An in­sult amid mourn­ing

As Haitians re­call deadly quake, they also de­mand a Trump apol­ogy

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARIA SAC­CHETTI

Haitians, such as this ac­tivist march­ing in Mi­ami’s Lit­tle Haiti, above, re­mem­bered their coun­try’s earth­quake eight years ago as they re­flected on Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­marks about them.

They are sci­en­tists and su­per­mod­els, NBA play­ers and col­lege pro­fes­sors. They de­sign Chrysler cars and ne­go­ti­ate on “Shark Tank.” Their roots are in Haiti, the world’s first black repub­lic, which fought off slav­ery decades be­fore the United States did. But many of their con­tri­bu­tions are be­ing made here.

The poor­est coun­try in the West­ern Hemi­sphere, Haiti is of­ten in the news for its crises, in­clud­ing the earth­quake on Jan. 12, 2010, that killed an es­ti­mated 200,000 peo­ple. Pres­i­dent Trump re­port­edly re­ferred to the coun­try on Thurs­day as a “shit­hole.”

On Fri­day, the eighth an­niver­sary of that quake, Haitian Am­bas­sador to the United States Paul Getty Alti­dor said he would use the public­ity sur­round­ing that re­mark to in­tro­duce a new nar­ra­tive — across the political spec­trum.

He said he wants Amer­i­can lib­er­als to view Haiti as a na­tion ca­pa­ble of cre­at­ing busi­nesses, jobs and wealth, and he wants Trump and other im­mi­gra­tion hard-lin­ers to see Haitians who come to the United States as con­trib­u­tors to the na­tion.

“Most peo­ple would not think of sci­en­tists or en­gi­neers or tech folks and Haiti in the same sen­tence,” he said dur­ing a tour of the em­bassy, which oc­cu­pies a Beaux-Arts man­sion on Mas­sachusetts Av­enue NW.

The United States is home to more than 630,000 Haitian im­mi­grants, not count­ing their U.S.-born chil­dren. About 50 Haitian Amer­i­cans have been elected to pub­lic of­fice. Haitian im­mi­grants send an es­ti­mated $2 bil­lion a year to their home­land, mostly from the United States — one of many rea­sons that Haiti and some U.S. law­mak­ers want to in­clude in the im­mi­gra­tion pack­age be­ing ne­go­ti­ated on Capi­tol Hill new pro­tec­tions for the nearly 60,000 Haitians granted tem­po­rary pro­tected sta­tus in the United States af­ter the earth­quake.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced in Novem­ber that Haitians’ pro­tected sta­tus would ex­pire in July 2019, say­ing the coun­try had suf­fi­ciently re­cov­ered from the earth­quake for peo­ple to re­turn home.

Haitian im­mi­grants tend to have slightly lower ed­u­ca­tion

rates than Amer­i­cans over­all, but their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion lev­els ex­ceed the na­tional av­er­age. Four­teen per­cent have ad­vanced de­grees, com­pared with 11 per­cent for the gen­eral U. S. pop­u­la­tion.

Fri­day was sup­posed to be a day of mourn­ing for Haitians, with can­dle­light vig­ils, re­li­gious ser­vices, med­i­ta­tion and prayer. Alti­dor, who es­caped the Ho­tel Mon­tana in Haiti sec­onds be­fore it col­lapsed and joined in the search for sur­vivors, ex­pected Fri­day to be a quiet day of re­flec­tion.

In­stead, he toured me­dia out­lets and mon­i­tored the news from Port-au-Prince, where the U. S. chief of mis­sion in Haiti was meet­ing with Haitian of­fi­cials to dis­cuss the furor over the pres­i­dent’s re­ported re­marks.

In a se­ries of tweets, Trump de­nied the com­ments at­trib­uted to him. But Haitian Amer­i­cans, and oth­ers, de­manded an apol­ogy.

“The pres­i­dent should be ashamed of him­self,” said Jean Bradley Derenon­court, a newly sworn-in city coun­cil mem­ber in Brock­ton, Mass., who fled the earth­quake in 2010 and be­came a U. S. cit­i­zen. “My blood is boil­ing right now.”

Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), the only Haitian Amer­i­can in Congress, tweeted Thurs­day that “this be­hav­ior is un­ac­cept­able from the leader of our na­tion.”

The pres­i­dent ac­tively courted Haitians on the cam­paign trail, vis­it­ing Lit­tle Haiti in Mi­ami and at­tempt­ing to seize on their frus­tra­tion with the pace of re­build­ing af­ter the earth­quake and with the in­volve­ment of his op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton’s fam­ily foun­da­tion.

Thurs­day was not the first time Trump has of­fended the com­mu­nity, how­ever. In De­cem­ber, the New York Times re­ported that Trump com­plained in June that thou­sands of Haitians al­lowed to en­ter the United States on visas last year “all have AIDS.” The White House de­nied the re­port.

Alti­dor’s email ac­count has been in­un­dated with thou­sands of apolo­getic mes­sages from across the United States, an out­pour­ing he de­scribed as heart­en­ing and a “tes­ta­ment of the strong bond” be­tween the na­tions.

The am­bas­sador is the son of a Haitian-born cab­driver from Bos­ton who brought him to the United States when he was 15 and knew lit­tle English. He bagged gro­ceries at a su­per­mar­ket and fin­ished high school, then went on to grad­u­ate from Bos­ton Col­lege and earn a master’s de­gree from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

He cites myr­iad other suc­cess sto­ries: Gar­celle Beau­vais, a Haitian-born ac­tress; C. Reynold Ver­ret, pres­i­dent of Xavier Univer­sity of Louisiana; Pa­trick Gas­pard, a for­mer Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial and the son of Haitian par­ents who is the pres­i­dent of the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions.

Derenon­court, the city coun­cil mem­ber, is also one of them. Af­ter the earth­quake, he joined his fa­ther in Mas­sachusetts. He learned English, bussed ta­bles at a restau­rant and ul­ti­mately grad­u­ated from Suf­folk Univer­sity in Bos­ton. In Jan­uary, he be­came Brock­ton’s first Haitian Amer­i­can law­maker.

“That’s the Amer­i­can Dream, right? That’s the great­ness of this coun­try,” he said.

To ex­pand Amer­i­cans’ per­spec­tive on Haiti, Alti­dor said, the em­bassy of­fers tours, cook­ing classes (with a 5,000-per­son wait­ing list, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Congress), lan­guage lessons and trivia nights.

Haitian art­work is on dis­play through­out the build­ing. Alti­dor said he urges U. S. col­lege stu­dents to study in Haiti — to learn from the coun­try — in­stead of just vol­un­teer­ing or of­fer­ing aid.

“Trump is a foot­note. There’s a big­ger is­sue here at stake,” the am­bas­sador said. “Ul­ti­mately, there’s se­ries of stig­mas in his head. When he’s think­ing Haiti, that’s what comes to mind.”

AL­LI­SON SHEL­LEY FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

On the eighth an­niver­sary of a dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in Haiti, Paul Getty Alti­dor, Haiti’s am­bas­sador to the United States, poses for a por­trait at the Caribbean coun­try’s em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton.

AL­LI­SON SHEL­LEY FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Framed bi­ogra­phies of fa­mous peo­ple of Haitian de­scent hang on a wall as Paul Getty Alti­dor, the na­tion’s am­bas­sador to the United States, fore­ground, con­ducts a tour of the Haitian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day. Alti­dor came to the United States as a child and later earned a de­gree from MIT.

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