As many Haitians live in peril amid indescribable destruction and death, their American relatives are vexed by the media’s depiction of their native country as an uninhabitable, poverty-stricken no man’s land.
While Haiti’s history of widespread human suffering is irrefutable—something most Haitians recognize—some believe the Caribbean nation has been particularly demonized by international media following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake which pulverized its capital, Port-au-Prince.
“The media has been giving Haiti a bad rap since I could remember,” Pamela Vaval, a 25-year-old Haitian-American nurse living in Florida, told the AFRO. “Haiti is not the richest country, obviously, but neither is Jamaica, Bahamas and all the other islands in the West Indies….I know a lot of people who have lived here for many years and moved back to Haiti because they lived better over there than America. My grandmother, who has a big beautiful house in Haiti, did not have to lift a finger in Haiti because she had maids.”
Because positive stories from Haiti are rarely publicized in international media outlets, many come to know the citizens and the land —the first independent nation in Latin America—as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”
Haiti has been linked to vaudou, Satanism and zombie lore in contemporary films such as “Live and Let Die” and “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” But Vaval believes Haiti’s overwhelmingly negative representation abroad has more to do with the media’s attempt to craft cookie-cutter images of a nation it does not understand.
The images have been reinforced by round-the-clock media coverage of the disaster which has consistently highlighted a lack of infrastructure in Haiti.
“Honestly, I don’t know why the media talks about Haiti as if no part is good,” she said. “Probably the same reason they portray Africa as if all Africans live in huts and run with lions…I’m born and raised in America, [and] have been to Haiti only once when I was a toddler, so I can’t tell you any memories. But from pictures and what my friends and family who go to Haiti all the time tell me, it is just like any other island [in the Caribbean] — beautiful beaches, rich culture, wonderful people. Hopefully after all of this, people will see Haiti and its people in a different light, but I’m not so optimistic. [The] only thing left to do is educate and enlighten.”