Revelers outfitted in red and blue packed several downtown sidewalks and streets Saturday as the city’s first official Haitian Flag Day event roared to life.

Along Bath and Franklin streets, that flag, with its parallel red-and-blue bars, was waved in hands, draped over shoulders and tied into bandanas by residents who danced, hugged and laughed to a soundtrack pumped out from nearby speakers.

Under a tent overhang, Mirlande Daniel, owner of Norwich-based Mommy’s Delicious Food restaurant, set up serving trays filled with black rice, fried plantains and jerk chicken. Daniel, a Haitian emigrate, said she hoped the street festival would give attendees a better sense of her native country.

“Not a lot of people know about Haiti or even where it is,” she said. “We have a beautiful history.”

Saturday’s festival had its roots in a student-run club formed at Norwich Free Academy by Enock Petit-Homme 15 years ago. Petit-Homme, who came to the United States as a high school student, said planning for the festival began in September with the help of local business owner Stephanie Simplice and the blessing of the City Council.

“This was an event we held indoors for years and today we get to bring it out to the streets,” he said. “Haitian history is world history, history that connects from the west coast of Africa and Puerto Rico to Venezuela and all of Latin America.”

Samson Tonton, a 38-year-old freelance artist who works in acrylic, pen-and-ink and illustrative mediums, moved to Norwich from Haiti in 2007. He said familiarizing himself with a new language was the biggest challenge.

“I thought living in Haiti I knew English,” he said. “I found out I didn’t know scrap. And my ego kept me from adult education, so I started at Three Rivers Community College and later to the New England Institute of Art in Boston.”

Tonton said Haitians in the city have a tendency to be hesitant of showing off their heritage, a social flaw he hoped the festival would help change.

“This is a chance for other people to see what the Haitian culture is about and for us to be organized and united,” he said. “By doing that, we show the younger generation there are different, better ideas out there.” Continue reading

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