The Haitian character? Well, as you see, fortunately I'm not a scholar. It seems to me like a scholar has to be always neutral, has always to be right in the middle. I don't care about thaL I'm a very passionate man. The Haitian character? Let me teil you. Our country, our people always had the reputation of being the most hospitable. We may not have a lot to offer, but we are very hospitable. I grew up in a very small village, even though he [Michel Trouillot] would say that I'm not a peasant My village had about sixteen to seventeen hundred inhabitants. And there were a lot things that I didn ' t like. For instance, if you were talking to a girl, if you kissed a girl, the next second the whole village would know about it. If you tried to smoke, the first adult would teil you - maybe if you were lucky - Tm going to teil your mother, I'm going to teil your father." If you were not lucky, he'd whip you right there. But there was something that, after I lef t my village and went to Port-au-Prince (that was already a city too big for me), when I went to Port-au-Prince I saw exactly what I was missing. I belonged somewhere. Everybody was protecting me. Nothing could happen to me. If I feil from a horse, the first person passing by would piek me up, ask me what was wrong. If I was swimming in the river, somebody would stop and say "Do you know how to swim?" Do you know what I'm say ing? And then when I left my village I feit I was very, very protected. Let me teil you another little incident I was on a bus going from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haiü'en. My village is near Cap Haitien. We passed the city of Sl Mare, and then we saw another bus that broke an axle. And then the driver of my bus stopped. "What's wrong with you?" "Oh, I broke my axle." "Do you have another one?" "No, but in St. Mare there is one I ordered, and it is right there, but I cannot come back." He said: "OK, everybody down." We left the bus. There was only one guy who protested, because he had to be in Cap Haitíen. Now he [the bus driver] tumed around. He went and picked up the axle, carne back with it. And then you know who gotonthebustogoon?The people that were in a huny. So we changed buses, and this is the way that we used to be. Now, with Duvalier, the Haitian character seemed to have been changed. Because it was a kind of spying on each other, accusing each other where fathers and mothers and children were very suspicious of one another. And I thought that what I knew when I was growing up was forever lost. That our character had been changed. And then here comes Aristide. And this is the reason why I am for him, and Haitians seem to get together again. I am in Boston, where we have organized demonstrations of 30,000 people, and there are 50,000 [Haitian] people in Boston. You can imagine that only pregnant women were not at these demonstrations. And here I see again, old, young, men, women, sharing food, talking. And I say , really Duvalier didn't succeed in killing their character. And you see why I was so anxious to answer your question. It's that our democracy isn't going to be built on anything else than our culture, our tradition and our character. It doesn 't have to have a branch of the Ku Klux Klan to be recognized as democratie. We don 't have to have our equivalent of Dan Quayle, or anything of that soit. We want to be able to build. We don't believe that democracy is one for all. I think that each country will have to build it and créate these institutions according to our character, the problems that we have, and what is our dream. Our dream doesn't happen to be the American dream. I don't feel, in a small little country like mine, I don't have the urge of having a two car garage. And I don't care about having a swimming pool. I have the whole Caribbean Sea to swim in if I want. So, you see, the problem is that, yes, our character, our tradition, our culture, they have to be the field of our democracy, the way we see it, where we can build our dream. I MOTÉ As AGENDA goes to press, thousandsofHaitiansarefleeingtheirhome- land, desperately trying to reach the shores of Florida. The U.S. State Department has tried to send the ref ugees back, stationing CoastGuard cutters off the coast of Haiti to intercept the boat people befare they even get close to the U.S. mainland. The Haitians, the Bush administration argües, are fleeing for economie reasons, not because they face political persecution. A federal judge in Miami disagrees and has temporarily halted the return of about 2,600 Haitians now in Coast Guard custody. The 700-mile trip from Haiti to Florida is a dangerous one. The Coast Guard estimates that only one-half of those who start the joumey are successful due to the overcrowding of unseaworthy vessels. Why do the Haitians risk such odds? Since the coup of September 30, and the embargo which followed, üfe in this hemisphere' s poorest country has gotten worse. Poverty, unemployment and hunger are more widespread and the araiy is brutal in its repression of dissent A headline to a New York Times article of Nov. 24 tells one part of the story: "Refugees fear army more than sea." Another part of the story can be found in "The Haitian Character," an extemporaneously spoken mini-essay byJean-ClaudeMartineau, Haitian poet, playwright and activist. Martineau informs us, by way of anecdote and angst, what Haitians are like, and how they yearn for their own style of democracy based on theii national character. Jean-Claude Martineau, along with historian Michel Trouillot, spoke last month to an overflow crowd at the Robert Hayden Lounge at U-M's Center for African and African-American Studies. The event was organized by Haitian studentGinaUlysseandabroad coalition of student and faculty groups. Martineau fought against the Duvalierfamily'sdictatorship andmore recently worked in Boston's Haitian consulate for the now-deposed Aristide government While Martineau's main talk was about the 1791 Haitian Revolution, during the question and answer session a woman asked him to comment on the "Haitian character." To the right is nis response,as recorded and transcribed by AGENDA staffer Eric Jackson.
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