The devastating earthquake in Haiti has brought lamentations from the West, desperate reports from the ground, and our own reflection on the circumstances that made Haiti vulnerable. The Root's Joel Dreyfuss looks past the immediate circumstances of the attack to the whole of Haitian history and culture. Disaster is nothing new to Haiti, a fact that both encourage and discourages the Haitian-American writer dealing with his guilt at escaping the beautiful but beleaguered country.
For those of us who were born there, each setback is a blow in the gut, a reminder of the precarious state of our native land. It also gives us a gnawing sense of guilt about how fortunate we are to be in places where systems work, building codes are enforced and a system of emergency rescue exists.
How the media will treat this story isn't difficult to predict. Dreyfuss both acknowledges and counters the inevitable media trope of Haiti's struggles. "You will hear over and over in the coming days that it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. What you will not hear is that it is also a country rich in culture, world-class art, and music that is celebrated all over the French-speaking world."
Dreyfuss explores the strength and misfortune of Haiti, beginning with the violence and nobility of Haiti's revolution, which brought black self-rule at a time when many still held slaves. From Haiti's founders to his own parents, Dreyfuss says Haitians have a history of enduring disaster with remarkable strength.
While early media reports are already saying that Haiti is least ready to deal with this disaster, I know that Haitians are a hardy people. They survived the unspeakable cruelty of their colonial masters and their colonial opponents. They survived centuries of corrupt rule and, when they gained the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, their success showed that the plight of Haiti is not inevitable, that the relentless bad news and bad luck is not something inherent to Haiti and Haitians.
There will be a major rescue operation; experts will argue and debate how to remake Haiti again. Consultants will collect large fees. Bill Clinton, who has been serving as the pied piper for Haitian development, will bring investors on another trip to look for opportunity - construction companies will surely join the delegation this time. My hope is that all the experts will listen carefully to the Haitian people and help them rebuild what they need to change Haiti's future.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.