mercredi 27 février 2013

Haiti's Many Landscapes

Last year, in February to be precise, I read Régine O. Jackson's Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. I loved it, and have been meaning to share some thoughts about it here, but have not gotten around to it until now. I'm actually surprised that the book hasn't been reviewed more widely since its publication.

For many years now, there has been increased attention paid to the Haitian Diaspora -- they were declared the 10th department before Nippes was! (I guess now the Diaspora would be the 11th department? That doesn't quite have the same ring to it.) But what do we mean when we evoke the djaspora? Is the Haitian community in the Bahamas comparable to the one in France? Is Boston's Haitian community equivalent to that of the DR? And what of the nuances within each of the different groups?

When there is much talk about members of the diaspora helping Haiti, investing in Haiti, there is little discussion of  their capacity  to do so. The assumption seems to be that all djaspora are in a position to help their compatriots at home. Yet, that is far from being the case. Some diasporic communities are more in need of support from the home country rather than being in a position to provide it, yet they rarely seem to receive such support.

Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora explores and illustrates all of these issues. One of the things I most loved about the book was that it does not contain chapters on Haitian communities in Miami and New York City. Not that I have anything against those two cities, but there has been tons of research done on Haitians in those communities already, much of it stellar. And we should be wary of those two enclaves being seen as representative of the Haitian diaspora as a whole. Jackson's volume contains chapters on Haitian communities in the Bahamas, in the Dominican Republic, in Boston, in Guadeloupe, in Jamaica and Montreal. Just as there is incredible diversity amongst Haitians at home, so there is among the diaspora. They do not all speak the same languages, they do not all subscribe to the same religious beliefs, and they are not similarly integrated into their host societies.

The volume contributors are highly respected researchers in their fields. Apart from Margarita Mooney's chapter, which seemed to rely mostly on anecdotes, I was very impressed with the caliber of the research and writing. Samuel Martinez's chapter on Haitians in the Dominican Republic was rather depressing, but that was to be expected given the turbulent history between the two nations. I loved learning about Haitians in 19th century Jamaica. I have always wanted to visit Cuba, but Yanique Hume's chapter now has me even more intrigued. Part III of the book is entitled Diaspora as Metageography and the authors in this section stretch the meanings of diaspora beyond its traditional limits to include soundscapes and cyberspace, to cite only two examples.

I have been on something of a history kick lately. In the past two months, I've read Alyssa Sepinwall's Haitian History: New Perspectives, Avengers of the New World and Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois, and in spite of the many references to Silencing the Past in these texts, added Ti Dife Boule sou Istwa Ayiti by Michel-Rolph Trouillot instead. Regine Jackson's volume is a wonderful addendum to that list, showing how  historical processes  have impacted and continue to impact various  Haitian communities around the world.

This book did raise one question in my mind that is not specific to Haitian Studies: why in the world are research books so expensive? I would love to tell you all to run out and buy this, but I doubt you'll be able to afford it. The hardcover runs for $122.99 on Amazon, whereas the Kindle edition is $87.59. I hope you will ask the libraries you frequent to buy it, but it makes me wonder about editorial policies. Does Routledge really want people to read this book? The contributors to Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora have made many important interventions in the discussions surrounding Haiti, its diaspora, diaspora studies in general and identity politics (which is a topic we're visting a lot on Tande lately). It would be a shame if prohibitive pricing keeps this book from being more widely known.

Contributors: Paul Brodwin, Fabienne Doucet, Heike Drothbohm,Yanique Hume, Regine O. Jackson, Samuel Martinez, Elizabeth McAlister, Margarita Mooney, Angel Adams Parham, Ermitte St. Jacques, Nina Glick Schiller, Matthew J. Smith, Gina Athena Ulysse, Chantalle F. Verna


10 commentaires:

  1. Thanks so much for this review Nadève! Geographies is indeed an important contribution to the field, another thing that I appreciated is the book's interdisciplinarity. Jackson is a sociologist, she pays tribute to Anglade's work as a geographer and then many of the subsequent chapters are by scholars in different fields. In the class I am teaching on Theorizing the Diaspora we have bene talking about the currency of the word differing from one field to another. In literary and cultural studies we accept and appreciate the significance of diaspora a concept as well as a theoretical tool. But in other fields like migration studies it 's use has fallen from prominence a bit, so looking at the Haitian diaspora from different disciplinary perspectives is absolutely essential.

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Nadève! I hope the "history kick" was fun.

    Geographies is really a wonderful collection. On the price, issue the only thing I can think is that Routledge separates books they think are "library" books (books that will only be bought by academic libraries and for which all costs must be recouped by selling only 300-500 copies) and texts that might be used in the classroom, which they think they'll sell more of and thus can price more cheaply. Routledge did the same for Jean-Germain Gros's book on foreign intervention in Haiti, which is $125. On the one hand, I'm glad Routledge is publishing these great books - it is starting to build a great list in Haitian studies. But they must think there is a limited market in English for such books, or they would drop the price. Geographies seems to me to be a really teachable collection.

    What really needs to happen is that there are more Haitian history or Haitian studies classes in North American universities, for which these books could be textbooks. Then the price would drop. But I'm sure there are plenty of folks in the diaspora who would want to read Geographies too - if they found out about it, and if it was priced less! If enough people lobby and say they'll use it in the classroom, a paperback edition might be possible. Haitian history is still so little taught in universities, compared to French history, Chinese history, Cuban history, etc etc.


  3. I did enjoy the history kick, Alyssa! But it's time for me to get back to literature and criticism.
    I hadn't heard of the Gros book. Thanks for the reference. I think you're probably right about the logic behind the pricing. It just seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If no one can afford to buy it, how will others learn about it and eventually include it in their courses, etc.?
    I agree that this is a very teachable collection. It can be used for courses in a variety of departments I would think, not just History. It really is an multidisciplinary collection, as Regine pointed out.

  4. Excellent review Nadeve, with keen observations. I have not read the book, but you just placed it on my list. There is that general misconception about the Haitian Diaspora being Miami and New York and there is no changing that, at least for now. Sadly, that misconception drowns out the rest of the djaspora, which is equally important as MIA and NYC. Therefore, Geographies is a welcome scientific window rarely opened. As you mentioned, the reality resembles nothing like the collective portrayal of the Haitians living abroad. Those studies will not only expose the harsh, distinct realities of that entity, but will also be instrumental in academic research, new studies and most importantly will carve out new ways of approaching those particular communities for any future projects. That was a great review and I have come to expect nothing less from you, since I started following your writes.
    Thank you.

  5. I'm glad you added the book to your reading list, Chris. I am sure you will enjoy it. I think Geographies will greatly contribute towards changing the general misconception about who constitutes the Haitian Diaspora. There are so many other enclaves to explore: North Carolina, of course ;), but also Atlanta, Guyane and Turks and Caicos, for example.
    Some good news: I just checked on Amazon and it looks like a paperback edition is coming out in April!

  6. That is great news, Nadeve.
    I look forward to reading it. This expansive view of the diaspora will indeed help shatter some of the misconceptions. Although small, the North Carolina diaspora is growing. Some bands have started showing up here recently. there is also a growing professional presence in the NC Haitian community.

  7. Great news on the paperback edition of Geographies. Thanks for posting, Nadeve!


  8. This sounds like an extremely interesting and well-documented book.

    You can access the book for free via Scribd and download it as a pdf, though you might need to link Scribd to your facebook account or start a direct free account with the site

  10. Sorry, I meant you can access the book here for free: