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