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Novelist Edwidge Danticat: Allow Haitians To Determine Their Own Future


An earthquake that stole more than 2,000 lives, the assassination of the president, gang violence, have all plunged Haiti into chaos. And until today, thousands of Haitians were gathered on the southern border of the U.S. seeking asylum. Some are being allowed in. About 2,000 people were forced by the U.S. to fly back to the unstable nation they fled. The images have been harrowing. And for those who've lived the heartbreak of leaving their homeland for safety and a better life, this moment can be particularly resonant. Here to talk more on this is Edwidge Danticat. She's an award-winning Haitian American novelist and short story writer who writes often about the experience of the Haitian diaspora.


EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Thank you, Leila. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: The images of asylum-seekers being whipped by U.S. Border Patrol officers on horseback have really become a symbol of this crisis and, for many, evoked images of slavery. That and then the forced return of people to Haiti is being called unacceptable, inhumane. For you, what was it like to see those images?

DANTICAT: Well, those images were harrowing. They were devastating and frightening, just trying to imagine yourself on the other end of that reign or whip or whatever it was, looking up at the horse and already being in the water. And of course, there's that whole correlation with enslavement and the whips and lashes. But for me, as a Haitian, it also had parallels to images that I have seen of the U.S. occupation of Haiti, of what they used to call, you know, the corvee, with the white Marines who were part of the U.S. occupation on horseback. So there were also, in addition to the historical echoes of this country, historical echoes of our country, of the U.S. occupation between 1915 and 1934.

FADEL: You know, I want to play a clip from your August 2019 interview with NPR, specifically a part where you talked about what it's like to be a Haitian American living in the United States.


DANTICAT: There's a kind of ache for both places at the moment, a kind of ache for the troubles that Haiti has had and then a kind of ache for this - for my second home, the place have received my family, to see the way that others like us are being treated here at the moment.

FADEL: How have your views changed or stayed the same since then, specifically after seeing how asylum-seekers have been treated in Del Rio?

DANTICAT: It's the same. It's the ache, I think, of being an immigrant and the child of immigrants and watching people suffer who - that could be me. That could be my brothers. That could be any of us. And it is us in so many ways. So that ache continues. But I also want to stress that I think for us, it's not sort of a pity-seeking ache. It's an inspiration. It's a kind of calling for those of us who are here on the other side to work really hard to try to advocate.

FADEL: You've said that writing for you has been a way to cope, a way for you to process things that have happened in Haiti. What words come to mind as you try to make sense of what's going on right now?

DANTICAT: Well, initially I had no words. For me, words are usually my home. They're usually where I go to to try to process, to try to understand. But it takes a while because I have my own family trauma around immigration - I think a lot of us do - to process as we are watching this situation unfold.

FADEL: You talked about your own trauma and watching now the trauma of others. And you wrote in an op-ed last year that many of your family members in Haiti refer to the country's political and economic challenges as another earthquake with no foreseeable end. What do you make of Haiti's challenges right now and what the future holds for people connected to this country?

DANTICAT: Well, the future has to be allowed to be in Haitian hands. And one of the things that has not been allowed by U.S. policy, by Core Group policy, by so-called friends of Haiti, is to allow Haitians to politically lead themselves, to economically lead themselves, to choose their own leaders, to let Haitians lead themselves.

FADEL: Novelist Edwidge Danticat. Her most recent book is a collection of stories called "Everything Inside."

Thank you for joining us.

DANTICAT: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.