Migration, “shithole,” and liberation
Written by Edna Bonhomme
Art by Tabitha Swanson
Question: “Why are we having all these [African countries, Haiti, and El Salvador] people from shithole countries come here?”
My parents migrated from Haiti during the early 1980s following a wave of Caribbean and Latin American migrants who were escaping environmental destruction, political persecution and economic devastation. They were part of a mass that sought refuge from events much bigger than them, thus the decision to migrate was predicated on leaving a place whose politics was constantly being reshuffled from the outside and within. My parents are Black, Francophone, Creole speakers who travelled to the country that they thought would offer solace—the United States. Yet, the United States financially supported the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier leading many to live under state terror. As migrants from the poorest province in Haiti, my parents took separate paths and several years apart across the Caribbean Sea. When I ask them, “What was this like?” they have often respond in shame knowing that their path by boat is stigmatized. Boat people does not have a ring to it and it is telling of their class background.
When they speak of migration it is not a singular event but one mired by the physical and the immaterial, the eternal and the ephemeral. They migrated because the repression by national elites in the Global South was fueled by the ruling class of the Global North. They migrated to escape the calamitous and unpredictable changes on their seaside landscape. Dependent on subsistence farming, they noticed that the rains were less frequent and the birds were less vocal. They migrated because they knew political dissent could lead to imprisonment at Fort Dimanche. They migrated because they had every right to demand a life where their dreams were not overshadowed by their ongoing nightmare.
Unfortunately, the real shithole is apartheid America. This is a place where anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments have mutated into perilous policies during my parents’ thirty years in the United States. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration scapegoated Haitians for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration deported Haitians at record numbers and placed them in an open air prison—Guantanamo Bay. During the 2000s, the Bush administration backed a military coup and set the path for the UN military occupation of Haiti. In the new iteration of US imperialism and racism, it is important to take stock of how the current US president is continuing the racist and oppressive strategies of the past–the difference is that he is more forthright with his bigotry. These snapshots are telling of a broader issue—Haiti and Haitians has been punished since 1804 by US (and Western) countries because Haiti’s liberation was predicated on removing shackles from Black skin. The history is cogent: our liberation is considered a shithole from those who want to see us in chains.