“When everything else collapses, culture remains.” — Dany Laferrière
Today marks the third anniversary of the earthquake that struck Haiti, and became one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. With each anniversary of the tragedy, major news outlets dole out reconstruction updates, reports from aid groups and government officials, and human interest stories. For each of these news segments, producers and editors organize interviews with talking heads considered to be experts on Haiti. Most either go with the running narrative about slow recovery and continued human misery, or choose a different angle, to tell an uplifting tale of good deeds by a charity and individual survival. They decide which story is worthy of the public’s attention.
In this continuum, the Haitian voice plays a minimal role — to confirm, validate or provide some historical context to what’s being discussed. Each new crisis, real or perceived, lends itself for profit, in a news echo chamber which exists to sell the story. As Dany Laferrière writes in his recent memoir about the earthquake, “The worst thing is not this succession of misfortunes, but the absence of all nuance in the camera’s cold eye.”
However, three years later, the people of Haiti (whether on the island or abroad), have their own stories to tell; that of pain, reflection, love and endurance. Haitian scholars, artists, journalists have woven tales of Goudougoudou into non-fiction essays and books, collections of short stories and blog posts, paintings and sculptures, music and poetry.
Communities across Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, New York City and Miami, Montreal and Paris, Nassau and the Bateyes, hold memorials to honor the dead. Grassroots groups organize community drives and local meetings to figure out how to get more resources: school supplies, food, potable water and health programs. Professionals’ organizations host conferences and benefits to celebrate their culture and raise funds and awareness for ongoing work in their homeland.
As Haiti commemorates the day on which she lost too many lives, and her story of misfortune captures the headlines and imaginations of the broader public, her culture endures. It is what the Haitian people hold on to, in remembrance of a painful chapter in their history. It is what fuels them to look towards a future in which they can rebuild their homeland. It is what the foreigners’ narratives cannot strip away from collective memory, and the earthquake could not shake away from existence.
Three years later, Haiti endures.