This is a time-tested ritual long practiced by our aggrieved, proud communities in the Diaspora: the meticulous but truculent search for any noticeable signs that give us a sure measure of our success or defeat in the murkily impervious United States of America.
Indeed, the knowledge of the transforming goalposts we have reached and the affirming milestones we need to further conquer have an energizing and empowering effect on our woebegone communities. This validates our struggle choices and illuminates for all of us the path ahead.
From the Winn-Dixie smell incident in the early 80’s in Miami to the vibrant HIV march in the city of New York years later: a redundant supply of these events exists in almost any part of the US where tens of thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Americans are muddling through to make a living.
While our success wasn’t enough a telling barometer of where we truly stand, our weakness, say our labeling in the early 80’s as one of the four groups carrying the HIV virus, gave rise to a muscular response suggesting memorable strength and a venerable fighting spirit.
I guess it’s easy to pinpoint some of the early successes that tell the whole United States that the Haitian community may have arrived – stories that open or end a chapter in the remarkable history book of our Diaspora. The formation of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami and the unrelenting struggles that follow is worth noting.
Wyclef Jean proudly carrying our red and blue flag when accepting his Grammy on behalf of Fugees is not too far behind. Our ascension to multiple elected positions on various council bodies is another one – not to mention the elevation of a non-elected Patrick Gaspard to the highest echelon of the Obama administration.
We need to start watching elsewhere, in the unlikeliest of places, to get a different feel of our progress: the National Football League, the most popular game in the sports landscape in the US. A relatively young Haitian-American community has managed to graduate close to forty players into this league.
The 2010 earthquake saw the league take a compassionate stand at the urging of the Haitian-American players. Sunday games after the earthquake saw multiple minutes of silence to remember our dead. Pierre Garcon of the Indianapolis Colts and Super Bowl champion and Miami Hurricanes star Jonathan Vilma went to Haiti to lend their support. Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets set up a foundation to steer aid toward the beleaguered nation.
Jason Pierre Paul of the New York Giants was the defensive player of the week about three weeks ago. Elvis Dumervil is one of the best players and last year signed a $61 million contract. Jason Pierre Paul will likely make close to $80 million when he signs his next contract in about two years.
It’s only the beginning. Jeff Luc may be the best High School defensive player in Florida, and he is Haitian. Jojo Nicholas, the calm leader of the Miami Hurricanes, will knock on the NFL door next year. Whitney Mercilus from Illinois University, another Haitian-American, will be the first defensive end taken in the first round in the 2012 NFL draft.
This is the most interesting aspect: Most of these players hail from South Florida, Little Haiti in particular. These kids are the sons of refugees who made it to America in barely seaworthy boats – Pierre Garcon, Super Bowl champion, is from Belle Glades; the Joseph brothers from Little Haiti; Jonathan Vilma from Coral Gables; and the list admirably goes on.
Their success is also our success – a product of our valiant struggles waged in the late 70’s and early 80’s in the streets of Miami and New York and in the courtrooms in Miami and Atlanta. My hope: these players give back to the current crop of kids in our desperate communities and lobby the NFL to do something lasting in Belle Glades, Little Haiti or Pompano Beach.
When successful, stretching a hand to the least fortunate is almost always the logical next step.
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