Carla Calargé, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg & Clevis Headley (eds.), Haiti and the Americas. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. viii + 242 pp. (Cloth US$60.00)
Perhaps unbeknownst to the editors of this volume, since 1986 the Haitian Studies Association (HSA) has convened an annual conference that examines Haiti and the worldwide Haitian diaspora. HSA’s pioneering contribution is important to emphasize; as Raphael Daello notes, “These conversations often take place in isolation and without awareness of each other. Haiti and the Americas creates a dialogue between different fields and shows the diversity of approaches that are reclaiming Haiti’s presence at the crossroads” (p. 3). HSA’s annual meetings in contrast to the 2010 conference that the editors of this volume convened as “Haiti and the Americas: Histories, Cultures, Imaginations” at Florida Atlantic University, demonstrate that these conversations about Haiti and its people do take place regularly. Furthermore, holding the conference in 2010, the year of the devastating earthquake, invited reflections on a question that permeates but transcends this valuable text: when and how does Haiti “enter the conversation,” scholarly and otherwise? The contributors ponder various iterations of this query in their look at Haiti’s exclusions, omissions, and misrepresentations. The essays offer new research or engage familiar questions with fresh insights, moving from the nineteenth through the twenty-first century and calling on a variety of disciplines.
Sibylle Fischer, writing about Haiti and hemispheric independence, suggests that “this picture of a cosmopolitan Haiti with close ties to revolutionary movements in the Atlantic will come as a surprise to many readers” (p. 26). She convincingly argues that the acceptance of white Creoles’ fear of Haiti’s example on abolition has limited studies about its political influences on the Atlantic. Using Simón Bolívar’s experiences in Haiti and his interactions with President Alexander Pétion, she deftly inserts Haiti into debates about its contributions to Spanish American revolutionaries’ political ideologies. Matthew Casey then examines Haiti’s role in the region’s independence struggles, drawing from rich primary sources to present Cuban fighters who organized in Haiti during the Ten Years’ War. His references to Cubans’ strategies with the ship, the Hornet, enliven his argument about their struggles against imperialism. His thoughtful analysis of the Cuban branch of the tactics and uses of historical memory of the Union Patriotique offers new perspectives on their shared visions for independence in the twentieth century.
Jeff Karem analyzes the works of Haitian authors Anténor Firmin and Benito Sylvain, in an essay entitled “Haitian-American-Atlantic Cultural Crosscurrents.” He discusses their relationship to Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams, which resulted in the first Pan-African conference in 1900. Taking issue with the overwhelming credit given to W.E.B. Du Bois and the United States for Pan Africanism, he successfully demonstrates that Firmin, Benito-Sylvain, and Williams “presaged the postcolonial discourse that would emerge during the 1960s” (p. 90). David P. Kilroy then focuses on Charles Young, an African American military attaché to Haiti and Liberia, offering astute insights on race and imperialism in a thrilling account of Young’s military intelligence gathering in Haiti and his morality about the mission.
Bethany Aery Clerico assesses Charles Chesnutt’s reasons for writing the novel Paul Marchand, F.M.C. during the occupation period. She invites us to read it “not as a historical novel but as a literary quarrel with history” (p. 117). Calling on Édouard Glissant, she argues that the novel was a commentary about the Haitian Revolution’s impact. Lindsay Twa’s essay also looks at foreign artists who produced works about Haiti during this period. She skillfully evaluates images by Alexander King and Aaron Douglas as stereotypical portrayals. Nadève Ménard corrects notable scholars’ misreading of Annie Desroy’s Le Joug and reflects convincingly about the various power relations in this 1934 novel. She challenges misconceptions about the characters as “sympathetic,” and writes, “Nowhere in Le Joug is there mention of a romantic relationship between a Haitian and an American, a relationship based on anything other than power and sexual satisfaction” (p. 168). And she reveals Desroy’s intentions, successfully elucidating the way her characters commented on Haiti’s political exploitation. Ménard demonstrates how one of Desroy’s Hatian female characters challenges these power dynamics. Ménard’s essay is the only one in the volume that uses bilingual prose, a refreshing reminder of the need for linguistic plurality in studying Haiti.
For those who have viewed the film Ghosts of Cité Soleil and cringed at its methods, Christopher Garland offers well-developed explanations for those feelings. Through in-depth analysis of the people in the film and the various omissions about Haiti’s history and present realities, he demonstrates how “Ghosts is a Trojan horse of conservative ideology” (p. 181). His assessment of the relationship between Haitian Winston “2Pac” Jean and the French aid worker Eleonore Senlis offers apt insights about the foreign savior complex. Myriam J.A. Chancy sparks serious reflection on uneasy topics about Haiti and its global relationships. She draws thoughtful critical connections between “guillotine amputations” and the prevalence of the United Nations, USAID, etc. on the island. Using a range of historical examples, Chancy deftly demonstrates that “no Marshall Plan is feasible in the Haitian context that does not shift the perception of Haitians as beggars into that of partners” (p. 213). J. Michael Dash’s afterword addresses key issues about exile and cultural authenticity. His analysis of Léon Laleau, Jean Price-Mars, and Jacques Roumain elaborates on Jules de Gaultier’s term bovarysme, and its various articulations in Haiti. Dash aptly concludes with Dany Laferrière’s musings in “Je suis fatigué,” as a reminder about Haiti’s past and present role in the Americas.