From NFL players to college presidents to think-tank heads, influential Haitians living abroad could be a powerful voice for reform.
by JOEL DREYFUSS
When Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic torch at opening ceremonies for Tokyo 2020, thousands of Haitians swelled with pride. And when she lost unexpectedly in the tennis competition, many in the country shared her pain. For Haitians, Osaka, whose father is Haitian-American, is yet another high-profile member of a vibrant Haitian diaspora that could play an important role in addressing Haiti’s chronic political problems.
The yet-unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moise has put Haiti’s volatile politics and grinding poverty into the spotlight. A month after Moise’s death, a new prime minister has introduced a new cabinet and the U.S. has dispatched security experts to help the Haitian government secure vital infrastructure, though the White House insists there is still no plan to send troops.
The debate about what to do in the aftermath has yet to invoke an important resource: the more than 2 million Haitians living abroad. That’s not surprising. The Haitians in the diaspora evoke mixed feelings in Haiti: pride in successes like Osaka’s and disdain because they left the country. For a number of years, “Diaspo” has been a derogatory term, evoking the image of an arrogant Americanized Haitian who came home to flaunt his or her success.
But as Haiti has sunk into despair, the diaspora could be a lifeline. Haitians living abroad are not tainted by the corruption that pervades the political class in Haiti, and have achieved success in more meritocratic societies. The diaspora has acquired expertise, cultural and political clout, and experience living in democratic countries. As America struggles to respond to Haiti’s crisis, policymakers in Washington and diaspora members themselves should think about how to tap this resource. In particular, the diaspora can use their influence in Washington—as well as Ottawa and Paris—to bring international attention to the work of a commission of progressive reformers in Haiti. By shining a light on Haitian solutions to Haitian problems, the community can help break Haiti’s vicious cycle of disorder, hope and disappointment.
Haitians have been migrating in large numbers to the U.S. and Canada since Francois Duvalier seized power in the late 1950s. A second, larger wave fled when his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier succeeded his father in 1971. Haitian communities abroad, now in their second and third generations, have produced notable examples of upward mobility and achievement. Haitian-Americans are corporate executives, college presidents and deans, writers and playwrights, elected officials, actors and professional athletes, doctors and nurses, technicians and caregivers. Prominent Haitian-Americans include former Nintendo of North America President and CEO Reginald Fils-Aimé, Xavier University of Louisiana President Reynold Verette, novelist and MacArthur “genius” Edwidge Danticat, reality-show producer Mona Scott-Young (“Love and Hip Hop”), musician Wyclef Jean, University of Miami medical school dean Henri Ford, former Republican congresswoman Mia Love, essayist Roxanne Gay and NFL linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul.
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