The news of a devastating earthquake just outside Port-au-Prince has riveted the large and politically active Haitian-American community in Spring Valley.
The catastrophe has touched so many here, which was obvious this morning at a press conference at Ramapo Town Hall.
Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence opened up the conference by expressing his concerns, in both English and Creole, for the nation that has such strong ties to our region. He had spent a solid 20 minutes calling up different elected officials and community leaders, most from the Haitian community. St. Lawrence has been to Haiti several times, and he and Spring Valley Trustee Joseph Desmaret, who was also in attendance, are chairman and vice chairman respectively, of the Haitian Solid Waste Authority (St. Lawrence is chairman of the Rockland Solid Waste Authority) and he spoke in great detail about the area where the earthquake hit, and about the nearby capital, Port-au-Prince, where he had been just months before.
The connection between Spring Valley and Haiti was underscored by the number of local officials of Haitian descent who spoke and referenced their own missing family members. Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin was awaiting word on her husband, Ronald. Rose Leandre, the head of HACSO, a nonprofit, said she had just dropped her mom off at the airport Monday to return to Haiti and hadn’t heard from her. Another man mentioned his wife and son were missing. Two women stood, arms around another, fighting back tears. Another wept quietly during the press conference. “Every single Haitian-American has family in Haiti,” said Spring Valley Trustee Demeza Delhomme.
Many in the group were determined to help coordinate relief efforts, even as they were so desperately seeking information about their loved ones. It demonstrated not only how a relatively new immigrant group remains linked to its homeland, but how Haiti’s long though often troubled legacy of democracy has fostered such deep community and political activism. Though the Haitian community in Rockland has grown tremendously in the last decade (estimates are that more than 30,000 people of Haitian decent live in the Spring Valley area), there are Haitian families that have lived here three, even four decades. Rockland County Legislator Jacques Michel, at his swearing-in ceremony in 2008, spoke of the Haitian freedom fighters who came to fight in the Revolutionary War, demonstrating Haiti’s long commitment to democracy.
Find out how to -How-you-can-help” target=”_blank”>here, and in tomorrow’s Journal News.
UNTV: A worker searches rubble of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.