Malden Public Library Hosts First Annual Haitian Culture Night

Haset Tesfaw also contributed to this article.

May is a month for people who celebrate Haitian culture or are of Haitian descent to celebrate their rich history. Haiti is a Caribbean country, with most Haitians who live there speaking mainly Haitian Creole or French. Haiti was known back then as a safe place where free or escaped slaves could travel to and live. However, now the country is struggling with severe gang violence, hungry and homeless people, kidnappings of foreign tourists being held for ransom, and human trafficking, making it hard for Haitians to return to their home country and for some birthplace.

During Haitian Heritage Month is Haitian Flag Day, held annually on May 18th and originating from the 1930s. It has been celebrated in the United States since 1998, with the Haitian flag representing their freedom from the French.

To commemorate Haitian culture in May, the Malden Public Library hosted its first annual Haitian Culture Night with food, music, art, and poetry.

This event took a few months of thought and research, as well as connecting with different people in the community. “We had been talking about doing something like this for a while now,” said Stacy Holder, a teacher and librarian who helped organize the event.

“As a teacher who meets people from all over the world, I always try and learn about a person’s culture. If I have a student from Afghanistan, I learn about their culture.  If I have a student from Haiti, I learn about their culture. You know Malden, we get people from everywhere and I really strive to understand people and their culture,” Holder continued. 

Mary Ellen O’Meara, the President of the Friends of the Library, expressed how there are so many diverse cultures in Malden that bring their differences and richness to the table. “From the friends of the library and the library itself, the reason why we put on events like that is so that everybody can enjoy that diversity. It’s an opportunity to learn about the culture, the language, the music, the food, and more.”

Mary Ellen O’Meara speaking to the crowd beside Erga Pierette. ASHTON CALIXTE

The event was introduced by Erga Pierette, who was the host. “Our hope is that you’ll get a glimpse into my Haitian culture and to the richness of my Haitian people,” Pierette said before she thanked the board of library trustees and friends of the Malden Public Library for their generosity and support.

Afterward, a Malden Catholic junior recited her poem “A Ray of Sunshine.” It was about how Haiti was a land of beauty and history. It spoke about the “tropical rainforests and golden sandy beaches” in Haiti and how “time goes by and Haiti remains tall. Both fierce and delightfully beautiful.”

Malden Catholic junior recited her poem “A Ray of Sunshine.” ASHTON CALIXTE

They then continued to present a video with a variety of art, filled with mostly tropical views, flowers, water droplets, fruits and vegetables, positive sayings, and even a display located in the ibrary itself. The video showed a visual display of Haitian culture, which warmed many hearts because of the bright colors and energy the video showed, along with the Haitian music that was playing over it. After the video, they showed a display of more paintings, including a picture of two people with silver skin drawing a huge avocado. They explained that it represented the value of silver back then in Haiti and how it was almost a war to attain food with most of the country being homeless and having many malnourished children. “The artwork is incredible and I’d like to highlight that more, going forward,” stated Holder.

Symbolic paintings displayed at the Haitian Cultural Night event. ASHTON CALIXTE

Everyone then took a moment of silence for those suffering in Haiti. “Obviously, what’s happening in Haiti is not the best situation, so despite this, we can still remember our cultural roots and we can try to hope for a better future for Haiti. There is gang violence, we don’t really have a President right now, there’s a lot of death and people don’t have homes. That’s something we can definitely hope for a better future,” Darren Figaro, a Haitian attendee, explained.

After some more poetry, an international, well-known, and well-traveled singer who goes by the name Ada Ayiti sang a powerful song in Haitian Creole. “Seeing everyone united and dancing together felt so powerful,” Figaro said. “It feels like these days, we’re so separated from each other and we tend to put each other down, so this was very important because, despite our differences at the end of the day, we’re all still Haitian and have the same cultural roots which is something we can all connect with.”

Everyone was filled with much joy as people were getting up and dancing together to celebrate their day. Even though there was so much happiness, there were also some feelings of sadness. “I was literally overwhelmed with joy and I was doing internal backflips. At the same time, I felt a little upset as we were celebrating because I know that the conditions are really bad in Haiti right now,” Pierette said. “People have been dying, young and old and the conditions are not stable. Even though I felt a moment of sadness, there was a lot of joy in the room and I felt like we were a community in that very moment. 

“I feel most connected to my culture during events like this. It allows me to reconnect with people of my culture,” Figaro stated.

Although this event allowed the guests to connect with their culture and roots, some were also able to acknowledge that they’ve had experiences that have challenged their understanding of Haitian culture. 

“Going to Haiti for the first time since I was six months old, I didn’t really understand some of the language even though I thought I did since I had spoken it with my parents and family. There are some aspects of Haitian culture that I wasn’t really accustomed to. Their slang, mannerisms, and the way they speak to each other, were all things I had to adjust to when I went back to Haiti. Figaro said. 

Haitian voodoo, the main religion in Haiti, is also a huge part of the Haitian culture.  Pierette said that she would like “to learn more about it but has not engaged in that process. Haitian voodoo is something that is mysterious but really connected or a part of Haitian culture because there are a lot of folks who practice it. I struggle with my ignorance about that.”

As the night came to an end, everyone felt grateful for what they were able to learn about Haitian culture and those who were Haitian were glad to be able to connect with their culture even more. “We learned so much in just two hours tonight. It was truly a learning experience for everyone and was a great opportunity for the Haitian population to come to the library which is where we all join together,” O’Meara explained.

Artist Martine Renfort explaining the meaning behind his works. ASHTON CALIXTE

Pierette believed that turning Haitian Culture Night into an annual event was necessary and long overdue. “We have a large Haitian community here in Malden and regrettably, we are all in silos, and having opportunities like this one, to come together and celebrate the art, music, and culture is what we need to do. There is a long history between the city of Malden and the people of Haiti, an 183-year-old connection so I think it’s important that we continue to amplify that and celebrate that.” 

“Haitian culture means pride, strength, resilience, struggle, growth, and power,” she concluded. 

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