Signs of Change: Watching the Caribbean


There are tectonic geopolitical plates shifting all over the world. The refugee crisis in Europe is permanently changing demographics on that continent.  There are growing disputes over Islands all over East Asia between emerging global powers, and the beginnings of serious climate-change related population displacement are being felt all over much of the coastal-dwelling world. When one considers our own backyard, the Gulf of Mexico, and by extension, the Caribbean Islands further south, there are even more signs of coming change.  Earlier this year, Puerto Rico underwent a massive cataclysm brought on by a hurricane that wiped out much of the island’s power grid, sending hundreds of thousands of people back into the dark ages for varying lengths of time.

More recently, Haiti has experienced a series of riots and major governmental shuffles as a result of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) incredibly tough stipulations surrounding the country’s need for borrowing even more money in the form of grants and nation-building programs. Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been doing this dance with the IMF for decades. The game of crushing a developing country with ridiculous amounts of debt is nothing new for these organizations. Haiti, however, has been in the grinder of international predatory lending for some time. The most recent changes to their agreement for borrowing from the IMF was a massive increase in fuel prices which sent the country into panic, causing riots and massive property damage all over the country as citizens protested the double-digit increase in fuel prices.

The Prime Minister of Haiti, Jack Guy Lafountant, has since stepped down in light of the riots and fuel price change, casting a feeling of uncertainty over the island. Although there has not been a massive exodus of people from the island yet, one can follow the trends of history to this being an inevitable conclusion. With so many other islands in the Caribbean facing similar destabilization, whether through climate change, political shuffling or both, the end result could be a massive exodus of refugees onto coastal American cities. This has happened many times before; from Miami in the 1970s and 80’s as a result of Cuba going red, all the way back to the original wave of Haitian migration, particularly into New Orleans, in the 1780s-1810’s. While many Americans consider Haitian influence a feature more common to Southern Florida, one must not forget how close and directly related local Creole culture is with Haitian culture. If Haiti were to have a mass exodus, there is little doubt that many potential new-comers from Haiti to the States would seek the Crescent City as their refuge, much like they did after the Haitian Revolution, some 200 years before.

After the French Revolution in the 1790’s, there came a wave of revolutions all over the colonized world, with Haiti being a major example of the emancipationist zeitgeist of the time. When New Orleans was under Spanish rule, the influx of French-speaking creoles and French European immigrants revitalized the French heritage of the city. After the great fires of the 1790’s that destroyed a large majority of the city’s structures, it was the French and Haitian Creole population that helped restore the francophone architecture to a city that had become Spaniard in its design. From examining the influence of Haitian Creole culture through its connection to France, one finds an astounding amount of influence their arrival had on the city of New Orleans.

What we find today is a much more complex picture. Haiti is no longer as tethered to France as it once was, and over the time of its mostly turbulent existence, it has created an image far more Afro-Caribbean than Francophone. However, the Creole culture that exists today in New Orleans is still heavily underpinned by the Haitian Creoles that had cultivated its prominence some two hundred years ago. The cultural similarities of Haitian Creole culture still remain strong within the fabric of the city. If there were to be another Haitian migration, one could argue that New Orleans is just as compatible with these potential refugee’s as southern Florida. Since Haitian’s were such a massive force in revitalizing New Orleans after the catastrophic fires of the 1790’s, one could only imagine what kind of support and cultural preservation they may offer us in this epoch of inter-cultural exchange. For many Haitian’s living in Haiti, New Orleans offers the possibility of entering a world familiar enough to thrive, but new enough to help innovate and further enrich the culture of a city that their impact helped preserve. Seeing Haiti in turmoil, New Orleanians should look to their own history and understand the immense pillar of culture and contribution that the Haitians have always upheld.

Bibiography

  1. https://www.npr.org/2018/07/15/629198841/haitis-prime-minister-resigns-after-riots-over-fuel-price-hike
  2. https://www.gonola.com/things-to-do-in-new-orleans/arts-culture/nola-history-the-new-orleans-haitian-connection

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