Editor’s note: Edwidge Danticat is an acclaimed Haitian-American author who lives in Little Haiti. Her most recent novel is “Everything Inside.” She wrote this essay for the Miami Herald.
The soul of Little Haiti is in the Haitian konpa and Creole gospel music blasting from the neighborhood’s mom-and-pop shops, and the heated political discussions constantly taking place in our beauty parlors and barber shops.
The soul of Little Haiti is in the Little Haiti Cultural Center’s muraled plaza, especially when it’s packed with hundreds of revelers dancing and singing along to a favorite band. The soul of Little Haiti is in the smell of fried fish, pork, and goat wafting in the air on one side of a street and ground coffee on the other. The soul of little Haiti is in every jitney making its way down Northeast 2nd Avenue, while filled with commuters and stories.
Little Haiti is a space of both spirituality and protest, of both mourning and joy. So, the soul of Little Haiti is also in the street names and murals celebrating our, really, the world’s heroes. And the monuments celebrating our triumph, as well as those commemorating our pain. The soul of Little Haiti is all the protestant churches, and Notre Dame d’Haiti and other Catholic churches, and the Vodou- inspired botanicas, all coexisting within blocks of each other. The soul of Little Haiti is in the spirited processions of each faith as well as the countless marches demanding our rights.
The soul of Little Haiti is in Haitian bread still hot from the oven at Piman Bouk Bakery. And bargaining with the street vendors who sell the essential ingredients to make squash soup, soup joumou, liberty soup, on January 1st or Haitian Independence Day.
Little Haiti is a beacon of hope at the end of a long journey. Little Haiti is the manifestation of a dream. The soul of Little Haiti is in The Haitian Heritage Museum. The soul of Little Haiti is on the walls of artist Edouard Duval-Carrié’s studio and on the spines of the books at Libreri Mapou Bookstore, where you can catch the occasional rehearsal by Sosyete Koukouy (Firefly Society), the dance and theater troupe founded by Jan Mapou. Like Mapou’s brainchild, Little Haiti may now only spark like a firefly in the night, but its soul will never die.
Little Haiti is what’s possible when people plant new roots and try to create a community for the next generation to call home. The soul of Little Haiti also rests with the ghosts of the places that have already been disappeared by gentrification. Landmarks like Archbishop Curley High School. Or the decades old tailor and dress shop where many of the students got their prom suits and gowns, and where many of their parents got their wedding wear. The soul of Little Haiti is an American Airlines office where residents used to buy tickets to Haiti before the internet even existed.
In an era of both extreme xenophobia and extreme weather, or climate change, and when immigrants are constantly being told to go back to where they came from, and when some are actually being forced to, via deportation and ICE raids, the soul of Little Haiti is about survival. The soul of little Haiti lives in any community where people have been driven out and displaced. The soul of Little Haiti lives within all of us.
It lives in you.
It lives in me.