Showing posts with label Haitians in the Diaspora. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Haitians in the Diaspora. Show all posts

Saturday, August 23, 2014

"The language of the Haitian people is Haitian Creole:" An Interview with Wynnie Lamour (Part I)

"The language of the Haitian people is Haitian Creole:" An Interview with Wynnie Lamour  
(Part I)

Docteur Lou: "Haiti: Then and Now" thanks you for the opportunity to dialogue with you.

WL: No, thank you Docteur Lou. The pleasure is truly mine.

Docteur Lou: How are you doing today?

WL: I'm doing well. Quite busy, as per usual.

Docteur Lou: Wonderful!

Docteur Lou: For those who do not know Wynnie Lamour, please tell us about you...

WL: There is so much to share! Let's start with- I'm a Haitian-American Educator from Brooklyn who founded the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York.

Docteur Lou: where did you grow up? 

WL: I was born in Haiti and spent the first few years of my life there. When I was about 5 years old, my family and I moved to Brooklyn.

Docteur Lou: how was your childhood experience in Haiti?

WL: I was very young when I left Haiti so my conscious memories are pretty limited. I have a lot of memories of dreams of memories.

Docteur Lou: what is your best childhood memory…if you’re able to name one?

WL: Let me think about it...there are so many to choose from. My favorite memory of Haiti is all the smells of that good Haitian food. I remember running around the halls and the rooms as they filled with the smell of whatever delicious dish was being made that day. So most days, I already woke up to something sizzling, boiling, being peeled, you named it.

Docteur Lou: I also love the smells of a good and well-executed Haitian dish.

WL: Yes! Especially since it's an all day affair. At least, it was in my house. My grandmother, even when we eventually moved to Brooklyn, would still wake up earlier than most to prepare the food for the day.
Docteur Lou: Did you have any difficulty integrating in the American society and culture?

WL: I was very young when I first moved to Brooklyn, so in terms of learning the language, that happened fairly quickly. The biggest change for me was the weather. New York can be COLD! Especially for a young girl whose soul is filled with sunshine and runs around barefoot as often as she can. However, the biggest challenge for me was growing bi-cultural.
Having one culture at home that did not correspond with the culture outside continues to be something that I battle regularly.

Docteur Lou: did you encounter any anti-Haitianism while attending school in the U.S.?

WL: One of my earliest memories of school here in NYC was being asked by a classmate if I was Haitian. I was still learning English then, so the English word "Haitian" was still foreign to me.
But I knew enough by the tone of her voice to tell her "no."
She spit the word out, as if she were asking me "are you an ... alien?"

Docteur Lou: Did you ever feel ashamed of Haiti or were you ashamed of being a Haitian?

WL: For a long time, I denied the Haitian side of myself (at least outside of the home).
I was never personally ashamed to be Haitian.
I mean, come on. The food, the people, the music, the strong sense of community that's inherent in how we treat each other.
There's nothing there to be ashamed of.
But I was made to feel ashamed sometimes.
Constantly being reminded of Haiti being "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere."
Being called dirty and smelly (even though, as I'm sure you know, Haitians take such pride in sending their children to school in only their very best).
Having people expressed surprise at "how well I speak English."

Docteur Lou: What would you say to young Haitians... including those who were born in the U.S. to Haitian parents and others who have come to America at your humble age?

WL: I would tell them to be patient and to remember, that as children of revolutionaries, there really is nothing that we won't be able to overcome.
It's hard to be bi-cultural. It's hard to have family that may not understand where you're coming from, or friends who cannot relate to your issues.
But the strength to get through that is there. With patience, it will become clear.

Docteur Lou: What high school did you graduate from?

WL: I graduated from Midwood High School in Brooklyn.

Docteur Lou:  I want us to tackle another topic: your College experience. Where did you go to College? What did you study?

WL: I'm a self-described language junkie.
Docteur Lou: Can you say more about that?

WL: Growing up in a multi-lingual home instilled in me a love of language.
I have many conscious memories of what it took to learn English as a second language.
The challenge to do well was always important to me.
I began learning Spanish also at a young age and by the time I got to College, my interest in how language works and what's behind the nuance of every language was strong.

Docteur Lou: Did you major in linguistics and Language Acquisition at the University?

WL: I majored in Linguistics, with a focus on Syntax and Etymology.
Although, I did take quite a few courses on Language Acquisition.

Docteur Lou: Your former academic training in Linguistics has prepared you to found the Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York. Tell us about the Haitian Creole Institute…

WL: HCLI is an educational platform for the formal study of the Haitian Creole Language.
HCLI is dedicated entirely to the Haitian Creole Language.
I've been teaching Haitian Creole for a few years now and after it started to grow beyond me, I decided that it was time to create a space that was dedicated entirely to the study of Haitian Creole.

Docteur Lou: When did you establish HCLI? What has led you to the creation of HCLI? Any philosophical and/or practical motives?

WL: Ultimately, I founded HCLI in October of 2013. I found that there was no ONE place in New York where one could go learn the language.
Our philosophy of teaching is based on the principle of Mindfulness.
We purposely keep our classes small so that learning is an intimate experience.
We teach the language in a way that builds a sense of connection not just to the language, but also to the culture of Haiti.
We teach the language in a way that builds a sense of connection not just to the language, but also to the culture of Haiti.
In teaching mindfully, that is consciously, we allow our students to create a relationship with Haiti.
Allowing them the space to ask those difficult questions, allowing them the time to share those stories that are important to them -- all this only adds to the learning experience.

Docteur Lou: Great! Why Creole? In other words, what is the value of learning Haitian Creole and connecting the acquisition process with the Haitian culture?

WL: Why not?
The language of the Haitian people is Haitian Creole. That can never be contested.
We live our lives fully and richly every day with Haitian Creole.
One of our main goals at HCLI is to battle the negative imagery that's often associated with speaking Haitian Creole.
Still others criticize the language because the majority of the people who speak it are a dark, brown people.
In creating a space where one can learn Haitian Creole formally, I'm reminding the world that our language is as relevant as any other language.
It is as structured, as rich in variety, as useful and as important to its people as any other language.
In allowing people the room to learn the language formally, I'm helping to create the scaffolding that will help carry on the language to the next generation, especially among the Dyaspora.

Docteur Lou: Do you have a specific target audience?  Let’s say students born in the U.S. to Haitian parents who are not proficient in Haitian Creole or are you open to anyone who desires to learn Haitian Creole and culture.

WL: HCLI is open to teaching anyone who would like to learn the language.
However, we offer a variety of courses to meet the needs of our students. We are currently offering Haitian Creole for Heritage Learners.
This course is designed for those who have some understanding of the language (or exposure) but have never formally learned the language.
Docteur Lou: What do you say to those who claim that Haitian Creole takes Haiti further back, and as a language, Haitian Creole does not contribute to our social and intellectual development?

WL: If they are Haitian, I would challenge them to try and go ONE DAY without using any Haitian Creole.
If they are not Haitian, I would ask them what they know about Haitian Creole.
If their knowledge is limited, I would invite them to learn more about our rich language.
I would invite them to read some of our poetry, our novels, our LITERATURE. Because, it's out there. Sometimes, people need to be reminded.

Docteur Lou: What would you say is the role of Haitian Creole in the project of Haiti’s reconstruction and our collective efforts—both in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora—to construct an effective and democratic civil society and political life in Haiti? 

WL: We need to use the language of the people to help uplift the people.
The more people are educated in the language in which they feel most comfortable expressing themselves, the better it will be for all of Haitian society as a whole.

Docteur Lou: Excellent!

Docteur Lou: Did you lose any relatives or friends in the 2010 Haiti earthquake?

WL: I did not lose anyone in my immediate family
But I did lose some distant family members and friends.

Docteur Lou: I’m sorry. 

WL: Thank you.

To read Part II of the interview, click on the link below: