Sunday, June 29, 2014
“No One Thinks of Love When They Think of Haiti”: Dreaming of Love, Art, and Dyaspora and Rebuilding Post-Quake Haiti by Kantara Souffrant
“No One Thinks of Love When They Think of Haiti”:
Dreaming of Love, Art, and Dyaspora and Rebuilding Post-Quake Haiti
Kisa “lanmou” ye? Kijan li santi, kijan li sanble, kisa li fè pou moun? Kisa li fè pou neg Ayisyen ki abite nan peyi a, epi kisa li fè pou neg Ayisyen nan dyaspora? Pou preske de ans se kesyons sa m’ap eseye reponn. Nan pèfòmans e nan ekri mwen, lanmou pran’m. Dans le konferans KONSABA, ki pase ane sa, mwen prezante yon pèfòmans-papye ki eksplike kijan mwen rive nan sijè sa. Depi mwen te piti, manman te di’m, “renmen ak tèt ou, pa kè ou, paske kè ou fè ou soufri.” Se yon ekspresyon ki fè m sonje liv Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn. Nan tèks sa, Mambo Lola di nou “moun ki pòv pa gen lanmou vrèman, yo sèlman gen afilyasyon.” Fraz sa yo montre’m plas lanmou nan lavi fanm Ayisynen, e petèt tout Ayisyen: lanmou se yon fantasy. E li dit mwen, “moun pas panse avek ‘lanmou’ lè yo panse avek Ayiti.”
What is love? How does it feel, what does it look like, and what does it do for us? What does love do for Haitians living in Haiti and for those of us in the Dyaspora? For almost two years, it is this question that I have been trying to answer. In both performance and my writing, love’s taken me. At the recent KONSABA conference, I presented a performance-paper that explained how I arrived at this subject. Since I was little my mother would tell me, “love with your head and not your heart because your heart will make you suffer.” It is an expression that reminds me of Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola, where Mambo Mama Lola says, ‘poor people don’t have no true love. They just have affiliation.’ These phrases show me the place of love in the lives of Haitian women, and perhaps all Haitians: love is a fantasy. Lastly, these phrases also remind me that, “no one thinks of love when they think of Haiti.”
Jodi a mwen vle pale d’lanmou. Pas yon fantasy men lanmou kòm yon “praxis.” Filozòfs Karl Marx and Paulo Freire dekri “praxis” kòm kote aksyon rankontre refleksyon pou transfòme lemonn. Kisa yon “praxis de lanmou,” ka fè pou nou, pou moun ki etidye, pale, and travay sou Ayiti? Kijan nou ka aplike lanmou dans pwojè atistik ak akademik? Finalman, kisa on praxis de lanmou kapab anseye nou sou limonite nou? Avèk èd scholars tankou filozòfs Kelly Oliver, bell hooks, ak Samantha Pinto mwen poze on definisyon et metodoloji de lanmou. Epi, mwen antre nan yon diskisyon de travay de fotograf Régine Roumain, et montre kijan Roumain itilize on praxis de lanmou dan travay li. Avèk diskisyon sa, mwen espere dètemine kisa lanmou ka fè pou nou tout.
Today I want to speak of love. Not love as a fantasy but as a “praxis.” Philosophers Karl Marx and Paolo Freire describe “praxis” as the place where action meets reflection in order to transform the world. What might a praxis of love do for those of us who study, write, and work on Haiti? How can we apply love to our artistic and scholarly projects? Finally, what can a praxis of love teach us about our humanity? With the aid of scholars such as Kelly Oliver, bell hooks, and Samantha Pinto, I pose a definition and methodology of love. I then discuss the works of Haitian-American photographer Regine Romain, demonstrating how Romain utilizes a praxis of love in her work. With this discussion I hope to determine what love can do for us all.
Lè m’ap pale de “lanmou,” m’ap pale sou yon tradition ki soti nan teyori feminis nwa. Ekriven et aktivis kom June Jordan, bell hooks, et la Combahee River Collective. Nan teyori sa “lanmou” se rezistans, pou nou kapab wè famn nwa et tout moun ki soti Lafrik, pa menm jan kolonyal pouvwa wè nou: tankou nou se enferyè. Sa pas on bagay senp. Tankou bell hooks dit, pou konnen lanmou se pou nou pran tan pou rekonèt imaj pozitif pa nou. Lè nou kapab wè youn ak lòt, nou kapab transfòme lemonm paske nou konnen, nou merite plus. Nou wè nou responsab pou youn a lòt, pou libète youn a lòt, e nou gen yon responsabilite pou wè kijan nou konekte a youn a lòt.
When I speak of “love,” I’m speaking of a tradition that comes out of Black Feminist Theory. Writers and activist such as June Jordan, bell hooks, and the Combahee River Collective. In these theories, love is a mode of resistance, that enables us to see Black women and all people of African descent in ways that resist the inferior status given to us by colonial powers. This resistance made possible through love is not easy. As bell hooks writes that genuine love requires time and commitment. For us to know love is for us to take the time to recognize and reclaim our positive images. When we are able to see one another we are able to transform the world because we know our true value, and that we are deserving of more than what we have been given. We are able to see that we have a responsibility to one another, to each other’s freedom, and it is our responsibility to see how we are connected to one another.
Sa vle dit, le fondasyon “lanmou” se rekonesans, kom filozof Kelly Oliver eksplike li. Lanmou kòm rekonesans, se on etik d’lavi, li mande pou nou konprann nou diferan—nou fem, nou neg, nou nwa, nou blan, nou etewoseksyèl, nou masisi/femme a femme, nou moun an deyò nou moun la ville, nou Ayisen, nou dyaspora—mes nou la ansamble. Lanmou kòm rekonesans se travay difisil paske li mande nou prann risk. Pou nou vilnerab, paske pou wè yon a lòt se pou konnenn nou pa pral toujou konprann diferans nou genyen—mem nap toujou eseye pou kembe youn a lot e pou rekonèt imaj pozitif. Sa se responsabilite nou, sa se travay lanmou. Kreyol pa yon lange fasil pou mwen, men m’prann risk pou pale li paske li pi bon pou esaye si li kapab kòmanse yon diskisyon avec plis moun—si li kapab bay plis moun nan Ayiti on chans pou wè’m epi pou konnen mwen vle wè yon e pale avek yon tou.
That is to say, the foundation of “love” as I am describing it here is recognition in the ways that philosophers such as Kelly Oliver describes it. Love as recognition is an ethics of living. It demands that we know that we are different, but we understand that we are still together: female/male, black white, heterosexual/queer, and Haitians/Dyaspora. Love as recognition is difficult work because it asks that we take risks—that we avoid simple readings of one another. It asks that we be vulnerable, because to recognize one another is to know that we won’t always be able to fully understand our differences but because and despite of this we aim to hold one another and to recognize these differences, to allow these differences to give rise to positive images of each other. That is the work of love. Today I am presenting in English and Kreyòl, a language that doesn’t come easy to me but I take this risk to speak and work through this difficulty because it is better to try to create a dialogue that brings more people and voices to the table—to truly do the work of building an inclusive community—than it is to fear speaking at all.
Kounyeya, m’ap pale d’travay fotograf Régine Romain, on Ayisen-Ameriken ki retounen dans Ayiti apre goudougoudou. M’ap demontre kijan Romain eseye aplike lanmou dans foto li, patikilyèman fotos Ayisen apre goudougoudou.
Now, I want to turn to the work of photographer Regine Romain and her post-quake photos of Haiti. I will demonstrate how Romain tries to apply a praxis of love to her work, particularly her images of Haitians following the earthquake.
Lanmou nan travay Régine Romain
Tramblemante te a bay Ayiti anpil vizibilite. Scholars tankou Gina Ulysse e Toni Pressley-Sanon fè nou sonje ke imaj Ayiti kite nan media apre goudougoudou. Li bay nou imaj d’Ayiti e Ayisen ki kase, sovaj e fou. Yon kontinyasyon d’imaj Ayiti depi esklavaj e endepandans. Se imaj sa yon fotos Régine Romain, eseye adrese (ADRESS-AY). Pwojè li, “Pòtrè pou yon Ayiti tèt-determine,” bay imaj lavi apre goudougoudou.
The earthquake brought Haiti an increased level of global visibility. Gina Ulysse and Toni Pressley-Sanon, remind us that the images of Haiti that were popularized in the media were images of Haiti and Haitian people as broken, savage and crazed people—continuations of narratives of Haiti from the colonial period and especially following independence. It is these images of Haiti and Haitian people as detritus that Regine Romain addresses through her project, “Portraits for a Self-Determining Haiti,” which provides us with images of life after the earthquake.
Pou Romain, ki te nan Etazini le tranbleman te pase, le goudougoudou te yon evènman ki fè li wè kijan moun Ayisen, nan Ayiti e nan dyaspora konekte tankou on gwo fanmi, yon bagay li pas janm wè nan lavi li. Men, Romain ositou di apre goudougoudou, imaj yon ki te plis popilè te tankou imaj ki nan New York Times or Time Magazine, imaj ki montre Ayisen san non e lari ki plen moun mouri.
For Romain, who arrived in Haiti 3 weeks after the earthquake, the earthquake was an event that allowed her to see how people of Haitian descent, particularly those in the Dyaspora connected as one big Haitian family following the disaster, something she had never seen in her lifetime. But Romain also states that after the earthquake, the popular images of Haiti that came from news sources such as the New York Times and TIME Magazine featured an unending wave of photographs featuring no-name Haitians and streets filled with the dead.
Dans yon konvèsasyon avek Romain, li di’m li konnen Ayiti soufri apre tranblemante, men Ayiti pas sèlman yon peyi ki soufri. Mwen pa montre lot foto yon ki plen imaj Ayisen ki souffri, paske nou konnen imaj sa yon deja. Men gade imaj Romain ki rele “Granmere.” Yon madanm kanpe devan le kamera epi li gade nou. Dèyè li nou ka wè manje li te prepare, kay li, yon chapo, men li sanble tankou avan nou ka wè tout, nou bezwen pase yon tès. Avan nou ka wè gade Granmere, se tankou l’ap gade nou avant. Se pas yon imaj de yon pasif sijè tankou yon imaj popilè apre tranblemen te a. Granmere fòse nou mande pou kisa nou la, pou kisa n’ap gade li. Granmere, montre pisans madanm ki nan foto sa.
In an interview with Romain, she told me she knew that Haiti suffered during and after the earthquake, but that, “even in the midst of that suffering, we are much greater than that[.]” I’m not showing the other images of Haiti and Haitian people after the earthquake, because we’re already familiar with those images. But let’s look at Romain’s image titled, “Granmere,” or “Grandmother.” A women stands in front of the camera and she gazes at us. Behind her we can see the food she has prepared, the house or section of the house that she lives in, a straw hat, but it looks like before we can gain access to everything, we have to pass a test. Before we can see Grandmother, it’s as if she has to watch us first. This isn’t a passive subject like the popular media images of post-quake Haiti. Granmere forces us to ask ourselves the questions: why are we here and what are looking at (or for)? Granmere shows the power of the woman in the photograph.
Pandan mwen pale avek Romain, mwen te di, foto Romain bay sijè yon ajans kò yon. Romain reponn sa pas kòrèk; li di mwen, moun yon ki nan foto li deja genyen ajans kò yo. Dans imaj tankou “Granmere” e “Sleeping Lion: Legba at the Gate,” Romain aseye montre diyite Ayisen. Romain di li sèlman fotograf sa ki la deja: bèl moun Ayisen, bèl moun nwa ki pa konnen kijan yon bèl. Foto sa yon, se imaj postif d’Ayisen ki Romain te konnen depi li te on tifi. Mwen panse, nou ka wè lanmou nan imaj pozitif Romain bay nou. Nou ka we kijan li aseye montre Ayisen avek tout force nou. Sa yon pwojete rekonesans, ki aseye montre Ayisen avek tout force nou.
While speaking with Romain, I said to her, that her photos gave her subjects agency. Romain replied that I was incorrect. She told me that the people in her photos already had agency. In images like “Granmere” and “Sleeping Lion,” Romaine only hopes to capture what is already there—beautiful Haitian people, many who don’t even know how beautiful they are. Her only role, she said, is sharing what she sees. We can see the love in the ways Romain attempts to capture Haitian people in a way that reclaims our positive images in a way that reclaims our humanity from the colonial images that have become synonymous with Haiti over the past two centuries. This is a project of recognition that hopes to show Haitians in all of their power, for as Romain said about Black people more generally, “I think we’re absolutely beautiful and I think that sometimes we don’t know how beautiful we are. We are so badass.”
 The line, “No One Thinks of Love When They Think of Haiti” emerged as a refrain in my solo-performance, AYIBOBO! A Haitian-Love Hate Story, presented May 2013 at the Greenhouse Theatre, as part of MPAACT Theatres Solo Jams.
 This paper was first presented at the 25th Annual Haitian Studies Association Conference, “Representations, Revisions, Responsibilities: Toward New Narratives for Haiti in 2013 and Beyond.”
 The orthography of Kreyòl was culled from various sources and Haitian Kreyòl dictionaries (both digital and physical). As the document explains such a gesture was meant to encourage my own bridging across Dyaspora through the performance of language—even if that performance has its failures. For this reason, I have included the
 Karen McCarthy Brown, Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 166.
 See Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach.” Marx Internet Archive. February 2005. www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm, and Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.
 bell hooks, Communion: The Female Search for Love (New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2002). See also June Jordan’s Some of Us Did Not Die, (New York, NY: Basic/Civitas Books, 2002) and The Combahee River Collective’s “A Black Feminist Statement” in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, ed. Beverly Guy-Sheftall (New York, NY: New Press, 1995) 231-240.
 Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).
 See Gina Ulysse, “Why Representations of Haiti Matter Now More Than Ever,” in NACLA Report on the Americas (July/August 2010) and Toni Pressely-Sanon, “Lucid Cameras: Imaging Haiti After the Earthquake of 2010, Journal of Haitian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Fall 2011): pp. 6-32.
 Though not reproduced here, the images can be found at Romain’s website, http://regineromain.com
 Regine Romain, “Ayiti: Reaching Higher Ground,” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, Vol. 11, No. 1, (2011): 133.
 Regine Romain, in discussion with the author, October 2013.