Navigating Bahamian-Haitian Identity

Written by Kat with 15 Comments

Where are all my Haitian-Bahamians? Shall we call them Bahaitians? Bahamatians? Let me hear ya!

A Bahamatian is someone who was born in the Bahamas, but whose parents or grandparents were born in Haiti. Most Bahamatians have three worlds: they were born in the Bahamas of Haitian parents, but then barely stayed in the Bahamas, but emigrated to the USA with their parents, so they barely can give you an account of what life was like in the Bahamas.

And then there’s this cultural torment that exist in most of their lives. Some Bahamatians, especially those who were born in the 1980s, and early 1990s, will tell you that some of their Haiti-born fellow Haitians would get mad when they asserted their Bahamian birth. Perhaps was it because some of these Haiti-born fellas resented the fact that the Bahamatians had somewhere other than Haiti to claim, and were distancing themselves from association with Haiti.

I personally know this one American girl who had told me, “Some of these Haitians will rather tell you that they were born in the Bahamas rather than in Haiti.” While that may have been true in some cases, in other cases, these kids were really born in the Bahamas! Were they not suppose to claim it? What are they supposed to do?

Some Bahamian-born children of Haitians take their identity very seriously as Haitians. For instance, writer and entrepreneur Cynthia Blanc of Cynthia Blanc Worldwide, founded the Haitian Music and Entertainment Awards, an initiative many are surprised wasn’t founded by a “native” of Haiti.

Many don’t realize that Haitian-Bahamian ties go a long way back. In the 1800s, for example, a Haitian woman and her French lover escaped Haiti during the revolution, with the intention of going to Cuba, but landed in the Bahamas. They ended up being the grandparents of James Weldon Johnson, the writer of the Negro National Anthem, and their son Stephen became a major player in Bahamian governmental and business affairs.

In the book Islanders in the Stream: A History of the Bahamian People, authors Michael Craton and Gail Saunders, Haitian merchants and traders were from Port-de-Paix were major contributors to Bahamian economy in the 1900s, and up to the 1930s. Today, the Bahamas is known as an island that Haitians immigrate to, but back in the 1940s, according to the book Bahamian Culture and Factors Which Impact Upon It, Bahamians highly appreciative of Haiti’s private Catholic and boarding schools would send their kids to Haitian schools.

By the mid-1960s though, it was another matter. According to Craton and Saunders, the Bahamian population census showed that the biggest percentage of foreign births were from Haiti. Because these migrants were mostly from Haiti’s peasantry, and were often more than willing to take menial jobs, they were looked down upon by local Bahamians.

Starting in the 1970s, strict laws were passed in the Bahamas to have Haitians attempting to escape Haiti by boat, repatriated to Haiti. Moreover, news reports from the 1970s, and especially the 1980s and the 1990s reported on at times inhuman treatment of Haitian immigrants in the Bahamas from raids on the “shacks” and “villages” where Haitian immigrants lived, by Bahamian police with police dogs to Bahamian coast guard shooting of incoming Haitian refugee boats.

Meanwhile the Bahamas passed a law at some point (in the mid-1970s), that anyone born after Bahamian independence whose parents were not citizens of the Bahamas, would have the nationality of their parents. Therefore, there are lots of Bahamian-born kids who have a Bahamian passport, but the passport says outright that their nationality is Haitian, and some have difficulty getting a passport in the first place. Charite Alouidor, a Bahamian-Haitian and activist, wrote to the Freeport News in 2007:

This letter is to inform you and your avid readers of the frustrating problems that we in the Haitian-Bahamian community face. The first and main problem is that we have the hardest time getting our passports and travel documents. We were born in this country many years ago, and in most cases before this country became independent in 1973. We still cannot get our Bahamian passports, even though our constitution guarantees us this right.

Bertin Magloire Louis Jr., who interviewed several immigrants and Bahamians of Haitian descent in the Bahamas for a thesis, was told by one who falls in the latter category:

The Haitians didn’t come to the Bahamas to take over. Haitians go through the Bahamas. They happened not to get to the United States and they got stuck here. They still want to go…Some people have waited 20 years to go to the United States. Forty percent of himself is in the United States, thinking that he’s already there. His family is there. Twenty percent of him is still in Haiti. The rest of him is here riding a bike, refusing to buy a house here. He can’t invest in a country because the country doesn’t want him, and he doesn’t plan to stay. The transitional Haitian is a national problem. The country created it by never accepting them.

Indeed, most Haitians used the Bahamas as a bridge to get to the United States, mainly Florida. Do you have some relatives who fall in that category?

Several scholars have commented on the dynamics of Bahamian-Haitian identity. The book African Caribbeans: A Reference Guide observes:

There is definitely prejudice, more class-oriented than social between Bahamians and Haitians. Many Haitians born of Bahamian parents have become Bahamianized to a certain extent. Although they usually live traditionally in all-Haitian communities, it seems that some Haitians desire to distance themselves from Haitian roots and culture. Many have intermarried with Bahamians, and are integrating into the society. Some have converted from Catholicism to the more fundamentalist churches.

Bahamian-born individuals of Haitian parents like Anastagia Pierre—who grew up in Florida—comfortably carry the hyphens in their multicultural identities.

Bahamian-Haitian identity is evolving! Bahamian-Haitians like beauty pageant queen Anastagia Pierre proudly assert their hyphenated identities, while actor Sydney Poitier speculates that his grandparents origin most likely is Haitian. Some Bahamians are probably not even aware that they have Haitian roots, though they may have last names like Leverett, Devereaux, Grissett, and the like. Haitians and their descendants have contributed to Bahamian culture. Maureen Duvalier, better known as the Queen of Junkanoo would tell the Nassau Guardian reporter Monique Forbes in a 2004 interview:

“I got the name from my father. My father’s name was Eucstace Edward Duvalier. My father was the second child of seven children. My grandmother Elizabeth was from Inagua and she married a Duvalier from Haiti they had seven kids, four born in Haiti, 3 born in Inagua. My father was the second son [;] the first son was one time the president of Haiti: Francois ‘PaPa Doc’ Duvalier.”

An aside: So was François Duvalier born in the Bahamas, (and perhaps later issued a Haitian birth certificate), as a Bahamian-Haitian once told me?

In the 2010s, immigrants from Haiti continue to make their way to the Bahamas, and perhaps at this rate the Bahamas will one day be known as The Second Haiti (isn’t it there already? Er, we kid, beloved Bahamians, we kid).

Ahem, where are my Bahamian-Haitians/Bahadians/Bahatians, Bahamatians. Let me read your thoughts in the comments. I know you are there lurking and heavy breathing!

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15 comments on “Navigating Bahamian-Haitian Identity”

  1. “I got the name from my father. My father’s name was Eucstace Edward Duvalier. My father was the second child of seven children. My grandmother Elizabeth was from Inagua and she married a Duvalier from Haiti they had seven kids, four born in Haiti, 3 born in Inagua. My father was the second son the first son was one time the president of Haiti: Francois ‘PaPa Doc’ Duvalier.” This quote is absolutely hilarious. Ms. Cherie you must wean yourself of the bad habit of quoting liars. The Anais Nin quote you used in the Mangones article comes to mind. Papa Doc and his parents, were they alive, would be shocked to learn their family included six more children. Papa Doc was the only child of his parents. Papa Doc’s mother’s name was not Elizabeth and his father’s name was not Eucstace Edward. A bit of research on the internet would have prevented you from quoting this lady’s nonsense. Do try a bit harder for accuracy in your writing, I would greatly appreciate it.

    1. Oops, The third to last sentence should be:Papa Doc’s mother’s name was not Elizabeth and he didn’t have a brother named Eucstace Edward.

    2. According to several accounts I’ve read, there’s definitely familial link between Bahamians and Haitians, and this family tie between Maureen Duvalier and Francois Duvalier apparently existed. Yes, indeed, you are right: Francois Duvalier’s mom was named Ulyssia. Here Maureen Duvalier is not claiming that Elizabeth and Eucstace Edward Duvalier’s were Francois Duvalier’s parents, but rather grandparents. She’s saying that she and Francois Duvalier are/were first cousins. The original account in the newspaper that is quoted in the paragraph should have had a semi-colon after the word “second son”. I will add it for clarity. Thank you for reading.

      1. “Here Maureen Duvalier is not claiming that Elizabeth and Eucstace Edward Duvalier’s were Francois Duvalier’s parents, but rather grandparents. She’s saying that she and Francois Duvalier are/were first cousins.” That statement is false. How could she be claiming to be a first cousin of F. Duvalier if her father was F. duvalier’s grandfather? wouldn’t that make her his aunt? I hate to disagree with you but Maureen Duvalier clearly says that Elizabeth was her father’s mother and F. Duvalier was her father’s older brother and one of Elizabeth’s sons. We both know that that assertion is a lie. I think you were lead astray by a desire to find a sensational angle to what was a pretty good story. Your credibility would be enhanced if you withdrew the Maureen Duvalier quote because her claim is nonsense.

    3. Okay, I did some additional research on Ms. Nin, and yes you are right concerning her character. In terms of the Maureen Duvalier issue, I think her quote made me think deeply about what I had once heard someone say concerning Mr. Duvalier’s birth. Notice that I have a question mark, and that I am not neccessarily agreeing to what she said, but just posed a question.

  2. Kreyolicious-your headline is so WRONG and needs to be changed. The Bahamian gov’t has NEVER accepted Bahamians born to Haitians as one of their own. So that dual nationality thing (Bahamian-Haitian in your headline!!!) doesn’t even exist except in the minds of delusional “Bahaitians”. Why do they insist on claiming the Bahamas when the Bahamas isn’t claiming them is beyond me!!! SMDH!

  3. I was born in america .My mother was born in the bahamas to haitian parents.My father is american . When i was ask what I am I by my peers i would say haitian,bahamian,american. I guess I will cut off bahamian .Im a little disappointed in my “bahamian side” . In america if you are born here your american and thats it. I’ve read other articles about how native bahamians would treat haitians .I think it is horrible that children born in a country are considerd stateless. Also has anyone every thought about slavery ,some bahamians dont look different from haitians .Most of us came from west africa and just got separated by slave owners . You could have came from the same tribe and dont know it. Bahamas can deny their haitians roots all they want but they know the truth. Last I dont know why people Hate haitians so much , If you met a couple of haitian people that were horrible dont let those people be an example for all haitians. Haiti was the first Black country to gain their independence. Thats a great accomplishment to me. Stop the hate please Black people have enough of it already why make it worst.

  4. Haitians born in the Bahamas are not ashamed. Bahamians do not claim us. we are marginalized in society, looked down upon, even now they want to expel us. I was heard a Bahamian say in my prescence, just because a dog has a puppy in the water does not make it a fish. point blank, they do not and never will consider us part of them. and nothing besides anastagia’s mom being born in the Bahamas makes her Bahamian.

  5. dear editor, you are trending on a very serious subject and if we the Haitian/Bahamians citizens want to fix the problem we must first organize ourselves and then they will recognize our power. the Bahamas is made up of 68% percent immigrants from the Caribbean MAINLY HAITI. THE GAME THEY ARE PLAYING IS POLITICAL. EVERY ADMINISTRATION AFTER SIR LYNDEN’S HAVE TRY TO PLAY THIS GAME. ASK BRANVILLE HE WAS THE FALL GUY FOR THE FNM . WILL MITCHELL GO DOWN, WE WILL SEE , WE WILL NOT FORGET. 2016 ECECTION MUST BE CALLED. THANK YOU ” A UNION IS A FORCE “

  6. My take on this subject is this. My paternal grand fathers ancestry came from Turks Island to Inagua. It is likely that during their stay in Inagua from the early 1800’s to the 1870’s there were mixing with Haitian women. And my paternal grandmother’s surname was Poitier, I have heard that they are related to Sidney Poitier but I have never sought out confirming this. So maybe I have a lot of Haitian ancestry but I am not a Haitian. People like Stephen Dillet who was the first person of color elected to the house of assembly would be more associated with me as a Bahamian with Haitian roots with a long history in this country as opposed to Haitians who are recently immigrating to the country. How I see it is that Haitians can find inspiration in Bahamians with Haitian roots but not they can’t claim it as their history. Because again it is the history of people like me who no longer identify with Haiti, and it would be impossible for me to do so. The recent Haitian immigrants have their own story to write in this country and they are doing so. I have asked Haitians to write the Bahamian National Anthem in Haitian Creole and not one of them would do it. I was told that Bahamians wouldn’t like that, so Haitians in this country have accepted themselves as second class citizens in this country instead of pursuing change like Sir Lynden Pindling did, and Martin Luther King.

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