The Haitian community here has taken a hit this month — the director of the Little Haiti Cultural Center was fired in early April, and on April 13 came the announcement that the popular Big Night in Little Haiti would end its run on Friday.
Big Night in Little Haiti — a monthly celebration of Haitian culture with food, music, dancing, and art — felt like a big block party. It was a win for a community that doesn’t get them too often, and in its five years it’s become a neighborhood institution that brings out not just nearby residents of all ages, but people from across Miami. To say people are dismayed by its end is putting it mildly.
On its final night Friday, a defiant crowd packed the Little Haiti Cultural Center, in spite of a downpour, to say farewell. We went and asked attendees what they think we’re losing with its end.
Marie Vickles, Little Haiti Cultural Center curator
I’ve been working with the Little Haiti cultural center since 2009 and I’m currently their curator in residence. This event has brought Haiti to Little Haiti. It has brought the experience of hearing live Haitian music, eating delicious Haitian cuisine, and hanging with all your Haitian peeps that you haven’t seen for years in the heart of Little Haiti. It’s been a beautiful experience. It’s also been a great way to share Haitian culture with the community of Miami at large. We are losing all of these beautiful things. We are losing a very enriching and encompassing and open cultural experience that is unique to Miami. There isn’t another Little Haiti anywhere else. Big Night in Little Haiti night has been a cornerstone in building the appreciate for Haitian culture.
Jean Longchamps, construction manager
It reminds me of places I would go in New York, like Central Park or Brooklyn, where people would really come together for an event. You don’t have that in Miami, where different cultures get together. For me, this the only place I’ve been that’s like a kaleidoscope of cultures. I think we are losing some of the glue that holds this place together.
Monique Moyer, middle school teacher
There is a large population of Haitian people in Miami and it’s important to celebrate their contributions. It creates community and camaraderie among people to come together and listen to music, dance and eat with good people. We are losing that sense of camaraderie. It’s so valuable to celebrate the arts in our various cultures, traditions, and communities, and we are losing that inspiration.
Lutze Segu, writer and blogger
This is the only event in Miami that centers on Haitian folks, so this is very important. And also when you look around you see that this is multi-generational audience. You have everyone from little babies to grandmas, and it’s very rare that you are able to find multi-generational Haitian Black folks coming together and congregating. This space was like church. It was like a family reunion and essentially that is what is being taken away. …
What’s getting lost is a sense of culture, a sense of language. This is how you disseminate culture, by exposing people to it. Once you take it away where will go now? Where will we convene as a larger family in a public space? I read about what happened and the lack of funding. But I find it hard to believe that if this was another community this event would have simply gone away. To me, it further shows that what Haitian people contribute to the city is not really valued. Our culture, our music, our politics, what we want, what we need is not really centered. It shows a lack of respect to what we add to the community.
Valencia Gunder, community activist
We can put aside everyday work, the politics, the foolish, and we had a place where we could come and get some good food, hear some good music, fellowship with your neighbors, and just feel good about life. I’m not Haitian, I am Bahamian. But one thing I like about the Haitian community is that they are never ashamed of their culture. They’ve come to a place that no matter how old you are or where you’re from, you can come and learn about the culture, learn about the food, learn about the art and feel good about yourself. They are always so welcoming. …
Hope. That’s what we are losing. I believe when people see new things come into their community made them and by them, it gives them hope. So with them losing this, they are losing a little piece of hope. It’s like, why can’t we have something to help uplift our community through the arts, through our culture? And they are taking that away. It’s a slap in the face. It’s like they are trying to whitewash Miami. It’s an insult.
Daniel Agnew, activist with Dream Defenders
From my perspective, there are a lot of different cultures that reside in Miami, from Little Havana to Wynwood to South Beach. But Big Night in Little Haiti is significant because it highlights the culture, the art, the food, the dance of the Haitian community. And recently there has been discussion around taking this away from the people of Little Haiti. I’ve always researched the political aspect and climate of the barriers in the city. If you look closely, there is a 40 percent unemployment rate among Haitians in Miami. So this is the one time monthly that individuals that are from here who might not have any other outlet can come out, congregate and celebrate with each other. So for me, I come out every month because it inspires me and it gives me a little bit of hope that our culture is still intact.
Francesca Menes, policy director for Florida Immigrant Coalition and candidate for Florida House District 108
This is a space where our people can come together to party and celebrate our culture. I remember being here in Little Haiti when the Caribbean Market Place was just something here. There were no activities or anything. Then the city finally invested in this and it flourished. Fast forward to hearing the news that Sandy [Dorsainvil] was pulled out of the LHCC. It was such a disrespect. For a person that has given her whole [life] to make sure that she built up this cultural center to the fact that its nationally and internationally recognized.
We are losing the foundation of why we care so much about our culture and why we need spaces where our children can come together. Because now it’s like, how long will the space be maintained? What director will come in and make sure wholeheartedly that we keep a space for our children?