Remembering the Haiti earthquake

Marlene Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, and Christine, a 12-year-old who benefits from protections from Temporary Protected Status. Miami Times photos/Philippe Hénold Buteau 

Peterson Exais was 9 on Jan. 12, 2010, at his sister’s house watching television with his brother.

The shaking started, and four days later he was being pulled out of the collapsed building.

He wasn’t scared. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. He was unconscious throughout the four days.

“Whether it was hard on me or not I’m not 100% sure,” Exais said. “I remember being a 9-year-old getting stuck under a building. Next thing I know they were pulling me out. And they were telling me it has been four days. How exactly can you feel about something like that?”

Exais’ sister was at work but his brother did not make it out of the home alive.

“I try blocking those type of things out. I don’t want to think about it,” he said.

After rescuers freed him, Exais was transported to an urgent care center at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport where he received five surgeries for his face and hand. He was later taken to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami where he received 11 more surgeries.

While Exais was unconscious under rubble, Tessa Petit was making her way to Haiti. The earthquake struck at 4:53 p.m. on Tuesday; Petit was in the Dominican Republic by Thursday and on Friday she was in Port-au-Prince.

Petit’s godson and mother also died from a house collapsing on them.

“When you go to Haiti, death is in the faces of every single Haitian you see because they’re suffering,” Petit said at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex on Jan. 12.

Petit and Exais’ stories were miles apart in Haiti, but on the same platform for the 10th anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which led to the deaths of 330,000 people, 400,000 homeless and more than 1 million injured.

Thirty Haitian and non-Haitian groups organized their annual remembrance of the earthquake, a march from the Toussaint Louverture Statue to the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, which hosted survivors, their not-too-distant relatives and allies of the country.

“We gathered 30 organizations to send a strong message to Haiti and let Haiti and the young people of Haiti know, we see you, we hear you,” said Marlene Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network Movement.

Pastor Monsignor Bazin and Pauline Louis-Magiste prayed for Haiti and the earthquake victims before marchers observed a moment of silence.

“At the devastating earthquake that took place in Haiti, oh God you cried and wept with the people in Haiti. You are always with them; you are always with us,” Bazin prayed. “We are praying for us to work together for us to travel with another Haiti. When it’s free, Haiti will be beautiful.”

Louis-Magiste prayed: Heavenly father we thank you for each and every organization that is standing here that is being represented. We pray that you give them a heart of kindness of compassion as they continue to serve the people of Haiti. We pray for the community here. We pray for the organizers of this event. Father God we know one day your hand will touch Haiti.

The marchers left the statue, walking in silence toward Northeast 62 Avenue heading east on it until reaching the cultural complex.

In the courtyard, there were dance and music performances broken up by speeches from pastors and elected officials who spoke of their connections to the earthquake and the social impact of the physical damage.

“The pain of Haiti is intense and the pain spreads to here in Miami-Dade,” District 8 County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said to The Miami Times. “We have benefitted so much from their influence. Haiti’s pain is our pain. We must redouble our efforts to pull Haiti forward.”

“Instead of pointing fingers, who asked themselves what have I done? Not for the whole country but a piece of the country,” Pastor Joanem Floreal said in Kreyol.

“Haiti’s earthquake will never be forgotten. It will be told about in fables,” said Miami’s District 5 Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

“How many dreams disappeared? Maybe it was a youth dreaming of how to help people who don’t eat everyday,” said District 2 County Commissioner Jean Monestime. “The dreams of those who are lost are on our backs.”

Bastien returned to reflect on the clog that still exists in the republic fought for by Black and Indigenous people.

“We did this unity to say it’s time for leaders in Haiti to unblock the country,” she said.

After the earthquake, the administration of former President Barack H. Obama granted Temporary Protected Status to thousands of Haitians seeking refuge. Obama’s successor, President Donald J. Trump is seeking to revoke TPS from all who have it: Nepalese, Yemenis, Somalians, Syrians, South Sudanese, Sudanese, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans and Haitians.

A court decision delayed the end of TPS until 2021 - March at the latest, January for Haitians. If Trump gets his way, he will deport 30,000 U.S.-born children.

“We deserve to stay here,” said 12-year-old Christina, who benefits as a child of a TPS recipient.

Exais had to leave Haiti for urgent health care in 2010; in 2020, Haiti still has unfinished hospitals, underfunded public health facilities, and uncertain funding.

“If it wasn’t for you I’d probably be dead,” Exais said on stage.

“My story is a result of a lack of structure, lack of people coming together,” Petit said. “Because my mother wouldn’t have died.”

“Nou tout se ayisyen. Nou dwe yo,” Petit said in Kreyol on stage. “Li leu pou nou met tet nou ansam. Nou tout se petit peyia.” Translated: “We are all Haitian. We owe them. It’s time for us to put our heads together. We are all children of the country.”

Afterward, survivors, friends and families of victims were offered to plant white roses on the Earthquake Memorial Living Wall.

“I put a rose for everyone who died. They are not gone in vain. We will make sure that things change in the country,” said Elizabeth Philippe, a doctor whose training in Haiti was backed up with a Yale degree.

“We’re here tonight for our children,” said Belo, one of the performers.

“I know a lot of you lost someone and every Jan. 12 you have to mental gymnastics,” Micaben said in regards to celebrating life through music.

Sandy Dorsainvil, manager of the Little Haiti Cultural Center, said when it came to organizing the anniversary, the most important thing was finding a way for people to remember the people who they lost without focusing on the loss of life.

“Remembering those folks as living people. The concept of putting a white rose and illuminating that space, the living plant wall, gave something beautiful, gave people an opportunity to think of their loved ones as living spirits that are still with them,” Dorsainvil said.

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