God Loves Haiti author Dimitry Elias Leger is based in Switzerland—in that country’s capital Geneva to be precise. While getting all the deets on his novel, I decided to get some insight into the Haitian community in Europe. Feel free to eavedrop on our convo. You know you’re always welcome to eavesdropping, dear kreyolicious cheries.
Kreyolicious: How is Geneva looking right now? Is it awfully cold?
No. Geneva is consistently quite warmer than New York City. We’re six hours south of Paris by car. So, the weather’s like Virginia or North Carolina. Spring jumped off [two months ago]!
Paris is on the same weather axis as New York, but no where is as cold as New York City in winter. Not even Stockholm.
Kreyolicious: I imagine the Haitian community there is huge, considering Paris isn’t too far away. Is that the case?
The Haitian community in Paris is decent. I wouldn’t call it huge. When [Haiti’s] President [Michel] Martelly held a public meeting a few months, I was told there were about 600 people. There’s about 400 in the Geneva area. I learned when I did a book signing in Stockholm [in February] that we were 500-deep in Sweden! I met the president and vice president of the Haitian community organization of Sweden.
Kreyolicious: Too cool! When you’re in Geneva, what do you miss about France?
I live on the French side of Lake Geneva, literally on the border of Switzerland and France. When I’m in Geneva, I like it’s big city glamour and German efficiency and neatness. When I cross the border back to France, I love the relaxing nature of the countryside. With the alps on one side and the lake on the other side, sometimes I feel like I’m in Haiti driving for Port-au-Prince to Carrefour—where I grew up.
Right: Author Dimitry Elias Leger at a book signing event in Switzerland.
Kreyolicious: When you’re in Haiti, what do you miss about Brooklyn?
I never miss Brooklyn! When I’m in Haiti, I just can’t believe I have to leave. Period. Seriously, New York made me. Brooklyn is in my DNA. But the American city I tend to miss is Miami. I lived there for two happy years when I was a reporter at the Miami Herald. Miami is the right mix of some of the best things about Haiti and the great things about America.
Kreyolicious: Those who live in Switzerland and Sweden…from what you’ve been able to tell—tend to move directly from France or directly from Haiti?
The Haitians I’ve met in Switzerland and Sweden came directly from Haiti. There are about 800 Haitians in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and 500 spread throughout Sweden. Some may have come after a brief stay in Canada or the US, but most seem to have come from Port-au-Prince directly.
Kreyolicious: As someone who’s also lived in the United States, how do you think the Haitian communities in North America and Europe compare?
In France, specifically in Paris, I find Haitians are about as assimilated as in the U.S. in the sense that they hold white collar jobs, culture-making jobs, and form a large percentage of the cab drivers. My guess is that there are probably more Haitian bankers and doctors and engineers in the U.S.A and Canada than in France. France may offer an easier transition from Haiti for Haitians, culturally, but the society is not as open to boot-strapping, social-climber like America is. Haitians routinely overachieve in America. France, like all European countries, likes to keep its immigrants on the periphery of its economic and political power centers. Americans, Haitian or not, who live well in France often come here with high-powered American educations and American income streams. There are as many sons and daughters of cab drivers now thriving in the French middle class as there are in, say, Brooklyn. For example, the Haitian middle class in America has grown so much in the past 15 year that now you can find high end and fast food Haitian restaurants in fashionable neighborhoods in Miami and Brooklyn. When I had a cab driver help me track down the sole Haitian restaurant in Paris once, he didn’t want to let me out of the car because he felt the neighborhood was too dangerous. Turned out the neighborhood wasn’t that bad, but the griyo was terrible.
Be sure to CLICK HERE to VISIT DIMITRY ELIAS LEGER’S WEBSITE | CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HIS BOOK GOD LOVES HAITI