I watched this NY Times video (and read its accompanying article) about the unfortunate plans to build an industrial park on what is supposed to be reserved land in Caracol, Haiti about a month ago. It was my goal to write about it then, but I felt at once too close and too far away from the issue to actually speak, or type, on it.
My family is from Haiti, down in the southwest portion of the country in Jeremi. I was born in Brooklyn, USA, less than ten years after my parents (and aunts and uncles) made the journey over in the late 70s. I still have family there: an aunt, a few uncles, lots of cousins. I traveled there for the first time last summer, an experience I will never forget nor be able to fully describe. Now I’m friends with a bunch of those lots of cousins on Facebook (because the world is weird and not weird like that). And because I was so quick to give them all my cell phone number, in a raging moment of familial connection, I get regular automated text messages written in French asking me to refill the minutes on someone’s prepaid phone.
This is my relationship to the country where my parents were born: guilty distance and the stress of personal invasion. I feel guilty because I can’t properly speak the language, because I can’t cook the food, because I won’t be able to personally hand these and other traditions down to my eventual children. I will have to ask my mother to do it, which in turn will make me feel guilty for not seeking the same experience for myself at a much younger age. And I feel stressed because the entrance of these new, but not new, people into my life comes with a demand, often times financial, that I am not currently in the position to fulfill, but also don’t believe I should be forced to simply because I was born in America.
Whenever I get into an argument with my mother, which is obviously annoyingly often, I always end up reiterating the same point: what did you think would happen when you decided to raise some very American kids? She in turn voices her disappointment in the fact that I’ve apparently chosen a team.
This has nothing, and yet everything, to do with this video piece from the NY Times (which, btdubs, is a FINE piece of journalism). To sum it up as quickly as I can: former President Bill Clinton, co-chairman of Haiti’s Recovery Commission, is celebrating the Caracol Industrial Park as a win for the earthquake recovery effort in Haiti, even though plans for the factory park (way up in the north) are nowhere near the disaster area in Port-au-Prince (much farther south), where it still looks like the devastating quake happened yesterday. But no one’s really paying attention to the disparity in location because they’re too busy clinking glasses with Sae-A Trading, a South Korean clothing manufacturer and major supplier to American retailers like Walmart and Gap Inc.
Right after I watched the video, I had to check my outrage at Haiti being, yet again, the unsuspecting and hopeless victim of the United States. I had to check myself because: while it’s enraging how wrong this is on a historic and cultural level, there are key details that hold direct consequences, like how factory emissions will affect Haiti’s extensive mangrove reserve and a strip of coral reef; South Korea as a player in this situation raises the idea that the still reverberating effects of colonization have changed and adapted in a globalized world; and I am having trouble sorting out my place, if I have one, in this (hi)story.
I am so Haitian and so American at the same time: rice and beans for dinner, apple pie for dessert. And it becomes a very complicated thing to want to speak out against such an injustice when my connection to it exists on a level I’ve never truly been in tune with. But because that connection is so strong, even in my lack of understanding, it makes it that much harder to feel that I can’t do anything about it; to feel as if History got them, got us, got me again; to wonder why this country and good (or any) fortune are always at odds.
But this isn’t about me; so let’s objectively take it back. Perhaps what might be most fascinating about this giant nature eating industrial amusement park is how it is just the slightest remix of the destructively violent song we’re all too used to hearing the U.S. serenade Haiti with. What makes History so impressively oppressive is not its mere repetition. Anything can happen twice. It’s the inevitability of Chaos: these ferocious, nonsensical, stubborn patterns that have the ability to skip over oceans and bring trouble to any and all shores. How does South Korea, a country (like any) with its own complicated past, a country that has also been the victim, find itself on the side of the aggressor as the rest of us watch on, squinting as if we’ve seen this scene before? It’s Chaos rearing its familiar head again.