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17012: (Hermantin)Newsday-The Newcomers,The Haitians (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

A Return To Family Roots

The New Neighbors


Introducing: Robert Boco

His Family is From Haiti

Every Saturday, Anacaona, a music, dance and drama group of about 25
Haitian-American children and adults, meets at the home of Robert Boco's
parents in Far Rockaway.

Robert's father, Jean, founded the group 16 years ago. It is named after a
15th century singer who was the wife of a leader of the Tainos, one of two
Indian tribes that originally inhabited Haiti.

Robert and his family are part of one of the largest Caribbean groups to
emigrate to the United States. In 1990, according to figures from the
Haitian Consulate, there were 450,000 Haitians living in New York's five
boroughs, many of them in Brooklyn. Another 25,000 were living in Nassau and
Suffolk counties. Statistics from the Immigration and Naturalization Service
show that about 181,000 Haitians emigrated to the United States between 1989
and 2000 alone.

In addition to Robert's Far Rockaway community, Haitian-Americans in New
York are concentrated in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn; in Rosedale and
Cambria Heights in Queens, and in Uniondale and Hempstead on Long Island.

Robert, a 17-year-old drummer and director of Anacaona, was born in the
United States and until last August had never visited Haiti. But the teen
has learned a lot about the world's first black republic at the Haitian
history sessions his father holds for the band members after rehearsals.

With Jean Boco acting much like an African griot, an entertaining tribal
storyteller, the lectures offer glimpses of the history of the only nation
created as a result of a slave revolt.

History, however, has not been kind to Haiti. Once among the richest
colonies in the Americas -- a source of coffee, sugar, bananas and cotton --
Haiti today is listed by the U.S. government as one of the poorest nations
in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of its residents living in

Haiti is a Carib Indian word meaning "land of mountains." When Christopher
Columbus found the island in 1492 on his voyage to find India, he claimed it
for Spain and renamed it Hispaniola.

The Spanish established control of the eastern side of the island, which is
now the Dominican Republic, but by 1697 Spain recognized French control of
the western side, which is now Haiti.

Early on, the French named their colony St. Domingue and imported slaves
from Africa to work on sugar and coffee plantations after the Arawak or
Tainos, as the Indians called themselves, were nearly wiped out by diseases
from the Old World and brutal treatment at the hands of Spanish and French

Slave uprisings led to Haiti's independence from France in 1804 and the
establishment of a republic under its old Indian name, Haiti. After much
turmoil, it came under the direct rule of the U.S. military between 1915 and
1934, a period that helped return it to stability. After World War II
Francois Duvalier came to power. Known as Papa Doc, he ruled as a dictator,
using armed death squads called Tontons Macoute (bogeymen) to dominate the
Haitian people until his death in 1971. Power transferred to his son, Jean-
Claude, and Baby Doc ruled until 1986, when he fled a revolt. Military coups
followed, finally leading to democratic rule with the election in February
1991 of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest. But Aristide was
deposed by the military only months after his election.

The turmoil caused many Haitians to try to flee to the United States in
small boats. In 1994, the United States sent troops to Haiti and
successfully forced the Haitian military to allow Aristide to return to
office. In 2000, Aristide was again elected to the presidency. Last summer
vacation, Robert Boco experienced his roots firsthand with his uncle,
Jacques Boco, who took him on a two-week driving tour of Haiti in August.
They arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, and their itinerary
included a trip to Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haïtien, to see the
Citadel. The 200- year-old fortress was built 2,700 feet above the city by
Henri Christophe, a slave who went on to become king of Haiti, to ward off a
new French invasion after independence. Christophe, Toussaint L'Overture and
Jean-Jacques Dessalines were heroes of Haiti's independence movement against
French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's army leaders.

Robert and his uncle blended in with the native Haitians, most of whom speak
Creole, a mixture of African dialect, French, English and Spanish. High on
their itinerary was a voodoo ceremony. Haitian culture blends French and
Roman Catholic traditions with customs the slaves brought from Africa.
Voodoo, the religion reflecting this blend, is practiced by more than half
of the Haitian people.

With practical knowledge of his heritage, Robert believes he can better
fulfill a cherished dream, "to expose the Haitian culture to all

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

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