From time to time, someone spurs the debate on the Internet: Haitians should identify as Latinx.
There was that article that went viral a couple years ago (or was it last year?). There were the recent discussions on Haitian groups and platforms on Facebook.
The opinions and approaches differ. Some say yes, and are really pragmatic about it: "If it benefits me to identify as such, I'll tick that box." Others dig deep into geopolitical theories to back up their choice. For a lot of us, it's a flat no.
I know I'm a bit late to the party with this piece. But the topic only came top of mind a couple days ago when the artists performing at a reggaeton concert I attended were doing the mandatory Latin American countries roll call, and left Haiti and other English- and French-speaking islands out (as they should!).
Before I dive any deeper, it's important that I say that my intent isn't to create some stupid rivalry between "us" and "them". I've talked about my love of Latin America, South American countries in particular, here. And you know that I enjoy and respect the culture. Plus, I am fully aware of the historical ties that bound us.
One can respect a culture and take part into some aspects of it without identifying as a member of said culture.
While I'm not in the business of policing how people choose to identify, I definitely roll my eyes when I see Haitians filled with "orgullo latino". Here's why.
Is the discussion only happening in the diaspora, on social media?
I was born and raised in Haiti. And I don't recall this being a topic of discussion in the roughly 26 years I lived there. Not in my circles (family and social). Not while I was in school and university. Not on TV or the radio.
Growing up in Haiti, I thought the majority of people considered themselves Haitians. Full stop.
We discussed, at length, our African origins. Some with great pride. Others less so. But Latinx pride? We rushed to dance school to salsa, rumba and tango. We wasted hours on telenovelas. But I don't think we ever collectively thought the culture belong to us. We were guests. And we behaved as such.
Do Latinx even factor us in?
Can we claim to be part of a community that doesn't include us?
We can bring out our knowledge of terminology, history and geography, but the bottom line is: are we considered a part of that community in actuality.
Let me put my love for Latin American music to good use... When have you ever heard a prominent Latinx artist list Haiti as part of the Latin world? In other words, were we ever invited to "la gozadera"?
French is a Latin language. Our island was once colonized by the Spaniards. But do we really share a common identity?
French being a Latin language is a weak argument, in my opinion. So is our historical past as a Spanish colony.
I'll be the first to acknowledge that language isn't the ONLY vehicle of culture. But it is a MAJOR vehicle. Language opens the door to aspects of a culture to which we would otherwise have no access to.
The Haitian culture does have similarities with that of many, if not all, Latin American countries. Our practice of religions influenced by our West African ancestors (Vodou, Lukumi, Santeria, etc.), for example.
Are those commonalities sufficient? Or are we just trying to claim an identity because ours isn't "sexy" enough?
Why is being Haitian not enough?
I tend to see being Haitian as a full identity. One that is complex and historically meaningful. If I were to take a DNA test (which I've been contemplating lately), I'm quite sure it would indicate a mix of origins. But no matter what the percentages would show, they would amount to Haitian.
But I know Haitians who are quick to remind people that they have a distant French ancestor. Fact. But the quickness to dilute ones blackness, this is often why the person says so, is problematic.
I asked Hubs to give this post a read before I press on "Publish", as I usually do when I write about a topic I think could be touchy. And he is surprised that this has been a topic of discussion at all. (He doesn't spend as much time on social media as I do.) But to him, we are not part of that culture.