New Orleans and Haiti are linked by geography, history, and family. Many New Orleanians have roots in the island nation, and their revolution inspired enslaved Africans in our city to also rise up at the same time. So news of an earthquake and mass devastation in the country has hit hard here.
As one historian has noted, "During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, doubling the Crescent City’s population...The vast majority of these refugees established themselves permanently in the Crescent City. [They] had a profound impact upon New Orleans’ development. Refugees established the state’s first newspaper and introduced opera into the Crescent City. They also appear to have played a role in the development of Creole cuisine and the perpetuation of voodoo practices in the New Orleans area. More importantly, they were responsible for preserving the city’s French character for several generations."
In addition, almost every hurricane that has hit our city first brought devastation on Haiti. We are linked not just by disasters, but also by first-hand experience with the ways in which oppression based on race, class and gender interacts with these disasters.
After Katrina, Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat raised questions about political and media pundits who expressed shock at the devastation after the levees broke by saying that New Orleans looked more like Haiti than the United States. Danticat observes, “It’s hard for those of us who are from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at a time when an unimaginable tragedy shows exactly how much alike we are...We do share a planet that is gradually being warmed by mismanagement, unbalanced exploration, and dismal environmental policies that might one day render us all, First World and Third World residents alike, helpless to more disasters like Hurricane Katrina."
Our Katrina experience has taught us to be suspicious of Red Cross. Among the aid organizations we've heard recommended are the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Haiti Support Project, and Partners In Health. We've also heard from several New Orleanians connected to the organization Konbit Pou Edikasyon, and we've heard that Wyclef Jean has been mobilizing support for his organization Yele. We encourage you to donate to experienced and accountable relief efforts.