The butt of anti-immigrant jokes. Fistfights after school. Inner-shame in public spaces. Haitian-Americans across social media say it wasn’t always cool to be Haitian.
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Their parents who emigrated to the United States by boat or by plane, legally or illegally, experienced vicious anti-Haitian sentiments that spilled into their childhood. Wedged between cultures, their coming-of-age stories are ripe with resilience, as their strict parents kept them bound to their traditional roots — an airtight proximity to the homeland through a Haitian value system, food, dance, and music:
Lekol, Legliz, Lakay (School, Church and Home).
And as the Haitian diaspora increases their influence online, they’re controlling their own stories — stories once marred by dehumanizing narratives. But for many first-generation Haitian-Americans, Haitian Flag Day isn't really an ode to national pride, it’s a celebration of the variety of lived experiences that make up Haitian culture and identity.
Two internet influencers, Wanda Tima and Success Jr., say dignity and respect is currency in a country that too often devalues their worth. They explain why their content and individual stories reach across cultural differences, and how Haitians are celebrating Haitian Flag Day, May 18, during Haitian Heritage Month.
Here are excerpts of those conversations, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Whenda “Wanda” Tima, founder of L’Union Suite:
Wanda Tima is the founder and owner of L’Union Suite, an established media gateway for all things Haitian. With appearances in Forbes, BET and Black Entreprise, and nearly 500,000 combined followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Tima says being forced to navigate multiple spaces inspired her to create L’Union Suite.
Wanda Living Between Two Worlds: “I have all these other connections from Okap, Cape-Haitien, where my family .. is from. And then I was raised in Turks and Caicos and Grand Turk and Provo for the first half of my life,” Tima told WLRN. “And then I moved to the U.S. in South Florida and have lived in South Florida ever since.” Tima says she consumed everything about Haitian culture in South Florida — the music, food, and church services.
“But then I'm also very Turks Islander. And I was very American because there was this missing connection piece like living in two different spaces at all times and not knowing how to even blend two,” Tima said.
The Creation of L’Union Suite: Tima says she sought a better understanding of Haiti, researching its history and culture — the diaspora stretches from Brazil, Cuba and the Bahamas to Chile, Canada and the United States. She was mostly inspired by Haitians in professional spaces — doctors, musicians, and Haitians “in the boardrooms.”
“And people are doing some of the most amazing things, you know, in the world. You know, are Haitian. We're creating our own narrative. We know our pain. We know our stuff. And we know what's going on in our country. We know what's going on at home, you know, but at the same time, we can't allow the world to just tell only the pain and the suffering story. That's not our only story.”
How Are Haitians Celebrating Haitian Flag Day: “So, social media is definitely, highly red and blue for the whole month [the colors of the Haitian flag]. There's more food. There's more people speaking Creole. There's more connecting."
"The comments sections are definitely, you know, more engaging. So, no, we definitely know how to find each other no matter where we are in the world. All May.”
Success St Fleur, Jr:
Sketch comedian Success Jr is known for his coming-of-age viral videos that invite viewers inside his traditional Haitian-American home. With a combined 287,000 dedicated followers on Instagram and Facebook, Success, who goes by Success Jr, produces situational comedy that is filled with insider jokes about traditional Haitian upbringing. His videos, produced with a mixture of English and Haitian Creole, often seek to “bridge the Haitian and American cultural gap.”
Success Jr Living Between Two Worlds: “My upbringing was tough — being most of my upbringing was in the early '90s, and, you know, we weren't accepted and we didn't accept ourselves. So we tried to hide it, “ Success Jr told WLRN.
“Now we have other nationalities that want to celebrate the flag with us. And they are also enjoying our culture where we used to get beat up for it. And now we have people like these same bullies, now they're wanting to join us in celebrating the first black independent country.”
The Creation of Success Jr: “I see my page as like therapy. I didn't even realize when I started this. Like so many of us are raised some way alike, like identical,” Success Jr said. “And I have people who come up to me as they're like, ‘hey, I feel like you're my family. Like you grew up in the next room from me.’
How Are Haitians Celebrating Haitian Flag Day: Success Jr says normally Kompas music revelers would get together and celebrate Haitian Flag Day, but the COVID-19 pandemic this year is forcing people to celebrate online.
“Kompas fest has been in our tradition for the past 20-plus years, so everybody knows Kompas fest, and you got like the new generation such as DJ Stakz, who brings New York, Boston, Montreal, and all those northeast cities — he brings them all down to Miami, and we all celebrate together.”