Journal from Haiti by Gerry Straub
Sometimes when I’m driving in Haiti, I make a move that even a Haitian tap-tap driver would not dare to make. I then jokingly acknowledge how crazy the move was by saying, “I’m a Haitian.” By saying that I acknowledge that at least when it comes to driving, I demonstrate I am very Haitian. But the truth of the matter is I do not have the inner strength or physical stamina to be a true Haitian. If I had to live in Haiti as a poor person without the support and structure of Santa Chiara, I would crumble and collapse within a week.
Over and over again in the pages of this Journal during the last three years, I’ve expressed my admiration for Haitians, marveling at their strength, courage, and creativity, as well as their boundless optimism in the face of overwhelmingly harsh and often brutal conditions. Long before starting Santa Chiara, I witnessed first-hand the mettle and fortitude of the Haitians as I watched them dig out from under the rubble caused by the earthquake eight years ago yesterday, without the help of a functioning government. With their bare hands and indominable spirit, they rescued their trapped neighbors and then picked up the pieces of their own destroyed lives and simply moved on and started over again. I only spent a week in Haiti just after the earthquake and it scarred me with post traumatic stress disorder which still impacts me today.
I was filled with a sense of deep regret and sadness when I listened to the shameful and offensive words spoken by our president about Haiti and other deeply impoverished nations in Africa. I’ve made five trips to Africa, spending a good deal of time in Kenya and Uganda. In those two African nations, I encountered profoundly poor people who deeply impressed me with their kindness, compassion, and endurance while living in crushing destitution in which every day is a struggle for survival. I can say the same thing about the chronically poor I encountered in Brazil, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico, all of whom have been crudely disparaged by our President.
The President’s ignorant, insensitive, insulting, and racist remarks stand in stark contrast to all that America stands for―noble, uplifting values that draw people to America and who make America not only great, but also very special in the family of nations. America was once the envy of the world. The President’s disgusting, mean-spirited words defy our core principles as a nation of immigrants. We cannot allow his bigotry and hatred to become the norm for America. We also cannot allow his vulgarity and divisiveness to become acceptable in America. Remaining silent in the face of such blatant bigotry and xenophobia is no longer an option. He will not change. He will not grow or evolve. We cannot let him drag us down into the gutter with him.
His offensive, egotistical, child-like behavior will continue to erode the goodness of Americans and might even destroy us as a nation. With those few nasty, degrading words, spoken within the dignified aura of the Oval Office, the world will stop laughing at America and will now be horrified by America. Denouncing his words is not a partisan or political action. The truth knows no party affiliation. To remain silent is to effectively agree with the president’s cruel and craven evaluation of Haitians and Africans, or more broadly, people of color. Desmond Tutu, the retired South African Anglican archbishop, said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has his foot on a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Gerry Straub is an author, long time filmmaker and head of “Pax et Bonum,” a Franciscan film company. He made the film “The Narrow Path,” about John Dear and nonviolence. He and his wife now run an orphanage in Port au Prince, Haiti. For information contact Gerry here.