Background on US/Haiti (HUM415)

This is a link for a lecture I gave about Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones.

Information on Haiti’s history can be found at the Encyclopedia Britannica online or Country Watch, both available through the library website.

You can also key word “Haiti” on this blog and find several useful articles by Edwidge Danticat, Slavoj Zizek, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At the least, please read Peter Hallward’s essay on Haiti (located on the course information page).

Today we watched a trailer for Aristide and the Endless Revolution (you might also check out The Agronomist or Haiti: Killing the Dream), and I offered a very rough sketch of one particular moment in US/Haiti relations, the invasion and occupation of 1915-1934. Some core concepts of American nationalism and foreign policy were almost immediately suggested by several students, specifically the concept of Manifest Destiny (a phrase coined in the 1840s by a journalist named John L. O’Sullivan writing for a publication called The Democratic Review) as well as the so-called Monroe Doctrine, a policy that was later expanded under the Roosevelt (Theodore not FDR) Corollary. All of this functions as a background to the present situation in Haiti.

The larger issues in discussing Haiti, as my preliminary remarks were meant to suggest, include the phenomena of human mobility, diaspora, and the policing of boundaries. In distinction to the flow of capital, labor (workers) confront significant obstacles to movement. And in fact some groups are more mobile than others. The “dry foot” rule pertaining to immigrant Cubans essentially enables them to claim political asylum should they make landfall in the US. The overwhelming proportion of Haitians, by contrast, who in many cases are fleeing political violence or economic catastrophe, are usually detained and repatriated.

Had we chosen to read Heading South (and you have to consider that title in all of its senses) we’d have seen another phenomenon related to the economic disparity between the United States– possibly the richest country in the history of the world– and Haiti– certainly the Western hemisphere’s poorest nation. I recommend that you watch the film version of the novel, which is available (I do not own any shares in the company, I promise) on instant view at Netflix. Briefly, the story concerns sex tourism, though in this case the tourists are middle-aged women. We can discuss what all that might mean (perhaps in relation to other representations of the sex trade, tourism generally, cultural desire for the exotic Other, etc.) next week. But we also need to focus on what will appear on the final exam. Remember: I’m relying in part on your own suggestions to formulate the exam.

1 thought on “Background on US/Haiti (HUM415)

  1. Laleh

    Heading South (the book) was explicit, adventurous, thoughtful and well worth the read. On the surface, there is an obvious focus on sexuality and taboo, presenting the secret world of middle-aged American women seeking to have a good time with the young Haitian men they meet while visiting the country. Additionally, the book presents some very bold commentary about the fast-paced lifestyle in the United States. On the one hand, the affluent women who visit Haiti “have” everything they need in a material sense, but they lack some very fundamental aspects of what it means to be human. One woman says that she and her husband have had sex only about eight times in 25 years of marriage. One woman has her first orgasm having sex with a Haitian boy on the beach while her husband watches.

    Although the picture painted of American society seems over-dramatized for effect, I believe that most Americans would do well to visit countries that are less future-oriented. It is enriching to visit any new country (France), but it is eye-opening and humbling to visit societies that make you feel as though you’re far, far away from home (Africa). Reading this book was akin to taking a short vacation, although I might have organized the itinerary a little differently.

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