Reminders from Haiti

Patrick Sylvain, Brown University

"Haiti will be with us for a long time." Last January, Patrick Sylvain of Brown's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, spoke about the need to look both backward and forward in time to understand the catastrophic effects of the Haiti's earthquake. 

Haiti is back in the headlines with an outbreak of cholera that threatens to create a new wave a casualties, a cruel aftershock that reminds us: much remains to be done.

Sylvain's poem "Ports of Sorrow" was featured on the PBS Newshour on January 25, 2010 and captures his despair. The poem refers to Haiti's independence in 1804, the result of the only successful slave revolt in history. In just over a decade, the enslaved population of Haiti overthrew a colonial society and established themselves as free and independent citizens of a new state.

Since the Revolution ended over two hundred years ago, Haiti has struggled with external and internal challenges. The Revolution destroyed nearly all of the country’s infrastructure and production capabilities. In the 1800s, European and U.S. leaders ostracized the fledgling nation politically and economically, contributing to Haiti’s decline from one of the world’s wealthiest colonies to one of its most impoverished countries. Many scholars relate Haiti’s current poverty to legacies of French colonialism and the aftermath of the Revolution.

How does thinking historically about Haiti's current crises change our relationship to events there? Is it possible to change ebb and flow of public attention into a steady stream of engagement and knowledge?

Sylvain collaborated with the Choices Education Program on two projects, "The Haitian Crisis: Thinking Historically," and full- length curriculum resource, The Haitian Revolution.