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17054: (Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-Pierre has many Haitians embracing baseball (fwd)



From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Pierre has many Haitians embracing baseball

By Nick Sortal
Staff Writer
Posted October 25 2003

Not only does he spark the Marlins' offense, but Juan Pierre unknowingly
ignited a passion for baseball among South Florida's Haitian community -- by
his last name alone.

"JP is absolutely No. 1 in the Haitian community, and there is no No. 2,"
says Jean Marc Louissant, a financial aid administrator from Coral Springs,
who like many fans, refers to Pierre as "JP." "There's a lot of pride there,
and it's just based on hope alone."


Although Pierre and his family are grateful for the support, they say all
they share with their Haitian fans are different dialects of Creole and two
centuries ago, the same landlord: France.

The Pierre family tree has been rooted for generations in Louisiana,
although Juan was born in Mobile, Ala. Soon after, his father moved the
family to Alexandria, La.

Often asked if he's Haitian, Pierre politely says no.

"But if someone's rooting for me, it's all good. It means they respect my
game," the center fielder says.

He joined the Marlins via a November trade with Colorado, and this year he
scored 100 runs, batted .305 and led the major leagues with 65 stolen bases.
As the team's fan base has grown, so has the talk of his background.

"We just assume that he's Haitian," says Louissaint's brother, Claude, of
Fort Lauderdale.

There's plenty of confusion, say the center fielder's parents, Derry and
James Pierre, who were in town this week for the games. Some fans think the
ballplayer is Dominican because his first name is "Juan." But actually,
James Pierre's father's favorite player was former Giants pitcher Juan
Marichal. And Derry Pierre picked the middle name of "D'Vaughn" for JP
because, "it has a good rhyme to it ... `Juan D'Vaughn.'"

Says James Pierre, who arrived at Pro Player Stadium two hours before the
Wednesday's game: "As long as they're cheering for him -- whoever is
cheering -- that's fine with me."

Fitting in

That certainly includes the area's 184,000 Haitians counted in the 2000
census. They came from a country where factory workers, mainly women, were
paid meager wages to hand-stitch American baseballs. The factory moved to
Costa Rica in 1990 after about 20 years in Port-au-Prince.

Although baseball is wildly popular in Cuba and the Dominican Republic,
which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, America's national pastime
never crossed the mountains to the French side. The bats, gloves and other
equipment needed to play were beyond the means of the average Haitian.
Instead, soccer became the national sport.

But once moved to South Florida, Haitians have taken to baseball as a way to
assimilate, says Marvin Dejean of Minority Development and Empowerment Inc.,
a Fort Lauderdale social service agency. Juan Pierre gives them an "in" to
join their fellow South Floridians. Having someone perceived as their own
has Haitians talking baseball, he says.

"We could use a hero," he says. "And it's a way of being part of this
magical thing that's going on. They've adopted him whether he's Haitian or
not, with that name, that's the way for them to get a piece of this and be
accepted."

Two Creoles

When James Pierre talks about his family tree, some Haitians turn it into a
kinship.

He explains that he's a "full-blooded" Creole. Louisianians of French and
Spanish descent began referring to themselves as Creoles after the Louisiana
Purchase in 1803, to distinguish themselves from newcomers moving into the
territory, notes Sybil Kine, a historian at Louisiana State University.

The Pierres have spoken the Creole language for generations. Although
Louisiana Creole and the Haitian Creole differ, they share a French
foundation, enabling James to chat with Haitians on his South Florida
visits.

That fires up Jean-Robert Lafortune, executive director of the
Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition in Miami. He points to the early
1800s, when about 14,000 Haitian refugees settled in New Orleans because
their country was fighting for independence from France.

"So if we go through his family tree, that tree will indicate that a
great-great-great-great ancestor was from Haiti," Lafortune says.

Like most people, however, James Pierre doesn't take his family history back
that far.

Knowing heritage

The Haitian/non-Haitian issue runs deeper than those from other
nationalities might think, Lafortune says.

The public's misperceptions linking Haitians with voodoo and violence, as
well as insecurities about Haiti being the poorest nation in the hemisphere
make some Haitians deny their origins, he said, which makes him think that
he and the Pierres have a common culture.

Times have changed, though, says Sony Fenelon, a patron of Bamboche, a
storefront food stop in East Miramar.

"It's all different now, we've come so far," he says. "All of racism is less
prevalent than it used to be."

Another Bamboche patron, Marjorie Legagneur, says public knowledge of Pierre
and fans' Louisiana-Haitian connection theories are important for another
reason:

"It's always good to talk about your heritage, to ask your relatives about
your grandparents and the people before them," she says.

Nick Sortal can be reached at nsortal@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7906.
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Copyright  2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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