By Onz Chery
For the second year in a row, the Cap Haitien Flag Day parade has been canceled. In 2019, it wasn’t held due to safety issues amid a political crisis. This year, it was the novel coronavirus that robbed the Cap-Haitien residents of the celebration of their flags.
“Ah, this is more than sadness,” secondary school’s, C.P.N. EDITH, band leader Fritz Rhodson Jules told The Haitian Times in a Creole interview. “It really hurts that the parade won’t happen. I can’t even explain it, it’s a big event. It’s one of the biggest moments we lived each year. This year we’re left with a bitter taste in our mouths.”
Jules has been participating in the parade since he was eight years old in 1998. He played the trumpet, the trombone, the small and the big drum and the cymbals before becoming EDITH’s chief maestro.
Cap-Haitien isn’t the only state in Haiti that was deprived of the Flag Day’s festivities, but parades and other activities across the entire country were canceled. The number of COVID-19 cases in Haiti have increased. So far officials have said that more than 300 people tested positive and more than 20 people have died from the disease.
But to Jules and many other Haitians the joy the holiday brought started since the preparation period for it.
“The holiday is on May 18,but since the first weeks of the month you already felt that another wind was blowing through Cap-Haitien,” Jules said. “Every street you passed you came across a band that was preparing for the holiday. I remember when I was younger, after rehearsal me and my schoolmates would go listen to what other bands were preparing to see if they were better than us. Another band is never better than the one you’re in [laughed].”
In the past parades, crowds lined up to view school-bands marching in the streets wearing the red or blue colors of the Haitian flag. The sound of the rapid tapping on the drums mixed with the trumpets, the trombones, and other wind instruments brought a strong sense of patriotism. There were also dance performances from the students and other activities. The people watched them from their balconies, others crowded in the streets around the bands.
In 2019, the schools finished all their preparations but were later told that the parade was canceled because of the danger the political crisis brought.
“The kids were really sad,” Jerry Dieudonné, the co-director of MJSAC (Ministry of Youths, Sports and Civic Action) in Haiti’s Northern Department, said in an interview translated from Creole.
“May 18 is a cultural holiday that’s in our state’s tradition. We can’t go without it. We finished preparing but a note was released, it told us to stop all our activities. There was a political crisis. People were burning tires and throwing rocks. We didn’t want to expose the kids in the streets.”
This year the students started preparing for the parade but didn’t finish as all schools were closed because of the virus.
“I feel really disappointed,” Jules said. “For a lot of the students it was their last year—the last year I could watch them. Even though the year started rough, they sacrificed their time to prepare for the event and then it ended up not happening. I’m disappointed and very sad for them.”
Nevertheless, the worst part about the cancellation isn’t the fact that the students started rehearsing and aren’t going to perform, but it’s the fact that they won’t be able to express what the flag means to them. For Jules, one of the many things the Haitian flag means to him is union.
“When I see how everybody, all of the people in Cap-Haitien, worked together to celebrate Haitian Flag Day, it shows me that there’s hope that the union that we preach can happen,” the 29-year-old said. “And with this union a lot of stuff that seems impossible for a small country like Haiti can become possible. We can have a better country and be called Perles des Antilles again.”
For Samuel Volcy, one of the parade’s photographers who’s quite familiar with the event, Haiti’s flag means pride to him.
“Flag Day is my pride. It’s the pride of all Haitians,” Volcy said in Creole originally. “I want all Haitians to have confidence so they can bring out the true value of the blue and red color of our flag. It’s every single one us’ pride.”
Volcy and Jules are eagerly hoping that next year they’ll be able to experience the pride and the union they mentioned at the Flag Day Parade. The two-year hiatus built a yearning desire that’s stronger than usual to see the parade next year.
“We’ll be more than happy if the parade happens next year,” Jules said, “we’ll be thrilled. We’ll be partying.”