Haiti and the Americas Conference: October 23, 2010
Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton
The final day of the Haiti and the Americas conference moved from FAU’s campus to the Wyndham Garden Hotel, and was attended by representatives of South Florida’s WLVJ radio station who interviewed a number of conference participants for their program. Participants were treated to two especially strong panels, on the topics “African Americans and Haiti” and “Haiti’s Politics.” On the first panel, Leslie Alexander of Ohio State University presented her research on the contradictory positions taken by black activists in the United States with regards to U.S. relations with Haiti in the early nineteenth century. Bethany Aery Clerico of SUNY-Albany talked about how the complex ways that Haiti features in Charles Chesnutt’s novel Paul Marchand, F.M.C. David Kilroy of Nova Southeastern University discussed African American Charles Young’s experience as military attaché to Haiti from 1904 to 1907. All of these papers spoke to the negotiation between sympathy these African American intellectuals expressed for the free black republic as well as their attitudes of patriotism to the U.S. and paternalistic superiority over their ostensibly less-developed neighbor.
The second panel continued these discussions by focusing on how U.S. foreign policy as well as relationships to U.S. hip-hop culture affects Haitian politics and conceptions of citizenship. The first paper, by Adam Silvia of Florida International University, contextualized neo-liberal policies regarding investment in the state versus free market solutions in terms of the legacy of both U.S. academic training as well as Duvalierism. Then independent scholar Isabelle Airey presented a personal narrative of the Haitian American experience in the U.S., in particular in terms of the temptation to dissolve national identification into a broader African American identity. Christopher Garland of the University of Florida followed with a reading of the film Ghosts of Cité Soleil in terms of its representation of Aristide and his supporters, arguing that the film’s narrative techniques juxtapose scenes of Aristide with uncontextualized scenes of violence to imply connections between them. Finally, Nadève Ménard of the Université d’Etat d’Haiti talked about the varied responses generated by Wyclef Jean’s attempts to run for president of Haiti, addressing the issues raised by his public relations strategies and the assumptions about Haiti’s inability to govern itself often behind discussions of his candidacy in the U.S.
These panels produced a wonderful discussion of the issues surrounding Haiti’s relationship with the United States. Michael Dash of New York University, Myriam Chancy of the University of Cincinnati, Faith Smith of Brandeis University, Patricia Saunders of the University of Miami, Jerry Philogene of Dickinson College, Elena Machado Sáez of Florida Atlantic University, and a number of other conference participants raised productive questions about the transnationalism of hip-hop culture, the viability of Haitian sovereignty and citizenship in both the post-Aristide and post-earthquake context, and what an ethical relationship between Haiti and the U.S. might look like. The final day of the conference thus proved the culmination of three days of intensive thought and interrogation of Haiti’s place in the hemisphere, and generated a lot of energy and enthusiasm for continuing to think about and discuss these issues in the future.