Terms of Immigration, there is a real discrimination towards
From France Amerique
By Keren Lentschner
France-Amérique: What bonds does Haiti have to
the French language?
Jean Alexandre: French has long been the only
official language. Unfortunately, the masses are not exposed
to this language, and
use Creole as the popular and national language, which was made
the official language in 1987, in place of French. As for education,
all is done in French, from primary through secondary school. The
dominant class speaks French and embraces the French culture as
an integral part of its heritage. We are proud to be a part of
the francophone world.
Therefore, an important Haitian delegation,
composed by the minister of Education and the Ambassador of UNESCO,
has participated in
the summit at Beyrouth. In New York, we maintain very good relations
with the Ambassador of France, and the Organization of the Francophonie
at the United Nations. Facing the regression of French at the UN,
we have discussed with the Secretary General ways to increase its
usage, while decreasing the use of English in work.
Finally, in a summit on the durable development at Johannesburg,
the meeting of Francophonie permitted programs to aid in the education
and preservation of the French language to go into effect. Nevertheless,
the priority of the government, aside from education, lies in the
alphabetization of the population. Haiti counts 60 percent of alphabets
as opposed to 85 percent in 1986. The objective is to reduce this
rate by 10 to 20 percent by 2004, the bicentenary of our independence.
These are programs based on the teaching of Creole, which is much
easier than French. (In the rural regions, Creole is the spoken
language, but is not read or written.)
Is the Haitian community
that resides in the United States at an advantage to learn English
as opposed to the language of Molière?
It is mixed. One part
of the Diaspora comes from rural regions, not exposed to French.
On the other hand, those who have had a
classical education want to conserve French as the base language.
One sees therefore that books in French are in their foyers, which
permit them to continue to cultivate the French tradition and to
transmit it to the next generation. Even if there is resistance
sometimes on the part of the former, this is of little interest.
The first generation of Haitian immigrants mixed three languages:
Creole, English, and French. But it is true also that one part
of them have been victim to the division that represented the language,
and ignore French.
The Haitian community seems animated by generational gaps. Does
it try for a homogenous community?
There are, in effect, some breaks.
Immigration has begun since the 1960s, with the intelligentsia
and the middle class, who fled
the dictatorial regime of Duvalier. Then, in the 1980s, it became
a more economically motivated immigration, from the rather rural
provinces. This split persists today still. In the end, there has
been a third wave of immigration – that of the boat people,
fleeing the dictatorship and the army after the coup d’Etat
against President Aristide in 1991. There were more or less thousands.
Certain people were detained at Guantanamo, others were returned
to Haiti, and others obtained political asylum.
One feels a real
resentment the Haitians have towards the Americans, and the Bush
administration in particular, on the subject of the
This dates back to the 1980s. At that time, the
Americans integrated the Cubans into Florida with no problem. Similarly
traversed the frontier in order to enter the United States. This
was not the case with the Haitians, who were often returned or
incarcerated and obtained asylum with great difficulty. One has
therefore attended these camps of Haitian refugees at Guantanamo,
as I just said.
There is a real discrimination in the treatment
of Haitians as compared with that of the Cubans notably, who are
accepted as emblems
and integrated in the American society. It is a politics of “two
weights, two measures,” which perhaps has a racist foundation.
Why has international aid to Haiti stopped?
One attends a sort
of moratorium of economic aid. There are more than 600 million
frozen dollars destined for Haiti, blocked by
the World Bank, the IMF and other international organizations,
which have used political criteria to justify this decision.
What is it that still makes these boat people try their
luck en route to the United States?
For the Dominicans, the Haitians, or the Mexicans, it is the
same thing, the economic distress in their country. They come
a better future for their families and try to survive.
What view do the Haitians have towards the United States?
is rather large…It is about a completely different
world. There are barriers – linguistic…cultural…The
Haitians who immigrated here need a lot of time to get used to
The elections of November 5 have confirmed a certain lacking
of political maturity of the Haitian community, of which a large
did not vote. How do you explain this?
This comes from the difficulty
of adapting to the American lifestyle. In order to benefit from
the advantages that the American society
offers, one must organize. The Haitians have not yet understood
how the system functions here, which must exercise its influence
on the local and federal levels in order to have access to
the leaders. The community should be able to present its ideas
its desires. But integration is necessary, and it is not there
yet. However, there is the force of the ethnic group: to organize
itself in order to deliver a message, defend its rights, and
protect its economic and political interests.
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Translated from French by Charlotte