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17618: (Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-S. Florida Haitians mark nation's bicentennial from afar (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

S. Florida Haitians mark nation's bicentennial from afar

By Alva James-Johnson
Staff Writer
Posted January 1 2004

Danie Magloire hoped to be in Haiti for its 200th birthday today, reveling
in the streets and letting everyone know how proud she was to be from the
first black republic in the world. But the political upheaval that has
plagued the country in recent weeks altered her plans. Her celebration now
has been scaled down to a small family gathering in Pembroke Pines.

"I'm very, very sad for not being in Haiti," she said. "Everything that's
good for the country, I try to be part of it."

Today is Haiti's bicentennial, and Magloire is only one of many Haitian
Americans mourning the celebration that could have been. Some, heeding
warnings from the U.S. State Department, have canceled plans to travel to
the country. Others who planned to celebrate in South Florida have switched
gears in response to a somber mood that pervades the community.

But through it all, their pride for the country still glows, as they reflect
on the spectacular revolution and only successful, black-slave revolt in

They will gather for Mass at churches throughout the tri-county area to
reflect on the country's 200 years and pray for its future. They will drink
pumpkin soup at public and private gatherings, following the tradition of
their ancestors who, after gaining independence, partook of the dish that
was once a favorite of their slave masters.

They will listen to Haitian music and witness re-enactments of the
revolution. Some, like Camille Merilus of Miami, will even dare to rejoice.
His organization, Sulette Merilus Foundation for Haiti Development, will
conduct a religious ceremony and social gathering at St. John Bosco Catholic
Church in Miami to highlight some of the country's most significant

"We believe that our founding fathers made a lot of sacrifices to provide
independence to our country," he said. "No matter what type of political
fighting between factions exists, on Jan. 1, 2004, we should celebrate fully
and reconcile our differences."

But at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Delray Beach, the Rev. Roland
Desormeaux replaced the word "celebration" with "commemoration." He said
Haitian Americans in Palm Beach County would pray for the country at 10
a.m., then gather at 2:30 p.m. in the churchyard to reflect on Haiti's past,
present and future.

"In solidarity with the people in Haiti, we won't have a big celebration,"
he said. "We will be in the prayer mood more than anything else."

There is much for Haitians to be proud of. In 1804, the country became an
independent nation after former slaves defeated the French army, then the
strongest military force in the world.

The revolution inspired shackled people throughout the Americas to grasp for
freedom. An independent Haiti later played an instrumental role in the
independence of Latin American countries.

But in recent weeks, the country's glorious past has been overshadowed by
massive demonstrations calling for the resignation of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Dozens have died in political violence since
mid-September, many of them in the town of Gonaives, where Jean Jacques
Dessalines declared Haiti's independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804.

William Mitchell, 80, of Plantation, said he has been anxiously awaiting the
bicentennial. He and his wife, Ann Marie, migrated to New York with their
three children 40 years ago to escape political persecution under Francois
"Papa Doc" Duvalier. Mitchell landed a job as a banker and his wife worked
as a seamstress. While they never returned permanently to the country,
Mitchell said he wanted to be there when it turned 200 years old. He and his
family had plans to spend the month of December and early January in a house
that his son completed for the occasion.

"I wanted to sleep in Haiti Dec. 31, and wake up in Haiti, 2004," she said.
"It was very important for me to be there physically. It's my country. I
love it very much."`

But Mitchell said his wife had surgery, and the plans were postponed.

His daughter, Margaret Armand, who planned to travel with her parents,
children and siblings, said their plans were also affected by the country's
political instability.

"We were all looking forward to it, but there's a lot of insecurity and we
don't know what's happening in the country right now," she said.

The family will find a way to commemorate, she said, and there's no escaping
the significance of the country's revolution. "This morning my daughter woke
up, and hung a Haitian flag in front of the house," she said.

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or
954-356-4523.      Email story
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Copyright  2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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