Statue_Jean_Baptiste_Pointe_Du_Sable In a meeting on immigration last week, President Trump allegedly referred to multiple places around the world as “shithole countries.” One those countries was Haiti, where according to people who were at the meeting, the President said: “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” RELATED: Trump’s on a Chicago eatery’s hit list, and…
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By Leslie Ovalle
In 1977, after one year in prison for discussing his political beliefs, Jean-Claude Exulien—a secondary school history professor—decided to flee his home in Haiti.
Exulien said that there are times in history when a government cannot be criticized, but he is also quick to remind that as an intellectual and educator, it is impossible to suppress critical discussions.
Exulien fled Haiti during the rule of the dictator “Baby Doc”, or Jean-Claude Duvalier, seeking his own and his family’s safety. He said that if it hadn’t been for Haiti’s suppressive regime many Haitians, including himself, would not have fled the land they feel such patriotism for.
His office in North Miami, decorated with Haitian flags and cultural photographs, is evidence to his love of country.
“I’m a big witness, I would say, of what happened in Haiti during the dictatorship of Francois Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier,” said Exulien, “Haitian intellectuals were obliged to leave the country to save their lives.”
Many Haitians fleeing the regime of the time decided to migrate to Montreal, Canada. This is something that crossed Exulien’s mind, but a summer school teaching opportunity and family here in South Florida is what pushed him to make this city his new home.
“Some friend told me one time ‘it’s not difficult for you, because you used to teach at a higher level.’ I said ‘no it’s not a problem because I love these people, they are my people’. Until today that is my job, to teach them how to write in French, Creole, and English,” explains Exulien.
Knowing Creole, French, English, and Spanish, Exulien embodies the importance of knowing multiple languages in a place as diverse as South Florida.
On his office desk lays an ocean of newspapers—which he refers to as his tools—and in this ocean you can find all four languages. He jokes, although in a serious manner, saying that nowadays if you speak only one language you are handicap.
“Sometimes there are news in El Nuevo Herald or Las Americas and you cannot find the same news in The Herald, for example, so we have to read more than one newspaper and in more than one language,” he said.On the side of his office cabinet hangs a quote by John Dewey, the liberal philosopher that reads, in all caps: “education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”
Exulien takes education beyond the classroom, besides teaching literacy, history, and anthropology he has a radio show on 1700 AM Radio Mega every Saturday at 11am.
“This is a class, it’s not a radio show,” Exulien said.
His radio segment is 90% Creole and 10% English; where he discusses current events, ideas, and history with his listeners.
A very proud man of his country’s history, he is one of the founders of the Haitian American Historical Society—a non-profit organization seeking the recognition and accuracy of historical events pertaining to Haitians and those of Haitian descent.
In 2007, the organization erected a monument of Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue in Savannah, Gerogia. Les Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint Domingue was a group of Haitian free men who volunteered to fight in The Siege of Savannah on October 9th, 1779 against the British.
“Haitian people died there, in Franklin Square, for the independence of the United States,” said Exulien.
The organization is now working on erecting yet another monument, in St. Augustine, Florida, commemorating General Georges Biassou—a Haitian forefather who fought with Spanish royalists.
Exulien is also the president of the organization Haitian League for Human Rights, INC.
“We created this organization one year ago, because of the situation of [our Haitian] brothers and sisters in Santo Domingo,” said Exulien.
This article was originally published on Rise Miami News.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place.
Photo Credits: Leslie Ovalle/ RISE NEWSPost Views: 315
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This story is part of the “My Story” series by The Young Leaders.
It was a sunny morning in Haiti on January 12, 2010 – the first day of school after winter break.
Lying on my bed, I looked at the trees dancing on the ceiling.
The neighboring rooster crowed as I finally rose, put my knees on the floor and began to pray.
My mother, as always, was cooking eggs.
She spoke to me about education: “Son, you have to do well in school to succeed in life. Life and education are a competition. Please son, do not embarrass me. Avoid the wrong crowd. Promise me that good things will happen. Make your family proud wherever you go.”
As she spoke, I wondered why she told me these things.
At the time, I wasn’t mature enough to understand, so I agreed just to make her happy.
A few minutes later, I arrived at school. Already, I had fallen in with the wrong crowd, paid no attention in class, and decided not to do my homework.
After school on that day, I played marbles with friends until one of the elders in the community saw me playing and scolded me to go home and do my homework.
I listened to the elder and went home.
When I got there, my mother asked me, “Where were you?”
I replied, “Outside,” as she shook her head, obviously worried about that I was not following her instructions.
One hour later, the earth started trembling.
I heard a noise like boulders falling from the sky.
Our television and bookshelves fell to the floor.
I was terrified and thought my life would end.
We tried running away from the house, but the ground was shaking intensely.
I didn’t know what was happening.
I thought about all the advice my mother had given me.
I heard people screaming from outside, running everywhere and trying to save others stuck under demolished houses.
When I got out of the house looking around, I realized my mother and I could have been in the same position.
After the 7.0 shock-wave, my mother, my sister and I walked on the street and saw the catastrophe. Roughly 300,000 people were killed in the event and 1.5 million were displaced.
People had lost their families and everything they owned.
We were too afraid to sleep in the house, scared it would collapse.
We had no choice but to sleep on the street. The streets became beds for everyone when it’s was night-time. Aftershocks shook the ground every five minutes.
A week later, my father came from New York to get my sister and me.
I had never imagined myself leaving Haiti but there was no other choice.
I cried, and hugged my mother tightly.
In tears, I said, “Mother I’m sorry for everything. I will succeed; I will learn English and make you proud.”
My dad smiled.
I realized I would do everything in my power to make my parents proud. That moment would drive me for years to come.
When I came to America, I was ready to excel in school.
I knew no English, and communicating in school was extremely hard.
I started reading and writing to improve my English skills.
I knew I wanted to attend college.
I started working harder in classes, coming to school early every morning to study subjects that I needed to give closed attention, so I would not fall behind students who took their English for granted.
I challenged myself to become better in school by practicing for the SAT on my own and doing extra work in class.
It paid off. By the time high school came, I was in the English Honors class and the National Honor Society.
I started an acting program in high school named DreamYard Art Center. I began acting in plays with the goal of becoming an actor and a director.
I want to continue being successful and I plan on working very hard to accomplish my goals.
These goals have already helped me to achieve things I never imagine I would have achieved, such as acting in front of 300 people.
These skills will continue to help me as I pursue my education.
I am currently a junior studying Social Work at CUNY York College.
My goal after achieving my bachelor in social work is to go for my master in education policy.
I want to start my career as a school counselor, however I would like to elevate myself as a principal as time progresses.
After my studies, I want to build a school and an art program like DreamYard Art Center in Haiti for children.
My purpose in pursuing higher education is to succeed in ways victims of the January 2010 Haiti Earthquake only dreamed about, since they never had a chance to make their dreams a reality.
When I succeed, my goal is to start an art program in Haiti for teens that want to pursue their dreams.
This terrible tragedy led me onto the right path and made me focus on my education.
But Haiti is still in my heart. And I’m going back home.
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