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Haitian Flag Day

Flag bears spirit of a people

By Tanya Weinberg
Staff Writer

May 19, 2001

When the two mothers talked about their housekeeper jobs and immigration problems, they shook their heads and looked stern. But when they talked about the Haitian flag, the two women broke out in big smiles.

"There are many Haitians, they recognize they have a struggle, and now they are trying to show this to the public," said Julienne San in her native Creole. "Because the flag means unity to the Haitians, now it becomes more vibrant for them."

The friends sat in the cafeteria of North Fork Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale on Friday evening, waiting for the Haitian Flag Day presentation to begin. Their daughters, 10 and 11, sat a couple rows ahead, dressed in red and blue, Haitian flag bandanas tied around their heads.

"They feel they have the freedom now to celebrate their heritage," said Rosemarie Petit, commenting how things had changed from earlier years. "The children didn't want anybody to know they were Haitians."

Similar scenes are expected Sunday in Delray Beach, where the community has organized a parade and celebration of Haitian Flag Day.

Wilner Athouriste, one of the organizers, said this is the event's second year in Delray Beach, and they expect some 5,000 people to attend.

A parade is expected to start at the Haitian Catholic Church, with music, flags and participants in typical Haitian dress, and work its way down Southwest Fourth Street to Merritt Park. Delray Beach police will help direct traffic, Athouriste said.

At the park there will be food, speeches, dances, poems and other activities. Athouriste said the church's youth group helped greatly.

Tuesday's election of North Miami's first Haitian mayor and a Haitian majority city council has further electrified a sense of growing power among South Florida Haitians just in time for Flag Day, leaders say.

"It's really exciting. You can feel the charge and the change going on in the community," said Marvin Dejean, vice president of Minority Development & Empowerment/Haitian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale.

Flag Day commemorates May 18, 1803 when leaders of slave troops fighting for freedom in Haiti tore the white stripe out of the French flag to signify their separation. They created a new flag from the remaining blue and red strips, fought on, and declared independence the following New Year's Day.

This May marks the first time Haitian Cultural Heritage Month, declared by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, was celebrated in the county. In Broward, the Community Action Agency coordinated the first Haitian Awareness Week, including Friday's Flag Day event.

"It's a very far cry from say five, 10 years ago, when people were ashamed to say they were Haitian," Dejean said. "Now it's cool and trendy."

Today, Broward County is sponsoring an Empowerment Fair at North Side Elementary, 120 NW 11th St. in Fort Lauderdale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A Sunday evening fund raiser for the Camille and Sulette Merilus Foundation for Haiti Development Inc. will celebrate Flag Day with live music from 7 to 10 p.m. at 8400 NE Second Ave. in Miami. Call 305-947-8488 for more information.

The Haitian Compas Festival will showcase the native Haitian musical style on Saturday at Miami's Bayfront Park from 3 to 11 p.m. See the festival Web site, www.compasfestival.com.

Tanya Weinberg can be reached at tweinberg@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7923.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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