For a few harrowing weeks in January, the eyes of the world were on Haiti, struggling with the impact of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. In the spotlight’s glare, we saw the devastation wrought by the natural disaster. Viewers with a critical eye or access to alternative media also saw a U.S. military presence more focused on security than food and medical help, Haitians labeled as looters for trying to feed their families amidst the rubble, and the eagerness of international finance to rebuild Haiti on its own terms.
What we didn’t see in the mainstream media were the Haitian people’s extraordinary history of resistance, the depth and richness of the culture, or the seemingly indestructible web of grassroots organizations that have sustained the Haitian people through crisis after crisis. Nor did the media explore the impact of European colonialism and U.S. intervention.
Thousands of classrooms and school communities mobilized to raise money to help the Haitian people. Now, as the crisis has disappeared from the headlines, we hope that initial goodwill becomes the impetus to go beyond the immediate crisis: This is a critical time to re-examine the history and culture of Haiti, and to develop ways to integrate Haiti into our curricula.
Despite its invisibility in textbooks, Haiti has played, and continues to play, an important role in U.S. and world history. For example, how many of our students realize that when Columbus first landed on what he called Hispaniola, that was Haiti? Centuries later, in 1804, Haiti defeated France in the world’s only successful revolution of enslaved people. As author Madison Smartt Bell notes:
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