The Miami Herald
January 1, 2002

For Haitians, today also Independence Day

 Associated Press Writer

 MIAMI -- (AP) -- South Florida Haitians pulled out yellow-colored clothes and chopped vegetables for oxtail soup to celebrate both New Year's and their homeland's Independence Day.

 Many began preparing the soup -- a combination that includes squash, celery, onions, Haitian spices, oxtail, potatoes and cabbage.

 "The soup is the only thing that you are eating'' on New Year's Day, said Nancy St. Leger, a Haitian-American who lives in Cutler Ridge. "It's just to purify you, to cleanse you.''

 Haitian-Americans also swept floors, cleaned clothes and bought new plates and bowls.

 ``You have to make sure everything's clean in your house,'' St. Leger said. ``It's a renewal thing.''

 Following tradition, St. Leger and her family -- including her mother and grandmother -- wore yellow-colored clothing to ring in the New Year at midnight for good luck.

 They also eat oranges at midnight. The number of seeds found inside the fruit indicate how successful one will be in the New Year, St. Leger said.

 Many Haitian-Americans are likely stay up until they go to church the next day, said Jan Mapou, president of a local Haitian cultural society.

 Several churches will hold masses today and Haitian-Americans will dine on the soup, either at home or in eateries in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, after services.

 According to legend, Haitians eat soup on New Year's Day because it's what the French colonizers used to dine on when they ruled the country, Mapou said.

 Following a slave rebellion against the French in 1804, Haiti won its independence and became the world's first black republic.

 ``After we kicked their butts out, the slaves said we are the ones that are going to have soup,'' said Mapou.

 Some New Year's Day revelers will later attend the 11th Annual Haitian Independence Day Concert in Miami.

 ``It's a double celebration for us,'' said Farah Juste, the concert organizer. Juste said she started the festival to remind Haitians of their Independence Day ``and start the new year with a good punch.''

 Artists from New York, Miami, Montreal and Haiti will perform Haitian dances and music, including patriotic songs, Juste said.

 Nearly 271,000 Haitians live in Florida. Haitians began leaving the country in the mid-20th century seeking better jobs or fleeing repressive political regimes.

 Haitians are drawn to Florida because of the weather, the thriving Caribbean life and its proximity to their homeland.

 At the end of New Year's Day, Haitian-Americans will feast on sweets, and cherry, lemon or pineapple-flavored liqueurs. The day will be a festive one, typically spent with family, but will also be one of reflection.

 ``Sometimes you're thinking about your country and the condition it is (in),'' Mapou said. ``Sometimes you wonder to yourself what I didn't do to contribute ... and what can we do to make it a better place for the new generation.''