i posted his MIT lecture a few weeks back. a profound man and a profoundly heartbreaking loss. let us all hope to be as foolishly romantic as zinn was.
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Howard Zinn, b. 1922- d. 2010
I tried my best to screen shot of Edwidge Dandicat’s answer to my question during the New Yorker chat. She was very polite to everyone who had questions for her and super insightful on what she sees for Haiti’s future after the quake. She is a wonderful writer and person. I wish her and her family the best as they deal their losses and try to move forward in the moments ahead.
There was just something about Holden. He was the original bad boy. Reading “Catcher in the Rye” in 8th grade, I couldn’t really get him. Luckily, I didn’t have to. We were only reading for a quiz and so I took the notes I needed to and said i’d worry about understanding the character more fully later.
Later came about 5 years later, in my senior year, I found an copy of the book in a used bin in our school hallway. And I think that’s when my love for Holden (and all boys like him) began. Salinger crafted this boy to be the prototype of every boy I’ve loved. He was a strong man, damaged as a boy. Holden spoke loudest when he felt most insecure and expressed himself best in the thoughts he kept inside. The love that Holden had for the women in his life, was the one thing he could never bring himself to give them. Looking back at the boys I’ve loved, I wonder if Salinger had written their narrative too.
There is something about a guy who’s been through something. My friends have said that when you see a guy cry they is something in that moment that makes you feel closer to him. I don’t know if that’s it for me. I haven’t had too many cry-ers, but I have had the bruised ones. The ones who could have a bright future but seem haunted by their rough past. Or the ones who seem to have problems holding down relationships in their life (not with you, of course) and say things like “it’s lonely at the top.” There’s nothing that wrong with these guys. I mean we’re all human- what’s a little baggage? We all have it, whether we admit it or not.
This is a safe space, so I’ll tell you all my baggage: I’m a fixer. There is no problem to big, no issue too wide- if something is wrong, I need to know why, I need to be there, I need to fix it. Now, mostly- wanting to fix things is a good trait. It makes me a resourceful employee, a helpful sister and daughter and a dependable friend. It also make me the girlfriend who attempts to find a way to love a tortured man.
I think the most redeeming quality of a boy like Holden, was that despite all his faults, he had Salinger’s mind. His thoughts were the words that held the story together, the reason why I turned the next page. He was a thoughtful man who knew how to be kind, even though his silent exterior seemed a cold shell. He was in love, but did not trust. And as his story continued, even as my eyes became heavy, I kept reading. I was hopeful that his thoughts would become his voice, and so like I would with the boys I loved, I waited. I waited for the boy I knew too well to become the man whose thoughts I felt I known forever.
I have yet to meet a boy who was Holden, with the thoughts of the man that was Salinger. But I think when I do, I will have a new problem on my hands: nothing to fix at all.
I was half in love with her by the time we sat down. That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
With the latest causality estimate standing at over 200,000 people, Haiti is mourning, struggling to cope with the unimaginable loss of life. And while the last week has put the nation through one of the most tenuous trials, it now faces a daunting task of protecting not only its people but their legacy as well. In yesterday’s New York Times, reporter Marc Lacey covered Haiti’s arts community and their quest to preserve the legacy and history of their country. The quake has left many of the nation’s cultural riches in the rubble that now covers art galleries, museums and libraries.
The history of Haiti is the story of a people who fought through French colonialism to establish the world second oldest democracy. It is the story of a young nation beleaguered by western imperialism and overwhelming debt. It is also the story of the island of Hispanola, a divided island, a divided people and the sometimes
strenuous, often complicated relationships with their neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean. Haiti’s past is characters and legends like Toussant L’Ouverture and Papa Doc Duvalier. It is internal struggles, class wars, political battles, urbanism, color divides, emigration, poverty and disease in the face of elite and then newer more distant elite. The story is filled with courage, beauty and strewn with pain. As this latest tragedy now writing itself into the history of this proud nation, one can only imagine what the next chapter for Haiti will be.
Like the debris covered streets of Port Au Prince, the road to this nation’s recovery remains unclear. However to face that uncertainty, many are now working to preserve historical documents, books and paintings. They do so with the belief that if they can save these relics, they will be able to save the memory of their people. In the Times piece, Haitian sculptor Patrick Vilaire defended prioritizing the quest to preserve historical texts from the 17th and 19th century saying:
“The dead are dead, we know that. But if you don’t have the memory of the past, the rest of us can’t continue living”
Vilaire is certainly right in his logic. In fact, his quote is very Orwell-esque. It shows a clear understanding of the importance of keeping alive the memory of the past. But what troubles me is that the range of individuals attempting to pull the arts from the rubble is not a wide one. Like Vilaire, many in the Haitian arts community are from the upper reaches of society. This does not discredit their efforts, but it does limit the number of people involved in deciding how the mural of
Haiti’s past will be pieced back together. In the words of George Orwell himself, “He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
The character of a people is reflected through their history. We grow to learn more about our capabilities as individuals from the collective experiences of those who came before us. Our history tells us what we can be-callous, triumphant, brilliant, flawed. We are positioned to be stronger knowing where we have come from, what we have survived and how our mistakes have cost us and others. It is the reason why a narrative of suffering the Trail of Tears, postcards of Sunday Lynchings in the South and pictures of life in Japanese internment camps are all a part of what we teach as “US History.” Because knowing the ugly side of this nation matters as much as the bright spots that we choose to revel in.
My great-grandmother’s dementia became worse the closer she came to 100. Understandably forgetting the names of her great grandchildren, she would often call me by my mother’s name when my own would slip her mind. While her age made my family respect her as our senior, it also meant that in her last years, we cared for her like our child. On her 100th birthday, Dada sat on my grandmother’s veranda in Spanish Town, Jamaica using her fragile hands to put her hair up for her party. Slowly, she would shape her hair into a neat bun using four copper hairpins. When frustrated relatives would walk past to get the house ready for the guests, they’d reprimand her for taking so long, telling her, “Dada, hurry up and get ready!” With each scolding, she reacted, adding more pins not realizing that her
bun was already in place.
That night, when the party was over and it was time to loosen her hair for bed, I combed out copper pin after copper pin from Dada’s gray hair. While she could never remember my name, my great grandmother left me with an indelible lesson on the power of perception. Without memory, our perception becomes clouded, judgment becomes compromised and decisions become misguided. It is as true for us personally as it is for nations across the world.
I worry as the process to rebuild Haiti’s historical cultural institutions continues that a more diverse group of people will not have access to re-telling the country’s story. I worry that the story of this nation will be edited, will be distorted or worse- will be forgotten.
Who will the child survivors of this quake grow to be? What will they know of their country’s past? Who will they think they are? Who will they believe they are capable of being?
If Haiti does not fully regain its memory, this fragile state could become a failed one.
(the picture at the top is from Domini Nahr’s photo blog for WSJ’s coverage of the Haiti. its a great series. for more click here.)
I read this this morning in the New Yorker and had to share it with you guys. In his short essay, One Year: Storyteller-in-Chief, Junot Diaz says that Barack has not given us a good story and that the lack of a narrative has been the reason why the following he attracted during the campaign has started to fray apart. I love that Diaz is able to apply literary tools to political capital. And it is a valid point that he makes that we are persuaded not only by facts and statistics but by empathy. The emotions, frustrations expressed in ‘Dreams of my Father’ were things that Americans were able to relate to. Yet, in his presidency, Barack hasn’t been able to bring his audience along for a journey, he hasn’t been able to show us where he sees us going as a nation and so through speeches, photo ops, and now the Coakley/Brown election, most of us continue watching waiting for our executive to show us what he thinks this all means.
It matters, but probably more important, is what we think of our country.
What is the story of your America?
And in that moment- Haiti was shattered.
I first saw the story while running on the treadmill at the gym. Slowing the speed from 5.3 to 3.4, then 3.0, I looked up as all of the television screens in the gym started to carry the story. And since Tuesday evening, it seems the entire world has stopped to look at the devastation the earthquake brought to the concrete buildings of Port au Prince, to a country that had for years struggled as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and to a people who had clung faithfully to the belief that one day their nation would become what they hoped for.
Once dawn came Wednesday morning, we all saw the faces of the wounded; the faces of mothers holding their children’s backpacks, of sisters, fathers and brothers lifting rubble and praying to find their loved ones alive. Strained faces, strong faces- brown faces.
And yet, while the rest of the world has shown those images, most urban/multicultural magazines have continued to show the faces of the celebrities we love to hate and the single ladies bemoaning their relationship status. Now to be fair, mainstream publications have been guilty of this as well. While hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the streets of Haiti tonight, People is running their lead story about Jessica Simpson’s battling with her weight and finding her inner beauty. My argument is not that magazines for people of color should be covering Haiti more than any others- however, I do believe that the scanty coverage of this humanitarian crisis is another example of the weak focus these publications place on international issues in general.
The distance between magazines for people of color and international affairs has always been there. Besides the occasional feature- most do not designate any of their pages to international stories. But this week, for some reason, I thought things would be different. The effort to help Haiti seemed to be on every American’s minds. Within days, Americans have made an astounding show of generosity through text2give campaigns, online giving, cash donations and supply collections. Just today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy estimated that in the past four days charities have raised $97 million dollars- “three times as much as donors contributed three days after the Indian Ocean tsunamis struck five years ago, and more than was raised for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in that time.”
But this fervor seemed lost on the same people who had devoted entire issues, weekend summits and television specials on Hurricane Katrina. Black Enterprise did not have a single mention of Haiti on their homepage, Clutch Magazine’s one posting was an abstract of a New York Times piece (upon noticing my tweet- the staff at Clutch replied and told me they have two pieces on Haiti on deck
for their upcoming Monday issue- whew), ESSENCE ran an interview with a first- hand account of the tragedy- a piece that while short was a result of their own journalism. VIBE and Honey Mag both ran blurbs suggesting giving to YELE Haiti, a non-profit founded by former Fugee member, Wyclef Jean. Other mags, too, took the celeb approach too running stories on Hatian born actress Garcelle Beauvais Nilon’s reaction to the quake.
You all know I talk about celebrities infiltrating charities with a grain of salt, but the truth is their influence can be a powerful in raising awareness/ re-affirming of a cause. That said, the glitz factor should not be the sole motivator to for people to take interest. Is the assumption from these mags that their readers wouldn’t care about a plain jane Haiti story? Is this why we need to link it to a familiar face?
The faces of Haitians drenched in anguish should be familiar enough. We should recognize them, because they are our own- they are the dignity lost from days in the Superdome, waiting on FEMA lines and seeing your home washed away. Or for the people of Port au Prince- shattered.
Why don’t our magazines- created to reflect the experience of people of color- focus more on the stories of universal tragedy that mimic our own. Is that because the earthquake happened here? Is it that those people in New Orleans, were our people? What does that even mean anymore, when ESSENCE, the self proclaimed “cultural institution for African-American women” is now read by beautiful women of all shades, of Ghanaian, Indian, Ethiopian, Trinidadian, Dominican, Jamaican and Haitian descent?
To all the urban magazines out there: we care. We, your readers, we care. Because these faces that America and the world are watching on the evening news- they are ours. While hearing the words “refugee camp” and “Haiti” together still sounds strange, it is happening. While we try to hang on to the belief that things like this don’t happen so close, we grapple with the reality that Port au Prince is a one hour plane ride from Miami. This is real.
And yet for us, as people of color- filled with resilience from our trials and the journeys that brought us here- the feeling of this tragedy should not be foreign. And we need the voices telling our stories, to tell the story of Haiti and all the others because they are all ours. And they should not be hidden. And they should not be trivialized.
And they must be told.
Here’s what’s going on with our partners in Haiti:
Amanda Schwartz of Partners in Health has been relaying emails coming to her from PIH’s health facility in Cange, which is treating an influx of patients from Port-au-Prince around the clock:
“Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS… Temporary field hospital by us at UNDP [United Nations Development Program] needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.”
— Louise Ivers, PIH Haiti Clinical Director
“We really need sheets and blankets and clothes — it’s been cold and people are in shock as is. Last night was long and cold in Cange, even with the addition of half of the fabric from Jackie’s shop cut into sheets. Also, soap and general hygiene items.” — a clinician in Cange PIH clinicians also sent these photos this afternoon. The emergency room at the PIH facility was overflowing with patients from Port-au-Prince, so they set up an emergency triage in a church in Cange:
Partners in Health are still taking donations — click here to give straight to the relief efforts in Haiti.
Our other partners, Concern Worldwide, told us they have located the majority of their staff in Haiti and are operating out of their central office in Port-au-Prince, which withstood the quake even though the nearby hospital in Petit Ville collapsed. From the moment the quake struck, teams launched relief efforts and life-saving assistance from this building. More teams from their New York office have since joined and plan to stay as long as they’re needed.
Concern has launched a public emergency appeal for $7.5 million in order to continue search and rescue missions as well as food, water, shelter and medicine distribution. They’re accepting donations online here. Right now, they are focusing on immediate survival needs, but the work spans more than that. Their history in Haiti and commitment to sustainable development will keep them involved in areas affected by the quake for as long as necessary.
Haiti was hit yesterday by what could be considered the worst natural disaster for the region in the last 200 years.
An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.0, shocked the country just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, collapsing buildings and cutting water and electricity services in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Aftershocks of 4.5 magnitude or higher continued through the night and early Wednesday, thwarting immediate aid efforts for an estimated 3 million affected by the quake. Thousands are expected dead or injured and many more will be displaced with their homes reduced to rubble.
Photo courtesy of @LisandroSuero.
charity: water’s two local partners, Partners in Health and Concern Worldwide, are reacting to the disaster swiftly and comprehensively.* We need your support. In the interest of immediate relief, we’re asking that donations be made straight to our partners.
To donate to Partners in Health’s efforts, click here.
To donate to Concern Worldwide’s efforts, click here.
Already one of the poorest and densely-populated countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has struggled to overcome the effects of a slew of rough storms in 2008 before this week’s disaster. More than 4 million people (42% of the population) already lack access to safe drinking water. Disasters undercut development efforts tremendously.
Here’s a note from our Water Projects Director, Becky Straw:
I remember the quake in 1989. The magnitude 7.0 struck a few miles from my home in Northern California. The quake collapsed the Bay Bridge and left thousands homeless. So I cannot imagine a 7.0 earthquake hitting the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Scott and I traveled to Haiti twice last year, visiting the work of Partners in Health and Concern Worldwide. I have been in touch with both organizations this morning. They are already helping on the ground as they assess further damages and wait for additional emergency response teams en route. Partners in Health is reporting that the entire capitol city is in dire need of medical services, food, shelter and water. PIH operates one of the only pharmacies in the country; they are focusing on stocking medication and are treating an influx of patients. Both organizations worked during the 2008 storms and so they have already established emergency contingency plans for natural disaster situations.
charity: water is not a relief organization. But our partners in Haiti are. We have seen firsthand their organizational strength, supply chains and logistical capacity. We encourage you to donate directly to them to provide medical support, shelter, and clean water.
I told Partners in Health and Concern Worldwide that charity: water and our supporters are behind them. Thank you for your support during this crisis.
— Becky Straw, Water Projects Director
*charity: water started working with PIH in 2007 and has since funded six freshwater projects with the organization to bring safe water to more than 25,000 people in rural Haiti (learn more here). Last year, we started partnering with Concern Worldwide in Haiti by funding eight spring protection systems, which will provide clean water for at least 6,000 people, once completed.
Like many banks, Goldman Sachs has had it fair share of PR problems in the past couple of years. So to assuage public outrage about their corporate bonuses, this year Sachs is considering implementing a “charity requirement”. Uhmm. I mean, clearly the money would be going to help the work of non-profits, but shouldn’t the corporate giving model be more than a publicity stunt? What did the subject line of that email blast say: “attn: do good (or else.)”?
Ok. Fair enough, celebs have infiltrated charity and put man causes into their bizarre limelight (don’t believe me? see this week’s episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, where Kim finds a loveable stray Chihuahua while getting her nails done and proceeds to become a spokesperson for an organization fighting animal cruelty..) but we hold corporate giving up to a higher standard.
Corporate giving programs work best when the cause is relevant to the organization and the company. Citibank is one of the biggest corporate givers to the March of Dimes Foundation on a senior level, but right down through the ranks the partnership is genuine. At my local Citibank, our tellers will put up cards from customers who choose to give part of their deposit or withdrawal to the cause. And because it is something that I can come to expect every year- I hold both my bank and the charity in higher esteem.
The truth is you just can’t fake the funk. While Goldman Sachs’ giving will certainly be appreciated- it is not going to make the public forgive the bonuses. One can only hope that this initiative will not just remain a coerced pose for the cameras move and become the start of more meaningful partnerships to improve the culture of the company.