Friday, February 12, 2016

Haiti and the Americas Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins, PhD



Calarge, Carla, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, eds. Haiti and the Americas. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1617037573. 256 pp. Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins, PhD




            Haiti and the Americas, edited by Carla Calarge, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, is a collection of essays that provide the reader with contemporary interpretations of Haiti as more than the sum of its revolutionary roots in the New World. Exploring Haiti as a seat of transnationalism, in the diasporic world, each contributor uses Haiti’s complicated history as a point of departure while placing the island nation on a global stage as a powerful ally and symbol of empowerment whose narratives of freedom sparked discontentment among other European colonies in the Western hemisphere. The volume begins with a detailed introduction written by Raphael Dalleo that provides the scope and sequence for collection. With Dalleo introduction laying the foundation, Haiti and the Americas presents Haiti as “a crossroads to the Americas” (3) as each essay articulates its author’s linguistic vision regarding the role that Haiti played in the creation of other independent nations and countries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as its contemporary representations in the twentieth-first century.
            Advocating a sense of solidarity centered on Haiti’s early contributions to other Caribbean colonies anchored in the belief that they were all connected by a “shared history of slavery and imperialism” (60). Featuring nine chapters, an afterword, and an index, Haiti and the Americas, is subdivided into four sections united by overlapping themes of freedom: Part 1: “Haiti and Hemispheric Independence,” Part 2: “Haiti and Transnational Blackness,” Part 3: “The U. S. Occupation,” and Part 4: “Globalization and Crisis.” Highlighting Haiti’s role as a sanctuary for free people of color in the Caribbean, Sibylle Fischer’s Bolivar in Haiti Republicanism in the Revolutionary Atlantic uses correspondences exchanged between Bolivar and Petion to examine the ways in which Haiti inspired and supported Bolivar’s struggle for independence in Venezuela during the nineteenth century. Continuing along this vein, Mathew Casey’s Between Anti-Humanism and Anti-Imperialism: Haitian and Cuban Political Collaborations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries draws on the relationships between Haitians, Latin Americans, and Caribbean Creoles to document the ways that these people worked to free themselves and others from European rule. Connecting Haiti with other nations and countries in the Caribbean, Fischer’s and Casey’s essays lay the foundation for the discussion of Pan-Africanism and its role in these conversations.
            Part 2: “Haiti and Transnational Blackness,” investigates the growth of Pan-Africanism throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States. Viewed as a production of dialogical exchanges and social interactions between expatriates from the Harlem Renaissance and intellectuals from former Francophone colonies such as Martinique and Algeria, Pan-Africanism emerged as a source of racial pride centered on an appreciation for Africa and the cultural heritage of diasporic Black people. In Haiti, Pan-Africanism, and Black Atlantic Writing Resistance, Jeff Karem positions the development of Pan-African ideology in Haiti as a reaction to international interference in the island nation’s political, social, and economic affairs. A new symbol of Haitian freedom, David R. Kilroy’s Being a Member of the Colored Race: The Mission of Charles Young, Military Attache to Haiti, 1904-1907 uses Young’s experiences to examine the development of “Pan-African ideologies” (77) as a response to racism and marginalization experienced by inhabitants on the island. Deconstructing perspectives of Haiti as a spectral presence in the New World, the second section of Haiti and the Americas provides the reader with positive images of Haiti by rewriting its narratives into large discourses of freedom.
            Shifting from the reconstruction of Haitian history during the years immediately following the revolution through the early twentieth century, Part 3: “The U. S. Occupation,” studies Haiti as a tactical location in “a larger Caribbean geostrategic puzzle” (99) used by writers and artists in their verbal and visual representations of the island nation. Drawing on American literary and cinematic uses of the Haitian Revolution this section presents essays that juxtapositions Haitian history with Black peoples’ disenfranchisement in the United States. In Haiti’s Revisionary Haunting of Charles Chesnutt’s “Careful” History in Paul Marchand, F. M. C., Bethany Aery Clerico situates Haiti in the lived experiences of Black people in the United States in ways that connect their struggle for a self-defined cultural identity with that of Haiti’s struggle for freedom in the New World. This theme is one that resurfaces in Lindsay Twa’s The Black Magic Island: The Artistic Journeys of Alexander King and Aaron Douglas form and to Haiti as the author considers how members of the Harlem Renaissance drew inspiration for their literary and artistic forms of cultural expression. Using verbal and visual renderings of Haiti and Haitian life, Harlem Renaissance writers and artists used their texts to feed the larger society’s curiosity for stories of their lived experiences and social realities in ways that reflected the sociopolitical climate of the times. This is a study that Nadeve Menard continues in Foreign Impulses in Annie Desroy’s Le Joung in which these this works show a marriage of Haitian and Black American ideologies through the use of Haitian-identified characters and their American counter-parts. Moving the conversations surrounding Haiti from one of revolution to that of a former island superpower weighted down by larger societal reluctance to make its contributions to the Western world a matter of public record.
            Tapping into their inherited “primal unconsciousness” (138) contributors to part 4: “Globalization and Crisis,” features essays that positions Haiti in larger societal conversations of sovereighty or territory by drawing parallels between the lived experiences and social realities of the Haitian populous with those in the United States. Using a documentary film Christopher Garland’s The Rhetoric of Crisis and Foreclosing the Future of Haiti in Ghosts of Cite Soleil explores the use of cinematic rhetoric to reinforce negative images and stereotypes of Haiti. Relying on symbolism to deconstruct prevailing views of Haiti as a country in need of saving and challenging its erasure from Western historical narratives, Myriam J. A. Chancy’s A Marshall Plan for Haiti at Peace: To Continue or End the Legacy of the Revolution ponders solutions for the rebuilding of Haiti and the recognition of its role in the development of other nations and countries in the New World. Relying on the use of counter-narratives, this section re-establishes Haiti’s narrative as an island nation founded by slaves while rejecting the status of exotic erotic in need of saving. This is a point of contention that J. Michael Dash expands upon in the afterword. Providing a fitting summation to the entire edited volume, Dash’s Neither France nor Senegal: Bovarysme and Haiti’s Hemispheric Identity ushers in the next phase of Haiti’s return to its post-revolutionary glory. This essay calls for a rebirth of Negritude and Pan-African philosophies in the Haitian consciousness and for political activism among its citizenry in an effort to reclaim not only its cultural heritage, but also aid it in the creation of a self-defined cultural identity.
            A collection of interrelated essays, Haiti and the Americas places the island nation on a continuum within larger societal conversations of freedom. Using a variety of conceptual frameworks and methodological lenses, each essay provides a fresh, unbiased rearticulation of many taken-for-granted assumptions regarding Haiti and its contributions to discourses of freedom in the Western hemisphere. One strength of the book is that each of the selected essays work in concert with one another while enabling each author to use their text to articulate their individual points of view. However, a weakness of the book was its limited discussion of the contribution of women to these discourses beyond the use of Annie Desroy’s text by Nadeve Menard. Overall, Haiti and the Americas is a balanced, research based collection of essays articulating the narratives of Haiti from its historical past to its present and future. Nonetheless, scholars interested in Diasporic Literature, Cultural Studies, Education, Haitian History, and Black Atlantic Studies may find Haiti and the Americas a useful pre-primer. 
Tammie Jenkins, Ph.D.
Independent Scholar