Excerpt from my opening remarks at Tuesday’s Hofstra University’s Day/Night For Haiti
On The Ground — or — Where is the ground for Haitian Americans?
Arguably the most ubiquitous term to emerge in Haitian-American parlance in the aftermath of January 12th’s earthquake is “on the ground.” This term as you all know refers to the process of traveling to Haiti to help with earthquake relief. It is slightly ambiguous because for many Haitian Americans how one can help once “on the ground” after the earthquake was slightly ambiguous. The idea was, once “on the ground,” it would immediately become evident how to help.
The more I heard this term, I couldn’t help but consider the tragic irony embedded in its proliferation. The last thing that Port au Prince needed was more Haitians “on the ground,” yet here were a about half a million others pining to do just that. This term eventually brought to mind a memory from childhood. Upon returning home from work one day and discovering that the roof of our apt had collapsed, my father chided my mother (who I should mention was about six months pregnant with my brother) for not getting on the ground and immersing herself in the debris. It was his contention that this would have been great grounds for a lawsuit, after all, what court wouldn’t sympathize with the image of a pregnant woman buried under a collapsed roof?
As Dad acted out what his response would have been had he been home when this roof collapsed, the more farcical his plot became. Not only should my mother have rolled around in this debris, but she (I guess now would be a good time to tell you that the roof collapsed in our bathtub) should have pulled me into the tub and bathed me in the debris as well. After all what court wouldn’t side with the image of a pregnant woman and her son buried under a collapsed roof?