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When Donald Trump reportedly “referred to Haiti and some African nations as shithole countries,” I trembled. These comments weren’t exactly a surprise. I’d heard him demean other immigrant groups before, and a few weeks earlier, Trump reportedly referred to Haitians having AIDS, a gross and erroneous rumor from the 1970s that still plagues us today.
Still, I felt I was imploding. It was as if he’d planted a knife deep into my core. Indignation can kill a person. I know this because I am Haitian, and Haitians are a prideful bunch. Haiti was the first black republic and the first nation to abolish slavery, and because we successfully led a slave rebellion that freed us from oppression from France, Spain, England and even the U.S., we will forever pay the price.
Haiti is economically crippled because of a massive cycle of debt imposed by France and the U.S. The media incessantly labels us as “the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.” In December 2017, Trump’s administration ended Temporary Protective Status for 59,000 Haitian migrants seeking refuge in America from the deadly January 2010 earthquake. Haitians will be deported if they don’t leave by 2019.
“Take them out,” he said, as if our entire existence were an inconvenience.
I was broken for an entire day after these reported comments polluted the media. Haitians work extremely hard in the U.S. Some of them take menial jobs like cleaning and cooking, while others go on to become doctors and engineers. According to the Center for American Progress, the state of Florida would lose about $1.2 billion from its annual GDP without Haitian workers here through TPS. The Census Bureau found in 2015 that an estimated 127,189 people of Haitian ancestry lived in Miami-Dade County in 2015, an increase of 18 percent in the population. These Haitians join the workforce, becoming doctors, lawyers and politicians like Councilman Alix Desulme, who represents the 4th District in North Miami. He was equally outraged by Trump’s comments.
“On the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, the president showed the world his true color,” the councilman said in response to Trump’s comments. “To my fellow Haitians and constituents, please be reminded that we are proud and resilient.”
North Miami Mayor Dr. Smith Joseph, also immigrated from Haiti with his family in 1979. He went on to obtain a doctorate degree and become a member of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization. Mayor Joseph responded to Trump’s comments in a statement: “Our nation should not tolerate this overt racism from a president who is sworn to protect us.”
Historically, Haiti has always contributed to the greatness of other countries like France, and America. Haiti has been contributing to the American economy since having to borrow money from the U.S. and banks in France to repay France reparations. Haiti wore the Napoleonic army down and pushed him to relinquish the entire state of Louisiana to the United States, doubling the size of the country. Haitians like Alix Pasquet and Raymond Cassagnol joined the Tuskeegee Airmen during World War II in alliance with the United States. It was a Haitian man named Jean-Baptiste Point-du-Sable who is considered to be the founder of the city of Chicago. We continue today to enrich U.S. culture, gifting this country with thinkers, musicians, athletes, and scientists. Editor’ note: This paragraph has been edited to correctly reflect which countries Haiti borrowed from.
But President Trump could not name one of these remarkable immigrants who helped make America great. The thing is, Donald Trump could not name a single Haitian person because he doesn’t know us. He doesn’t know our history as the world’s first black independent nation, the first to abolish slavery, or as a country that helped others do the same.
He doesn’t know that we strive for excellence in American politics. State Sen. Daphne Campbell and County Commissioner Jean Monestime, both representing Miami-Dade County, are shining examples of this, as well as Mia Love, the Haitian-American Republican Congresswoman who issued a statement requesting that Trump apologize. Rep. Love’s parents immigrated from Haiti, and in her statement, said they “worked hard, paid taxes, and rose from nothing to take care of and provide opportunities for their children.”
Donald Trump cannot see our worth because he was never trained to see anyone else but himself. He is ignorant of our courage and endurance and humanity in the face of adversity. And in a couple days, when America returns to its daily life of steak dinners and reality television, we the Haitian people will still be there, remembering.