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How we hold Haiti’s diasporic grief

Last week, my colleagues and I facilitated healing circles for Haitians, both on the island and in the diaspora. In this virtual gathering, known as the Sawubona Healing Circle, we bore witness to the fullness and depth of our pain across different geographical locations. We held space for the fear experienced by those trapped in Port-au-Prince amidst paramilitary violence. 


We acknowledged the hurt felt by innocent people yearning for communal safety. We understood the confusion among a diaspora who craved to support their people but felt wholly inadequate to meet the urgency of their needs. 


For many of us, our conscience was clear: we were witnessing the effects of colonial violence. This force had stripped the Haitian people of their ability to co-create safety and belonging outside the realm of Western exploitation. The field of psychology struggles to capture such shared suffering—suffering borne of a collective identity that extends beyond borders yet is materially scarred by external imposition. To approximate the type of pain, and thus the type of healing, Haitian people must negotiate, I turn to scholar Charlene Desir’s concept of “Diasporic Grief.”


I first encountered Dr. Desir’s description of this concept when we shared space in another circle in 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. When recently asked to elucidate the concept, Dr. Desir wrote:


“Diasporic Grief encapsulates a profound and multifaceted experience resulting from migration and its associated challenges, extending across ancestral generations. It encompasses a range of emotional, psychological, and social struggles that individuals face when navigating the complex terrain of displacement and cultural adaptation, reverberating through familial and societal bonds. At its core, Diasporic Grief includes feelings of guilt, loneliness, alienation, and isolation, stemming from the rupture of familial and social ties across multiple generations. This grief manifests as anxiety, depression, and somatization, as individuals grapple with the trauma of displacement and the dislocation of their sense of self and belonging within societal structures shaped by race and ethnicity, echoing through the ancestral lineage.”


It is within this Diasporic Grief that I currently see many Haitian Americans gripped by an urge to serve the needs of their people. Yet, this urge is immediately immobilized for many by a history of NGO, United Nations, and Core Group-led tragedies that have often left the people of Haiti in continued devastation. 


It has left many wondering which political collectives to invest in, who to send money to, and who to fervently support in social media spaces rife with intentional misinformation. This situation has escalated tensions and mistrust among many Haitians organizing in the diaspora who recognize the numerous pitfalls that can undermine our movements. It has also fostered a sense of hopelessness among many who simply cannot see a way out amidst this maelstrom of violence.


Healing, in this context, cannot exist without a full grounding within this Diasporic Grief. It means intimately bearing the depth of our pain. It also means recognizing that alongside this pain is the wisdom we desperately need to co-create new futures. The path to healing for the Haitian people involves as much ceremony as it does politics and history. There is a recognition that the revolution, though centuries old, is a struggle that remains unfinished, an endeavor in which we must still invest. As noted by the late historian Julius S. Scott, our earliest resistance required the collaboration and co-conspiracy of African people throughout the Americas, unimpeded by the realities of enslavement.


For so many of us, our families have been shaped by colonial legacies. Our ancestors endured enslavement, occupation, and expulsion. In times of despair, we narrate our stories through chapters of Western terrorism and familial shame. Our Diasporic Grief is rooted in a clear view of history and understanding of what is necessary for our liberation and safety. These concerns for us and our people are real. Yet, in the political work of collectives like Rasenbleman Pou Ayiti, In Cultured Company, and the Pan-African Solidarity Network, we witness our people continuing to invest in our healing by shaping the political futures and imaginaries that can overturn this world. As with our ancestors before us, we don’t invest because of hope, but rather because it is our only option for survival.


Original post available here.


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