3rd Annual Conference on Haitian Mental Health Across Waters (Lòt Bò
Dlo): Haitian Identity,
Migration, and Psychosocial Adaptation
Saturday, May 3, 2014
School of Professional Psychology 1 Wells
The Influences of Lakay and Lòt Bò Dlo on the Ethnic Identity Choices of Second-Generation Haitian Immigrants Flore Zéphir, Ph.D.
Research conducted with second-generation Haitian immigrants in the United States reveals that their ethnic identity choices are shaped by both the home environment--Lakay--and by the external context of American realities that surround them--Lòt Bò Dlo. This presentation will highlight how identity formation for this particular group is, indeed, a very complex process riddled with pride and prejudice, and peer and intergenerational conflicts, which quite often results in feelings of anomie, alienation, or not belonging. It underscores how these two sets of norms—those of the surrounding milieu and those of the family and ethnic community—interact, compete, and too often clash with one another to produce the multiple trends in ethnic identification that second-generation Haitian immigrants exhibit. Haitian youth, undoubtedly, show very distinct forms of adaptation as opposed to a relatively uniformed path of integration, and they illustrate the complex and multidirectional process of "segmented assimilation" described by various scholars in their discussions of the new second generation. In many ways, this process of identity formation is rocky; it can lead to successes and failures. Some of these success stories are well known. However, lesser-known stories are certainly those of failures, which, in many cases, require psychological interventions. This presentation will also focus on the dissonant factors that engender maladaptive or dysfunctional behaviors, which dedicated mental health professionals attempt to modify.
Edmond Haraucourt (1856-1941) wrote a poem entitled: "Partir, c’est mourir un peu" (To part means to die a little). The poet seems to strike a raw nerve in all immigrants with his admission that "to part is to die a little." The literature on immigration, psychological acculturation and adaptation strongly supports the notion of significant losses that immigrants experience in leaving their homeland to migrate to a new country. Among others, those losses include the following: loss of home, loss of status, loss of language, loss of significant relationships, and loss of cultural and personal identity. As for any significant loss, failure to grieve appropriately may lead to various difficulties in coping and adjustments, leading to significant distress and impairment. There is a need for clinicians at all levels to understand the impact of those losses in order develop therapeutic or psycho-educational approaches toward reinforcing the individual's capacity to become culturally competent in the process of his/her psychological acculturation and adaptation. To be effective, any method of intervention must, a priori, adequately assess the meaning of those losses for separate groups or individuals. There are several factors and variables that such assessment must take into consideration. They include, among others, reasons for the migration, social status and education, socioeconomic conditions, levels of relational attachments, personality factors, age, gender, values, support networks in the host culture, etc. This presentation will be an attempt to encourage some discussions on Haitian migrating experiences as they relate to those losses and to assess the various coping strategies (both adaptive and maladaptive) that have been utilized in dealing with them. The presentation will facilitate greater awareness, sensitivity, and ability to help Haitian immigrants develop more effective coping mechanisms as they seek to cultivate greater cultural competence and maintain cultural equilibrium.
Almost two million Haitians live lòt bò dlo: across waters in the Diaspora. In the United States, Canada, and even France, many Haitians have not culturally, socially, and psychologically fully integrated into the dominant culture. Newer immigrants struggle to integrate on multiple psycho-social and educational levels due to collective and individual trauma both pre- and post-migration. Resources to deal with the trauma are not completely understood or recognized until there is a crisis and intervention is required, often intervention from outside the Haitian community. The acknowledgement and need to heal from trauma needs to be understood and reinforced within the Haitian community and community at large. The first signs of trauma in Haitian children often appear in the education system of the dominant culture. The presentation will explore the process of evolving from a fragmented self to an integrated self through the framework of Haitian Edikasyon. The western cultural definition of education reinforces learning for self and active participation in society through an independent lens; whereas the Haitian and Diasporic Edikasyon reinforces education for upward mobility for the self, family, community through an interpersonal social and political lens (Desir, 2006). In the process of migration and successful self-integration, edikasyon must be understood and transmitted from one generation to the next. Diverse psycho-social education/edikasyon journeys via empirical case studies of Haitian children and adults going through migration, including the presenter’s, will be examined. Psycho-social maladjustment that may occur during this process will also be discussed. The experience of Haitian children in Cambridge and in Miami will illuminate unique triggers and resources for Haitian self-integration. Pre and post migration adaptation strategies for healing and integration will be highlighted for mental health practitioners. Mental health practitioners will be challenged to examine their own cultural, social, psychological, and cognitive notions of mental health and maladaptive behaviors within the Haitian community.
Recovering from Social Rejection, Embracing Self-Acceptance and Committing to Valued Actions Marie Mesidor, Ph.D.
Haitians who have grown up in the United States have faced issues of social rejection, isolation, and bullying for which they have received inadequate support from their families and local communities. Also, issues of acculturative stress have not fully been addressed for this community. As a result, many have struggled with self-acceptance that has had a negative impact on general well-being and life satisfaction. Recently, the principles and values of mental health recovery have been embraced by the field. SAMHSA’s 2012 definition identifies recovery as "a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential." This presentation will make the case that many Haitians who grew up in the United States are recovering from the social rejection that they experienced in schools and local communities. SAMHSA’s ten guiding principles of recovery (i.e., Hope, Person-Drive, Peer Support, Relational, Culture, Addressing Trauma, Strengths/Responsibility, and Respect) will be applied to this group and recommendations will be made for improving general well-being and life satisfaction. Further, acceptance as defined by ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) will be recommended as a critical step in helping Haitians, grappling with these issues, to take actions based on their chosen values that lead to greater wellbeing and life satisfaction.
The presenters will address the theme, Being Haitian: What It Means to Me, by discussing the experience of being Haitian women at an elite, women’s college. Presenters will discuss how they got to Bryn Mawr and their experience as Haitian women on its campus by sharing their personal stories. Esteniolla Maitre will talk about the repercussions of rejecting the Haitian identity and its language as a form of protection; Quela Jules will discuss how being half-Haitian affects one’s belongingness to the Haitian culture; and Rose Pierre-Louis will present on the challenges of navigating perceptions of womanhood in the Haitian culture and at Bryn Mawr College. Collectively, their stories will grapple with themes of womanhood, dual identities and language; and address questions such as, what challenges are unique to Haitian and Haitian-American women in college? How does being at an elite college shape the identity of Haitian women? In what ways does the campus culture conflict with the Haitian culture? What strategies do the presenters use to stay connected to their Haitian identity while at Bryn Mawr College? The presenters will end by discussing how occasional Haitian meals with all the Haitian female students and staff on campus fosters sisterhood and identity acceptance.
Who Are You? Fallon Jean-Gilles, MSW Do culture and generation define one’s identity? Understanding a person’s identity helps to understand the person as a whole. The presenter will share her personal views on being Haitian, and engage the audience in a discussion of what identity means to them as well as how they have incorporated being Haitian as part of their overall identity. Attendees will have the opportunity to discuss ways to apply the information gleaned from this discussion in clinical work with clients.
Jamaican-born British Culture Studies Scholar Stuart Hill, in his 1990 article entitled, Cultural Identity and Diaspora for the publication, Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, presents a theoretical basis for how visual media informs cultural identity. He argued that identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps, instead of thinking of identity as an accomplished fact, we should think of identity as a “production,” which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside representation. Hill further posited that understanding culture is a dialogue or representation. Hill defined cultural identity in terms of one’s shared culture, a sort of collective or one true self, hiding inside the many others, more superficial or artificially imposed "selves," which people of a shared history and ancestry hold in common. Visual media has been a common tool for people of marginalized communities in the Caribbean to come to terms with their identity. The arts have been a cathartic, self-healing process for Caribbean-Americans. This presentation will feature the documentary entitled, “Culture Clash.” Through interviews, dramatizations, and auto-ethnographies, the documentary presents how Caribbean American immigrants, many of them young people, have made the transition to American society and formed a new identity. Conference attendees will engage in a discussion on the process of cultural identity formation among Haitians and other Caribbean Americans, and ways to break free from self-identity as being “marginalized” to belonging to an “empowered” community. The importance of this documentary to mental health professionals is how the film shows the many ways in which those who have struggled with this transition have overcome the many physical, economic, mental, and spiritual obstacles that they encountered.