasporic dots that became critical to my intellectual and personal development.

Alice says -- Having grown up in Haiti where most of my profs were Haitian, it's hard to fathom a non-Haitian offering Haitian history to you. What did you think about that? Was it strange to you or did you not even think about it?

Millery says -- I didn't even think about it. Most of my education, outside of my parents, was fed to me by non-Haitians.

Alice says -- What were you getting by way of history from your parents?

Millery says -- My parents didn't talk much about Haitian history. I was brought up to be an American. My parents never said I was Haitian. They always made it quite clear that I was born in the US and that I was American.

Alice says –- Your parents’ way seems to be one side of the coin. It is a different take from that of other Haitian parents I know who raised kids here but tried to counter their identification to African-American youth culture by imposing a haitianness that the kids just couldn't handle because they wanted to fit in at school.

Millery says -- Yes.
Alice says -- But by contrast your parents seemed to have wanted a blank slate for you.

Millery says -- Yes, in some ways. They sent me to French school early on because some friends of theirs recommended it. But that didn't last long. My parents never had a desire to send us back to Haiti because they felt that all our opportunities for success were here in the U.S.

Alice says -- So you left the French school? I know a Haitian family who sent their kids to a French school in Boston too. It’s gotta be the same one.

Millery says -- Yeah! But I still remember the French national anthem. Colonization of the mind in the U.S.

Alice says – La Marseillaise? LOL. That is hilarious. Now, I totally get that Konneh could have opened up a whole world for you in terms of Haitian History, but why make it your profession?

Millery says -- Well, the funny thing is that when I left high school I realized how many of my friends were Haitian but never admitted it. As a college student I witnessed my little cousins not knowing a single word in Kreyol. I fell in love with the power of education and history on a person’s life. It sounds hokey, but that was my driving force.

Millery says -- I became a history major and when I graduated I knew I didn't want to become a high school teacher right away so I decided to apply to grad school since all my other nerdy history major friends were doing the same. It seemed like becoming a professor on the college level was the kind of life I wanted to have. So, in many ways it was quite practical.

Alice says – Right.

Alice says -- I'm still intrigued by the concept of you finding out that some of your high school friends had been Haitian and not admitted it. Were they not admitting it to you even?

Millery says -- Yes. It was weird. I look back on it now and many of them had Haitian last names. And maybe we never admitted it to each other.

Alice says –- LOL. That was going to be my next question. Couldn’t you tell they were Haitian from their names? Was haitianness a covert thing in high school?

Millery says-- In many ways I was clueless about what was considered a “Haitian” last name.

Alice says -- Were none of these kids getting together and speaking some Creole and joking about their parents the way I see my American born Haitian-American cousins do…

Millery says -- If you can believe it blackness was covert in the school I went to. No one spoke Kreyol. No vèvès on the school hallways

Alice says –- LOL. No vèvès on most school hallways in Haiti either believe it or not. LOL. In fact no vèvès in any school probably. But I know what you mean.

Alice says -- So your school was majority white?

Millery says – Yes, but you bring up a good question about performing identity. In some cases you get people doing that to distinguish themselves and other times people are reluctant and try to blend into the "white universal."

Alice says -- Do you think a similarly situated Haitian-American in a Boston school today that was like yours is having the same experience you had?

Millery says -- I know they are. I started a project about Haitians writing letters to Haiti and I received a number of letters from high school students who revealed some of that angst.

Alice says -- In the song Bay Micro'm Volume on Welcome to Haiti, Wyclef says "now we're on the map." (By we he means Haitians.) Is he a little too optimistic? Is the message in the music not trickling down just yet or is it that the culture among the kids has not quite caught up to where he's “at” in his own personal journey?

Millery says -- Well, I can take that several ways. There's a pop culture map where Edwidge and Garcelle Beauvais and Wyclef are spreading the word about who we are as a people. At the same time the message is trickling down but similar to Reaganomics, it's a slow trickle.

Alice says -- LOL

Millery says -- The overwhelming images we have are on television and the news and inform people's ingrained misconceptions.

Alice says – Right.

Millery says -- And I'm an academic and I know that few students will read my book or my articles. But I am dedicating it to Afri-Haitian Americans who ever had to struggle with who they are.

Alice says -- Why will only a few students read your books?

Millery says -- Well, unfortunately, the venues for academics early in their career to publish their work is limited to journals and presses that do not market to young people or their teachers.

Alice says -- What's an Afri-Haitian-American?

Millery says -- Afri-Haitian American is a moniker for people who are native Haitians or Americans born of Haitian parents who also can solidly identify as African American and with black issues in the U.S.

Alice says – Right. Do academics have the time or means to think of spreading their work beyond academia to others who also need it? I mean here you are on your way to tenure (you've already taught for three years) and you need to publish within those presses that you mentioned. Does that leave you time to even think of spreading some of your knowledge to some of these high school students who might be going around ignoring or even hiding their Haitianness?

Millery says -- I believe it's virtually nonexistent. We may give a talk here or there in a high school. I gave a talk at a Haitian unity dinner at St. John's University last year. And I hopefully will give a talk at a high school in Boston and elsewhere in the future.

Millery says -- In this age of publish or perish, academics teach their classes and go home and write. One could do outreach but that never happened when I was growing up. It is essential for that bridge between the university and high school to be built. Haitian professors need to know the teachers and principals in their communities. But admittedly it's tough.

On Black Public Intellectuals
Alice says -- What do you make of the many black public intellectuals who manage to build that bridge but mostly through the media? Cornel West who did a rap CD and appeared on the Matrix, Michael Eric Dyson etc. Even Manning Marable has a website and an agent.

Millery says -- Quite honestly, I was hatin' on public intellectuals for a while because I felt like the level of analysis was being watered down. But now I see their purpose and I understand that they come from a legacy of intellectuals who used the public forum to communicate their ideas to everyone.

Millery says -- What are your thoughts, Alice?

Alice says -- If I have any anxieties about academia it's precisely the idea of working so hard to be heard by so few who themselves are often so privileged. So I don't really mind the public intellectuals.

Millery says -- It's really the complexity of life and of individuals who desire the best for themselves and their people at the same time.

Alice says -- I see them as professionals like any professionals who want to do a good job while making a living…

Millery says –- Right. But many of our organizations/black colleges don't have the funds to pay for our own intellectuals.

Alice says –- True.

Millery says -– These academics are making six figures and it’s nearly impossible to hear their lectures because of the expensive honoraria or their busy schedules. I hope I never make that mistake.

Teaching Caribbean Immigrants at CUNY
Alice says – So did you choose to be at CUNY?

Millery says -- I did.

Alice says -- Did you even consider an Ivy or other private institutions?

Millery says -- Right now in my life I wanted to be at a public university, somewhere where students had a similar experience to mine. Although I went to a private college most students at CUNY are from working class families.

Alice says -– Right. So do you teach Haiti in your classes?

Millery says -– Definitely. I teach the Haitian revolution specifically and I also talk about race and color in Haiti in my History of the Caribbean course.

Alice says -- How many classes do you teach?

Millery says -- I basically teach History of the Caribbean, Modern Latin America and a course called Americas Encounter Europe. Three courses. I plan to offer a course on "the dictator" in the developing world.

Alice says -- What do you like most about being a history prof?

Millery says -- What I enjoy most is making history relevant to student's current dilemmas. When I can get a student to make connections with their current reality I'm a happy brotha.

Alice says -- Does that happen often?

Millery says -- Often, in the sense that every semester I have students who tell me they appreciate my class and what they learned. Evaluations are a good indicator. But I’m happy when a colleague will tell me that a student enjoyed my class.

Alice says -- What do you like least about being a history prof?

Millery says -- What I dislike is obviously the grading but that has nothing to do with history. I guess what I dislike and love the most is that there are no definite answers to life's most pressing questions.
(Photo Courtesy Brian A. Gaffney.)