A perspective of the young Haitian immigrant experience in Brooklyn during the 1980s and 90s
I attended a VIP screening of The Haitian Polo Documentary, on behalf of What's The 411TV. Honestly, I have to admit, I hadn't read the documentary's background information before attending the screening. Even though I really thought it was going to be about Haitians playing polo, I was like, what the heck, I'll attend. Boy, oh, boy was I in for the rudest bad boy awakening ever.
The documentary quickly captivated me and took me back to parts of an era that I forgot existed. I grew up in Flatbush, as well as the East New York section of Brooklyn, and when I say the music, the stories, the history, the fashion, and the simple story of a people underscores the point that no matter where Haitian people land on this sometimes harsh planet, in the words of the late great Dr. Maya Angelo, "They Rise".
My wish in this article is to convey that The Haitian Polo Documentary brings to the forefront what a community had to endure to become the proud unapologetic, successful, and sophisticated people we see today. It was a hard road for Haitians in the "Big Dirty Apple" back in the 1980s and 90s. And The Haitian Polo Documentary touched on every aspect of that world for Haitians here in this city. And, I need to add; watching this documentary, you felt the pain, the pressure, and most importantly the truth.
During the 80s, I remember my favorite song had the lyrics, "don't use me, cause I'm close to the edge; I'm trying not to lose my head" and as I watched this documentary that song resonated in my spirit If you recall, I know I totally forgot, but the U.S. government claimed that Haitian men brought AIDS to America - that fact was totally discarded from my memory, but the documentary brought that and other concrete hard-to-face facts to the attention of the viewer. And, in view of the falsehoods that the US government leveled against Haitian people, in revolutionary fashion, the Haitians organized, shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and demanded, and received respect. It was similar regarding their fashion, they were picked on and ridiculed for what they wore to school and when Polo came on the scene, you knew Haitians as being one of the best dressed. Lo Lives is what they were called.
In a theater on a warm fall evening, this What's The 411TV correspondent fell in love with the strength and determination of a people that look like me, but bilingual and so fresh to death.
The Haitian Polo Documentary has enlightened, encouraged, inspired me, and also made me think about how I never thought about the pain of others during my youth. I wasn't the one that called out, "Haitian Booty Scratcher," but I was sure glad the "cool kids" were picking on Francois this week and not me. I recall growing up in the late 80s where drug dealers and fashionable ladies roamed the streets of New York. I recall the "Lo Lives" and the group of kids that would do anything to be fresh to death with the latest Ralph Lauren gear. However, I had no idea how deep that pain went for some of the people who came from a land many, many, miles away sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. I now know how badly they wanted to assimilate within U.S. society and how language was the greatest barrier that prevented them from fitting in, but fashion became an equalizer.
I recall when Haitians would never say they were Haitian. Think about the proud parents of those suffering children. Haitians are a proud people and they have the right to be proud. They are the only African descendants in the Western Hemisphere to gain their independence via revolution- that's some strong revolutionary blood. They were also France's contribution to help the Americans in their Revolutionary War against the British. And, now their offspring had to deal with issues of being dismissed by people who were ignorant of their history because of fashion, accents, and hairstyle.
When I sat down in that theater I had no idea what I was in for, but as I write this several weeks later, I can feel myself in the eighties rethinking my steps and the feeling of if I could have seen Francois for who he was and not for what he wore, I would have become better much sooner.
I can go on and on about The Haitian Polo Documentary and I would if I could. However, I will close by saying this, it isn't what the man puts on his body that makes him iconic, it's simply the drive in his spirit that makes his experience everlasting.
Well done Haitian Polo documentary, well done.
You can view The Haitian Polo Documentary trailer, below.
Onika McLean is president of Lexington Development Group and a co-host and assistant producer of What's The 411, where she focuses on the intersection of entertainment, pop culture, and politics. As president of Lexington Development Group, she helps small businesses to amplify their voices.
When Onika is not working, she enjoys sitting on the deck of her house on moonlit evenings with a glass of wine in her hand.