A Historical Perspective

View of the quad at the University of The Aristide Foundation

It has been two days now since we returned from Haiti. I’ve been trying to write this blog post since day 2 of the trip so… you do the math on how long it’s taken me.

I love history. History, to me, is a beautiful mess to dive into and pick apart, to discover where people are lying and trying to re-write the narrative in their favor. Learning about history in a responsible and thorough way is a perfect chance to push back at these narratives and to get closer to a true understanding of the past. In the process, we can find ways to truly empathize with other people, even those from nations very different from our own.

Haitian history is the most beautiful, triumphant, frustrating, rage-inducing mess I have ever had the pleasure of learning about. In the lead-up to this trip, I was immediately drawn in by the historical resources that James (our director) provided us. I read articles and books and listened to podcasts about the successful slave revolt that led to the founding of Haiti, the reparations to France that crippled the young nation’s economy, the series of coups and new governments, the constant meddling from the US during the 20th century (including the occupation), and the brutal Duvalier dictatorship. It was fascinating, eye-opening, and terrifying all at once.

And then there’s the current events (and by current I mean the past 30 years or so). I don’t like em. This is a general rule about current events. They’re messy. Information is incomplete and conclusions are near-impossible to draw. But when we got to Haiti, we were suddenly right in the midst of current events. All around us were reminders of the earthquake and its aftermath, the current political turmoil, and discussions about recent presidents such as Aristide (we even got to meet his wife!).

Things got way too close for comfort. But maybe that’s the point. The last time I went to Haiti, I didn’t know nearly as much about the history or the current events. The trip was an utterly hectic whirlwind and I spent most of it just trying to take everything in. This time, I found myself approaching the trip from a more academic point of view. Things were calmer this time around, and there was space to think and analyze. Mike Yee pointed out in his reflection that we spent a lot of this trip treating Haiti like a museum. I will readily admit to being guilty of that myself.

It took far too long for me to get out of my historicizing mindset and really engage with the present moment. But once I did, I started to understand more of the impact of this trip, both on ourselves and on our audiences. I can see where things like musical and cultural exchange stand in the unbelievably fuzzy mess of Haitian and American current events, and I can appreciate the opportunity that we had, and the lives that we interacted with (if only briefly). At the end of the day, human connection – however fleeting it may be – really is the most important aspect of our lives. Maybe a cliché thing to say, but I believe it to my core.

And on that note, I want to fully and sincerely thank everyone for their part in this tour. That includes all of you reading this: thank you. I’m graduating in May, but I’ll never forget these two experiences and the memories that go along with them. I’ll never forget you folks, some of whom I know well and others that I’m just getting to know. Thank you all so much for sharing this with me. I hope that it stays with you as well.

-Meghna Srivastava, Clarinet