The Miami Herald
Mon, May. 17, 2004

Haitians to raise flags for unity

Haitian-Americans expect a joyful and harmonious celebration of Haitian Flag Day on Tuesday.


In the next few days, Haitian-Americans in South Florida will wave their flags, dance and celebrate the memory of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the founding father of Haiti.

Haitian Flag Day is Tuesday, and leaders said they don't foresee the kind of tension between African Americans and Haitian Americans that has marred past celebrations.

Leaders say the communities are moving beyond their perceived differences.

''Whether it is Haitian American, Jamaican American or African American, we are all black people,'' said Francois Leconte, president of Minority Development and Empowerment, a community-based service organization targeting the Caribbean. ``We all work to address the issues that we are facing.''

On Tuesday, Haitian Americans will officially celebrate the creation of the flag that symbolizes Haiti's struggle and its liberation from France. The flag was created on May 18, 1803, months before Haiti declared its independence in January 1804.

The weekend will be filled with picnics and parties, where flag-draped Haitians will show their pride in being from the first black independent country in the Western hemisphere.

''It's not only a day for Haitians. It is a day for black people and people of all nations,'' said Eric Boucicaut, president of ACTION Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Broward that promotes Haitian art and culture.

Boucicaut said ACTION is planning an art exhibit with Haitian- and African-American artists later this year.

''We are trying to say that we come from the same place,'' Boucicaut said. ``We have followed the same paths, and our future is tied together.''

The Haitian holiday has sparked conflict between African Americans and Caribbeans in past years, in schools and elsewhere. Community forums and educational programs have addressed the issue, working to emphasize commonalities among African Africans and Caribbeans.

''There is always tension around cultural pride, but there are tens of thousands of positive things that are going on when people are learning about Haitian heritage,'' said Carol Spring, executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice.

At North Side Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, students are getting ready to soak up Haitian culture with a week of trivia questions this week and a celebration on May 25.

North Side students are learning the Haitian national anthem in Creole. And they created costumes and scenery for their May 25 performance at the school, which has a large Haitian population.

''Everyone needs to celebrate their culture,'' said Mary Darby, an art teacher at North Side. ``Every culture has something to contribute to the whole. Since we are a country of many cultures, we need to learn from everybody that's represented here.''

Dr. Frantz Delva, a semi-retired internist, said Haitians and African-Americans need to work together.

''There are people who want to have dissension. . . but they don't have a grasp of history,'' said Delva, who was born in Port-au-Prince 59 years ago.