haiti Archives - The Jose Vilson


Living Quisqueya

by Jose Vilson on April 19, 2011

in Jose

This past weekend, I spent some time with my Dominican parents. To be specific, my Dominican mother and stepfather, both of whom enjoy the Dominican satellite channels offered on Time Warner Cable. They’ll watch shows rooted in guttural comedy, scantily-clad voluptuous women, and nationalism sprinkled throughout the programming. They laugh, shake, dance, and yell at the television, even when the situation doesn’t call for it. My parents respond to the automatic trigger of the palm trees, the beige dust rising after Passats sweep by the rocks of the highways. I’m shaken by images of lighter complexions featured within the studios and darker hues outside of the studio.

Even from far away, their perceptions about Blackness get reinforced by the TV they want to see.

It was only a few years ago that I got my mom to admit her own Blackness. While I don’t believe all Latinos are Black, I find it disingenuous for one of the first colonies in the Western Hemisphere to deny any parts of their Blackness. Much of this was engrained into them by the founders of the national identity, who wanted no part of anything remotely Haitian. It’s as if the duel between Dominican Republic’s founders and Haiti’s founders lies in who wanted to appease their former oppressors. While Haiti celebrates its independence from a European country, Dominican Republic celebrates its independence from its own neighbor. This belief is so prevalent still that even a literal seismic shift in the form of an earthquake couldn’t mend the fences between these two countries.

But I’ve grown weary of trying to tell others that Haitians and Dominicans practically listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and appreciate the same weather. Our flag colors are the same, and many of our traditions descend right from the continent of Africa. I’ve been stuck in between these arguments where people who refuse to accept the others’ side of things, wondering when a people so similar will actually come together and take advantage of the plentiful resources of their own island.

I’m also tired of the lack of responsibility countries like The United States, France, and Spain have played in perpetuating the frictions and tensions in this relationship. While I admit that I don’t know much Kreyol nor have I been to Haiti, I consider myself every bit as Haitian as the next Haitian.

Thus, I commend Henry Louis Gates for the exposure and care he took to document these experience in the first installment of Black in Latin America on PBS. I just wish I knew what to do with all this information. Besides be myself.

Jose, who is black, no maybe …

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Every Waking Moment I’m Haitian, Too

by Jose Vilson on January 12, 2011

in Jose

The New Year marked the 207th year of Haitian independence from French rule, a big footnote in time rubbed away into the crevices of Anglo history books. What many should consider a moment of celebration and exaltation gets shrouded in the dire situation that Haiti’s lived in since. Corrupt leaders, disintegrated economies, and disruptive occupants have ravaged a still proud country to its current state. Thus, I find it only appropriate that people choose to remember the one-year anniversary of the most devastating earthquakes in its history; what the world perceived as help towards the country turned into a loophole for the “First” world to re-intervene into the country’s politics.

It’s with this thinking that I had my first initial annoyance this morning. Maybe I should have stepped back because my friends and acquaintances are well-intended surely. Overall, as I read the messages, though, I couldn’t help but snicker when people asked me to take a moment for Haiti. I said to my screen, “What exactly does this moment look like?” Is it a Haitian emblem or using words like Ayiti or sak pase? More importantly, is this going to last another couple of years before some subliminal news story hits that the newly installed Haitian government can’t seem to get it together on their own, even when stories of the people’s will have come in droves? Do we forget this the way we forgot the tsnumanis, hurricanes, and un-unatural disasters that have hit the world over?

Because I haven’t. I can’t. No matter how little I speak the language or any of those social indicators, I’m still Haitian. Every moment I step in a positive direction, I do it for Haiti. Others do it for Southeast Asia. Others still do it for New Orleans. Whoever they do it for, they do it not as a “moment,” but an urgency. You have every right to. If you’re going to remember once a year and continue with your personal causes, then that’s your imperative. Few think about this, but if we’re products of our environment, we’re equally the representatives of them, even if we choose to not associate with it.

Thus, after January 12th, there will still be that feeling for me. It’s probably the longing to visit the side of the island I haven’t been to yet.

Jose, who’s just a writer now, no edublogging.


Short Notes: Because Everybody Can Serve

by Jose Vilson on January 17, 2010

in Short Notes

Coretta Scott King

A few links:

There just isn’t enough I can say about the intimacy and immediacy of the past 5-6 days. This doesn’t include work-related or home-related business of my own. The situation in Haiti has made me rethink some of the core memories I’ve had about my Haitian background (and my Dominican background as well). Even after finding out yesterday that my brother eventually found his mother and brother in Haiti were alive, I found myself re-energizing the activist in me, and that felt great. Here are a few tidbits I left on my Twitter in essay form:

It’s funny; people ask me, “Jose, why rally for Haitians when for most of your life, you were ostracized by them?” “Your whole first 1/2 of your life, you barely acknowledged that part of you except in company of other Haitians …” “You don’t speak Creole outside of a few words here and there, and your collection of Zouk is paltry at best.” If people knew these things, they’d be right to wonder why I’ve rallied behind my Ayiti-ness for the last 7-9 years. Here are at least a few reasons why I decided to stand by Haiti, even after my father made me so bitter about that experience:

  • 1) No matter how much you try to deny your culture, I believe the soul of the land always calls you back. Home is funny that way.
  • 2) My mom always told me not to be bitter about it, and grow. It took me years, but I finally understand what she means.
  • 3) I look at Haiti everytime I wash my face in the morning. There’s no escaping that. The jaw. The eyebrows. The smile. Yep.
  • 4) When I learned about Haiti’s proud history, I realized just how much of that set precedent. Independence is not free.
  • and most importantly, 5) I am not part anything. I am full Haitian as I am full Dominican. No in-between.

When I came in contact with my elder brother, and my cousins, I came with a renewed sense of my identity after knowing this. Where before I barely felt like seeing them, I’ve formed a stronger union with my immediate Vilsons. Dug deeper into histories. For that matter, despite what anyone thinks, the island’s name is Quisqueya, not Hispaniola. I am full Quisqueya. More important than the donating I did today, the food drives I’m helping to organize, etc., it’s making sure the culture lives. I still can’t speak a lick of Creole, but I can’t let that define my culture. It’s not so finite. It re-hashes pain, but I grow.

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Jose, who has maybe a week more until he drops the website. Let’s do this.


Tearing The House Down pt. 2: Hands Up For Haiti

January 12, 2010 Jose
A scene after the earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th, 2010

For many of us in the United States, independence means a ton. Even for the most marginalized of groups, we scream and kick for it because of the hypocritical nature of this hollow pursuit of happiness. For most of us in this country, we enjoy freedoms that we often take for granted. From the computers […]

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The Sounds of Quisqueya Call Me Right Back

May 19, 2009 Jose
Jose In The Dark

Today, Raquel Cepeda linked me to a post about Dominican-Haitian relations that she wrote on her blog, and for those of you who know me, you know I had to jump on that quickly. Most of you know my story already: Dominican mom, Haitian father, grew up conflicted about my identity and how people sought […]

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Protecting Our Children From What?

March 4, 2008 Jose

On Friday, our grade / floor celebrated Dominican Independence Day / Black History Month, through a series of performances, from song and dance to Powerpoint slides and poetry (including yours truly.) I wasn’t bothered at all by the performances or even the more pro-Dominican stance the school usually takes. It’s ingrained nationalism, and perpetuated by […]

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