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Festival Highlights Haitian Culture

With Poetry and Dance, Haitian Alliance Sponsors First Annual Cultural Show

By Sewell Chan

With food, music, poetry and dance, the Haitian Alliance celebrated its first annual Haitian cultural show in Agassiz House on Saturday.

The show was intended "to try to expose the Harvard community to some aspects of Haitian culture," said Caroline I. Pierre-Louis '97, the Haitian Alliance's cultural co-chair.

The show featured a screening of the 1992 documentary "Killing the Dream," which examines Haitian reactions to the seizure of power by the military regime led by Gen. Raoul Cedras, and shows the popular support for the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was restored to power last year.

Patrick Sylvain, a Haitian-born poet who now teaches in Cambridge, read six selected poems from his work. Among the poems were "Doobop," a tribute to the jazz career of Miles Davis; "Pawol Rasemblemant," a poem in Creole about the Haitian revolution; and "Crucifix," a description of a journalist's torture by the military regime. Manuel St. Victor '95 also recited a short, humorous poem about a failed courtship.

Dance performances by two groups, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Haitian Club Dancers and the Harvard-Radcliffe Haitian Alliance Dance Troupe, were also featured. The Club Dancers, who have offered renditions of traditional Haitian folk dance forms since 1993, performed a work entitled "L'amour, c'est liberte," or "Love is freedom."

Several paintings by local artist Blondel Joseph, who was born in northern Haiti, were on display in the Lyman Common Room at Agassiz House, along with other paintings, including depictions of the refugee camps at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Haitian Alliance also awarded its first annual scholarship to two high school students. The scholarship, organized by the Alliance's financial co-chairs, Emmanuelle M. Fleurinor '97 and M. Astrid Moise '95, is dedicated "pour l'avancement du progres," or for the advancement of Haitian-American progress.

The scholarship was awarded to James Antoine and second-place winner Yves-Nine Brunache, two seniors at West Roxbury High School in Boston.

Members of the Alliance, which was formed last year and has approximately 40 members, said efforts must be undertaken to reduce societal ignorance about Haitian Americans and Haitians.

"We have to learn more about culture, more about the politics," said Roger Lallemand '95.

"It's important for the Harvard-Radcliffe community as well as the Boston and Cambridge community to know there is a Haitian culture that is alive," said Alex-Handrah R. Aime '98.

"People tend to just see the destruction and the chaos of the political situation, not the more beautiful Haiti," Aime added. She said the media gives inordinate coverage to the U.S. role in Haiti. "We're not just concerned about Americans and what their role is here," she said.

"Every time you see Haiti in the media you see `the poorest country in the Western hemisphere,'" said Laurent P. Alfred '96, the Alliance's political action chair. "It's becoming a title." Alfred added that many misconceptions about voodoo and AIDS in Haiti exist.

Aime, who was born in Port-au-Prince but lived in Gonaive before moving to New York, said the ties between Haitian immigrants in the U.S. and their native homeland remains strong. "I wouldn't say our concerns are that different," she said. "We're both concerned with improving Haiti."

Pierre-Louis said the Alliance's main work is in community service. The group sponsors weekday after-school tutoring at Rindge and Latin, and a year-long SAT program for Haitian American students.

The organization has also conducted voter drives to register Haitian immigrants and is planning an AIDS outreach trip to Haiti next year, Aime said.

"The most important thing is for people to look at Haitians with an open mind," Alfred said.

The cultural show was supported by the Harvard Foundation and the Undergraduate Council.

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