There will be a lot to say and write about this U.S. presidential election after the dust settles, if it ever does. For now, suffice it to say that it’s not really about Donald Trump. Trump is a savant, a performance artist whose medium is the rotten state of American society and political culture. And, as fellow Blue Ear Books author Pervaiz Lodhie recently pointed out, we’re going to need to face the awkward question of why millions of ordinary Americans supported Trump in the first place.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, hundreds of thousands of people on Haiti’s southern peninsula have lost their homes and crops, are acutely vulnerable to starvation and cholera (which, let us not forget, was introduced to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake by United Nations troops from Nepal), and are largely cut off from the outside world.
What does one have to do with the other? More than I have space for in a short blog post – which is one reason I write books like Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti and Home Free: An American Road Trip. For the moment, what comes to mind is a long conversation I had – ironically, just after the last U.S. presidential election – with the Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat and her husband, Fedo Boyer, over lunch at the excellent Buena Vista Bistro near the southern edge of Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
The conversation is recounted in Home Free. Danticat and her husband have family and friends in and around the city of Les Cayes on the south coast of the southern peninsula. Until Hurricane Matthew, that area was one of the least poor and least deforested parts of Haiti. (Danticat conveys Haitian coastal town life beautifully in her latest novel, Claire of the Sea Light, my Huffington Post review of which you can read here.)
Fedo waxed nostalgic about Les Cayes. “I only learned that Haiti was poor when I came to this country,” he told me, “because when we lived aux Cayes, we had all the things that a suburb has. We used to go to school on bikes, everybody trusted everybody, some kid’s father was picking up from school and everybody would jump in the back of the truck, because we didn’t have to think about it twice. … Some of my best memories are from growing up.”
And Danticat herself said something that resonates now, as all of us endure a political crisis of a kind and severity that we used to imagine happened only elsewhere. “That’s the first thing that people always say,” she said to me, four long years ago.
Like in Katrina, what did you hear? “This is not Haiti,” or “This is not Africa.” And even people who are standing in gas lines, they’re saying, “This is not a Third World country. This is America.” … It’s the greatest shame to be this other thing, to be this Third World country. … But this is where everybody’s headed.