Rachel Diao, Reflection
Because our amazing publicity chair is studying abroad this semester, I volunteered to step up as the curator for the CU Winds Instagram (shameless plug: follow @cuwinds on Instagram!!!). I’ve been taking pictures pretty much non-stop since we touched down in Haiti, something I regret not doing the last time I came here in 2017. But with this job comes not only the responsibility of documenting our ensemble’s activities but also of documenting Haiti itself. As I thumbed through my photo gallery this afternoon, considering what photos to post to our Instagram story for the day, something I learned in my Asian-American history course this past semester really struck a chord with me.
Centuries ago, when Asia was still largely unknown to the rest of the world, only select few Europeans were venturing out to the neighboring continent. These select few became “authorities” in all things Asian, and the narratives they spun about Asian peoples and cultures became the prevailing view on Asians for centuries to come. Narratives such as these came to contribute to discrimination against and stereotypes about Asians continues to this day.
The problem with so many mainstream media depictions of Haiti is that they only focus on the bad: the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the ensuing cholera outbreak, and ongoing political instability. Having been sheltered by American middle-class privilege and being all too willing to believe the press, I never looked past the photos of uncleared rubble and sick patients in clinics until I began to research these topics prior to the 2017 tour. Never does the American press ever mention the warmth of the Haitian people or the breathtaking beauty of the mountain ranges and beaches. Furthermore, the American press never talks about the billions of dollars of earthquake relief funds funneled into Haiti, only to be left untouched and unable to be used for Haitian recovery thanks to interference from theinternational community. Our information about Haiti is skewed because those who serve as“authorities” on Haiti are feeding the public a narrative that doesn’t include the harsh truths about why Haiti is slow to recover, allowing the myths about Haiti to be perpetuated.
I myself am no authority figure on Haitian history or culture; what little I know comes from theRevolutions podcast, a night spent falling into a Haitian history wormhole, and reading excerpts from different books. However, having been there twice and having spent some time trying to educate myself on the complexities of Haitian history, I have likely learned more than the average American would through the press. Therefore, the way that I describe Haiti through words, as well as through my documentation of our tour through social media, is the way that those who have never been to Haiti will be viewing the country. I consider it my responsibility to make sure I don’t continue to perpetuate myths about a beautiful country that has just been interfered with for too long.
The term “ethical photography” comes to mind as I consider how to go about documenting the tour. Every day, we are driven around Port-au-Prince in a school bus and garner more than just a few (distrustful?) stares. We stand out, and I always find myself feeling self-conscious as I stare right back out the bus window. I try my best to take in the sights and sounds of the busy Port-au-Prince streets without looking like a tourist on safari. To this end, I have made it my policy to not take pictures of strangers in the streets or students at the schools and universities that we visit (unless we are performing some collaborative activity with them). For one, consent to photography is something that these people aren’t giving me. But also, these people are going about their day-to-day routines and photographing them is akin to treating their lives as a form of entertainment.
I know that I’m only capturing a tourist’s point of view of Haiti and that I’m not winning any awards for depicting real life. But at the very least, I hope to show any viewers that though people in Haiti face difficulties that we as Americans couldn’t even begin to understand, this country is so much more than the mainstream media portrays.
Rachel Diao ’19, Bb Clarinet