What’s more raucous than road rage and ambulance sirens along Los Angeles roads? Talk in the town – discourse regarding the 7.0* magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010. Many stories are nothing but shattered glass. Coming from all avenues, they pierce our emotions with the same message: Haiti is a victim beseeching “heroic” western countries for aid. However, the concept of international aid needs reconstruction. During crises, what does agency really mean and who has it? Digging deeper beneath the rubble of public misunderstandings, the UCLA community unearths a clearer, more holistic picture – a picture of Haiti Rising.
On March 5, 2010, the public attended a free information forum about Haiti. International Development Studies students and faculty organized the event by collaborating with African Studies, History, the Bunche Center for African American Studies, the UCLA Center for Black Studies Research, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Support came from the UCLA Graduate Division, International Institute and event attendees.
Panelists presented different perspectives on Haiti’s situation, converging on the main theme of empowering local Haitian communities and being sensitive to their cultures and needs.
Nick Entrikin, Vice Provost of International Studies, delivered the welcome remarks. He expressed that despite land devastation, the human spirit remains robust. Natural disasters have occurred throughout history, but the January earthquake was so severe because Haiti’s underlying poverty and human injustices exacerbated nature’s havoc. While people attend to immediate concerns of infrastructure and human health, something is forgotten: the psychological loss of everyday social order. Listen to the speech: 5min, 30 sec
Claudine Michel, professor of Black Studies at UCSB, read “A Poem for Haiti” (by A-lan Holt). One of several messages was that you may never see Haiti but can still feel what it is like to break. Listen: 2:30
Claudine Michel then spoke about grassroots efforts and community mobilization. In the aftermath, there were many faces without names and a nation knocked off balance. She called for reconstructing history, knowledge and the self – a rebuilding of one community at a time, one sacred space at a time. Prof. Michel also spoke about the Bibliothéque du Soleil (French for “library of the sun”) project in the town of Carre-Four Feuilles. It was a place of literacy, community and solace. Listen: 11:33.
Robin Derby, UCLA professor of History, discussed how violence cuts across all social classes. All rungs of the socioeconomic ladder have been rattled, and elites are no longer so safe on top. She presented video clips of herself interviewing Haitian civilians in the marketplace. Among some of their concerns were lost remittances (which many poor individuals relied upon for livelihoods) and not knowing their family members’ whereabouts. Derby subsequently discussed death’s enduring place in Haitian culture, as well as the scant aid allocated to rural areas – a zone to which 500,000 refugees have fled. Listen: 10:10
Robert Hill, UCLA professor of History, gave an unscripted talk about his struggle to understand why he mourns for Haiti. Death encompasses excruciating repetition. It seems like Haiti’s hope and beauty has been replaced with powerlessness. However, Hill acknowledged that healthy mourning can be empowering. It can unite dispirited individuals under a common destiny. Haitians will recover from the incident because they can tell stories of what happened. Hill emphasized that storytelling remedies human madness. Listen: 05:23
Don Cosentino, UCLA professor of World Arts & Cultures, discussed art and religion. Many symbolic buildings in Haiti, including art galleries and temples, were obliterated. However, death was not considered an enemy. Rather, it was the continuation of life. To illustrate various ideas, Dr. Cosentino showed a framed New Yorker magazine cover and a bottle composed of detritus. Listen: 14:30
Russell Stockard, Cal Lutheran professor of Communication, talked about media representations being financially motivated, and what related policy implications are. Audio is unavailable. Apologies to Dr. Stockard: without an intermission, transferring data out of the full memory card occurred during his speech.
Nandini Gunewardena, UCLA professor of International Development Studies, discussed how neoliberal policies jeopardized human security. Privatization, deregulation and cut backs in social safety nets eroded locals’ agency, access and control of their own livelihoods. The dream of transforming Haiti into the “Taiwan of the Caribbean” was extinguished. Gunewardena was suspicious of the March 9-10 investment summit in Miami, noting that many of its players were from privatized entities. With predatory capital running amuck, neoliberal firms forgo transparency, bypass civil society and portray locals as development disruptors. During this process, human insecurities dwindle. Thus, Gunewardena urges for the empowerment of NGOs and civilians on the ground. Listen: 08:41
Coming soon: Power Point presentation by Gunewardena
A Q&A concluded the night. Topics:
- How will Haitians be represented in the Investment Summit and general development dialogue? Do they need green technology or houses?
- How will the Haitians be affected by the Chilean earthquake?
- What are the ethical implications of journalists who attempt alleviating traumatic situations that they were supposed to objectively report? Who are these stories truly about? -CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper’s roles; -Prof. Michel’s emotional account of “the murder of Anaika by CNN”
- Can we equip Haitians with new media tools such as Twitter and blogs?
Coming soon: panelists’ biographies