By Jac St. Jean
Sounds of Haitian music accompanied the buzzing of students and faculty in the Dodge Room of the Campus Union on Thursday, Feb. 10, as Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Slandie Dieujuste prepared to present “The Haitian Diaspora: The Art of Thriving Between Two Worlds and Cultures.”
Dr. Calvin Hill, Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement, began the event and introduced Springfield College student-athlete Mikaili Charlemagne, who then introduced Dr. Dieujuste.
Dr. Dieujuste started with a warm welcome to the crowd, and addressed a few of her key objectives in this talk about the Haitian diaspora. One common highlight that she presented about her home country of Haiti was that it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
“That is something that is almost always highlighted in every video clip, every newspaper article you read [about Haiti], without so much a thought to explain why that might be,” uttered Dieujuste.
This reason behind the poverty of Haiti derives from the year 1804, when Haiti declared their independence from France. This was the first time that a Black nation gained independence. Haitian people expelled France from the island, but the conflict between the two nations was not over. Two years after separating from France, Haiti was forced by the European country to pay them for a loss of labor.
“[Haiti] had to pay about twenty-one billion dollars,” Diejuste stated, “in today’s dollars to the French for gaining their independence… they didn’t finish paying until I think 1947.”
Dieujuste continued through the history of Haiti which led to the late 1900s, where many Haitians began to migrate to the United States in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s. To display the continuance of the Haitian diaspora to this day, Dieujuste showed a picture of Haitian migrants being attacked by U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback for crossing the border from Mexico to the United States.
“These [photos] do not represent a moment in time,” Dieujuste explained. “Haitian migrants have always been treated that way, it just never made national news.”
The long history of the Haitian diaspora stigmatized Haitians and caused widespread discrimination across the United States that is still seen to this day.
“It’s nothing really that’s in the past,” Dieujuste exclaimed. “Just over the summer in May, there was a twelve-year-old boy in Brooklyn who had come to this country just a couple years ago. He was beaten, bullied, and died because he was Haitian and spoke with an accent… this [diaspora] is still very much happening.”
The Haitian diaspora personally affected Dieujuste in many ways. She came to the United States when she was nine years old, and went to elementary school in Boston, Mass. Dieujuste, her brother, and other Haitian children at her school were beaten by their classmates and discriminated against by their teachers.
“I decided to commit cultural suicide,” Diejuste expressed. “I no longer wanted to be Haitian, it was part of my safety. I didn’t know if it was a really good place to be safe, and I had become so ashamed to be Haitian.”
When Dieujuste arrived at Boston College, she suffered from an identity crisis being at a predominantly white school. After taking a black history course, Dieujuste decided to pick up a black history minor, and even petitioned for a black history major at Boston College. Though she was not successful, she was advised to take some classes that the college offered to learn more about the topic. Dieujuste studied abroad in Barbados and became more comfortable with her Haitian heritage. However, upon returning to the U.S. from her semester abroad with her Haitian passport and green card, Dieujuste was pulled aside at customs in Boston-Logan Airport for questioning. This experience really brought Dieujuste to the reality that is the Haitian diaspora.
“The first thing that I learned is that it really doesn’t matter how much I’ve gained or how much I’ve acquired,” Dieujuste spoke.
Dieujuste continued, “I’ll never be treated or regarded the same as my white peers. I learned that there…we were all students. Same university, different experience.”
Though her experience as a Haitian person in the United States has been tattered with struggles, Dr. Dieujuste is one of the many examples of the success that Haitians have achieved, and is proud to share her story and experience to the students at Springfield College.
“I hope [students] get that they too can be vulnerable and own their own story,” Dieujuste stated. “Whether they’re marginalized students or not, we all have a story to tell right? We all struggle to some certain extent with our identity or our ability to fit in, so I hope that they’re inspired to know that they do matter, because they do… I hope they find strength in that.”
For more information on the rest of the events being held during Black History Month, head to https://springfield.edu/news/springfield-college-black-history-month-2022.
Photo From Springfield Student