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Haiti Cultural Exchange’s first ever Diaspora in Dialogue: A Haitian Identity Symposium took place at the King Juan Carlos the I of Spain Center on October 25th, 2013. The symposium, chaired by Millery Polyné, NYU Gallatin Associate Professor and co-presented with NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, stood as a day of celebration, self-criticism, self-exploration, and solidarity for the Haitian community.
Symposium chair Millery Polyné offered welcoming thoughts on the climate of the Haitian diaspora community in New York. Citing the nuances of the community and the cultural legacy that many of us carry into this country, Polyné described the necessity of conversations like the ones that would transpire during the day to increase understanding of each other and ourselves.
A moving keynote address by Ambassador Paul Altidor set a contemplative tone as he highlighted the agency of the Diaspora to both seek out their identity as Haitians and embrace their space within the Diaspora. “Don’t wait for an invitation,” the Ambassador emphasized in his advice to the Diaspora.
Symposium attendees participated in four panels: An Age Thing: The Generational Haitian Immigrant Experience; Around the Vèvè: The Impact of Vodou on Perceptions of Haiti; Going Back: The Haitian Diasporan Identity in Haiti; and Using the Haitian Eye: Creating as an Artist in the Diaspora. From conversations on the politics of the Haitian expatriates of the 1970’s to reading the language of the vèvè with Manbo Dowoti Désir, one could sense participants and panelists efforts to drill deeper into each topic. Important but not surprising, was the interconnectedness that panels yielded to each other, a recurring theme was understanding how to “practice” one’s culture and identity. Does it take the form of language? How does it manifest in our creative work? When do we begin to understand ourselves as Haitian Diaspora versus Haitians away from home?
Through a series of 6 engagement questions, attendees were invited to respond to themes presented throughout the day and post them on a wall to generate further discussion.
Thanks to our fantastic panelists for their time and thoughtful presentations and for bearing a little bit of their soul so that we might all learn. Thank you to Ambassador Paul Altidor, keynote performer Jeffrey Dessources, and our moderators Jerry Philogene, professor of American Studies at Dickinson College, HCX board chair Fabrice Armand, and CLACS Faculty Fellow and Diaspora in Dialogue faculty liaison Katherine Smith for all their support.
A special thank you to NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies for being such gracious hosts and supporting both the HCX mission and understanding the importance of this symposium to the Haitian community.
Until next year,
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