Where are all my Haitian-Bahamians? Shall we call them Bahaitians? Bahamatians? Let me hear ya!
A Bahamatian is someone who was born in the Bahamas, but whose parents or grandparents were born in Haiti. Most Bahamatians have three worlds: they were born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents, but then barely stayed in the Bahamas, but emigrated to the USA with their parents, so they barely can give you an account of what life was like in the Bahamas.
And then there’s this cultural torment that exist in most of their lives. Some Bahamatians, especially those who were born in the 1980s, and early 1990s, will tell you that some of their Haiti-born fellow Haitians would get mad when they asserted their Bahamian birth. Perhaps was it because some of these Haiti-born fellas resented the fact that the Bahamatians had somewhere other than Haiti to claim, and were distancing themselves from association with Haiti.
I personally know this one American girl who had told me, “Some of these Haitians will rather tell you that they were born in the Bahamas rather than in Haiti.” While that may have been true in some cases, in other cases, these kids were really born in the Bahamas! Were they not suppose to claim it? What are they supposed to do?
Some Bahamian-born children of Haitians take their identity very seriously as Haitians. For instance, writer and entrepreneur Cynthia Blanc of Cynthia Blanc Worldwide, founded the Haitian Music and Entertainment Awards, an initiative many are surprised wasn’t founded by a “native” of Haiti.
Many don’t realize that Haitian-Bahamian ties go a long way back. In the 1800s, for example, a Haitian woman and her French lover escaped Haiti during the revolution, with the intention of going to Cuba, but landed in the Bahamas. They ended up being the grandparents of James Weldon Johnson, the writer of the Negro National Anthem, and their son Stephen became a major player in Bahamian governmental and business affairs.
In the book Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People, authors Michael Craton and Gail Saunders, Haitian merchants and traders were from Port-de-Paix were major contributors to Bahamian economy in the 1900s, and up to the 1930s. Today, the Bahamas is known as an island that Haitians immigrate to, but back in the 1940s, according to the book Bahamian Culture and Factors Which Impact Upon It, Bahamians highly appreciative of Haiti’s private Catholic and boarding schools would send their kids to Haitian schools.
By the mid-1960s though, it was another matter. According to Craton and Saunders, the Bahamian population census showed that the biggest percentage of foreign births were from Haiti. Because these migrants were mostly from Haiti’s peasantry, and were often more than willing to take menial jobs, they were looked down upon by local Bahamians.
Starting in the 1970s, strict laws were passed in the Bahamas to have Haitians attempting to escape Haiti by boat, repatriated to Haiti. Moreover, news reports from the 1970s, and especially the 1980s and the 1990s reported on at times inhuman treatment of Haitian immigrants in the Bahamas from raids on the “shacks” and “villages” where Haitian immigrants lived, by Bahamian police with police dogs to Bahamian coast guard shooting of incoming Haitian refugee boats.
Meanwhile the Bahamas passed a law at some point (in the mid-1970s), that anyone born after Bahamian independence whose parents were not citizens of the Bahamas, would have the nationality of their parents. Therefore, there are lots of Bahamian-born kids who have a Bahamian passport, but the passport says outright that their nationality is Haitian, and some have difficulty getting a passport in the first place. Charite Alouidor, a Bahamian-Haitian and activist, wrote to the Freeport News in 2007:
This letter is to inform you and your avid readers of the frustrating problems that we in the Haitian-Bahamian community face. The first and main problem is that we have the hardest time getting our passports and travel documents. We were born in this country many years ago, and in most cases before this country became independent in 1973. We still cannot get our Bahamian passports, even though our constitution guarantees us this right.
Bertin Magloire Louis Jr., who interviewed several immigrants and Bahamians of Haitian descent in the Bahamas for a thesis, was told by one who falls in the latter category:
The Haitians didn’t come to the Bahamas to take over. Haitians go through the Bahamas. They happened not to get to the United States and they got stuck here. They still want to go…Some people have waited 20 years to go to the United States. Forty percent of himself is in the United States, thinking that he’s already there. His family is there. Twenty percent of him is still in Haiti. The rest of him is here riding a bike, refusing to buy a house here. He can’t invest in a country because the country doesn’t want him, and he doesn’t plan to stay. The transitional Haitian is a national problem. The country created it by never accepting them.
Indeed, most Haitians used the Bahamas as a bridge to get to the United States, mainly Florida. Do you have some relatives who fall in that category?
Several scholars have commented on the dynamics of Bahamian-Haitian identity. The book African Caribbeans: A Reference Guide observes:
There is definitely prejudice, more class-oriented than social between Bahamians and Haitians. Many Haitians born of Bahamian parents have become Bahamianized to a certain extent. Although they usually live traditionally in all-Haitian communities, it seems that some Haitians desire to distance themselves from Haitian roots and culture. Many have intermarried with Bahamians, and are integrating into the society. Some have converted from Catholicism to the more fundamentalist churches.
Bahamian-Haitian identity is evolving! Bahamian-Haitians like beauty pageant queen Anastagia Pierre proudly assert their hyphenated identities, while actor Sydney Poitier speculates that his grandparents origin most likely is Haitian. Some Bahamians are probably not even aware that they have Haitian roots, though they may have last names like Leverett, Devereaux, Grissett, and the like. Haitians and their descendants have contributed to Bahamian culture. Maureen Duvalier, better known as the Queen of Junkanoo would tell the Nassau Guardian reporter Monique Forbes in a 2004 interview:
“I got the name from my father. My father’s name was Eucstace Edward Duvalier. My father was the second child of seven children. My grandmother Elizabeth was from Inagua and she married a Duvalier from Haiti they had seven kids, four born in Haiti, 3 born in Inagua. My father was the second son [;] the first son was one time the president of Haiti: Francois ‘PaPa Doc’ Duvalier.”
An aside: So was François Duvalier born in the Bahamas, (and perhaps later issued a Haitian birth certificate), as a Bahamian-Haitian once told me?
In the 2010s, immigrants from Haiti continue to make their way to the Bahamas, and perhaps at this rate the Bahamas will one day be known as The Second Haiti (isn’t it there already? Er, we kid, beloved Bahamians, we kid).
Ahem, where are my Bahamian-Haitians/Bahadians/Bahatians, Bahamatians. Let me read your thoughts in the comments. I know you are there lurking and heavy breathing!