Haitian Heritage Museum
of Haitian ancestry live in many parts of the world, including
the United States. Haitians on the home island call them "dysapora,"
the popular name for those who have moved away from Haiti.
These dysapora often feel the pull of two cultures—the
culture of the country where they now live and the culture
of Haiti. Many dysapora refer to Haiti as the "motherland,"
the place that gave birth to their unique Haitian heritage—a
heritage that they have carried to other nations.
Haitian-American Eveline Pierre
has come up with a plan. You build a 60,000 square-foot museum
at the doorstep of South Miami's Little Haiti. Pierre, the
daughter of Haiti parents, calls it the Haitian
Heritage Museum, the first museum of its kind in the United
States. Pierre is the president, chief executive officer,
and co-founder of the project. Pierre shares responsibility
with other Haitian-Americans, including the museum's vice
president, and co-founder, Serge Rodrique. Together they hope
to "build a bridge" to the Haitian motherland.
To learn more about this museum, the Social
Studies department of Glencoe/McGraw-Hill contacted Eveline
Pierre in her Miami office. The following feature is portions
of the interview.
Q: What got you interested
in founding the Haitian Heritage Museum?
A: Well, I left south
Florida about 10 years ago. When I returned three years later,
people had started talking about the upcoming bicentennial
of Haitian independence. I believed we needed to do something
exciting to show the world what the first free black republic
had to offer, not just for Haitians but also for people everywhere.
Q: Where is Little Haiti located in Miami?
A: Little Haiti in Miami
basically starts from NE 36th Street in the south and reaches
past NE 84th street in the north. But the center lies at NE
54th Street, between Biscayne Boulevard and North Miami Avenue.
Basically Little Haiti is the place where Haitian culture
took root in Florida. At first, nobody lived outside of the
community. Haitians who arrived by plane or boat always knew
where to look for their loved ones, where to find a welcome.
Little Haiti wasand still isthe meeting point
Q: Would you call Little Haiti "the heart" of
Haitian culture in America?
A. Yes and no. There are
certainly big, bustling Haitian communities in other parts
of the country, such as New York. But South Florida is often
the first stop for people coming from Haiti and the last stop
for people returning there. For that reason, many Haitians
and Haitian-Americans see South Florida as kind of a bridge
to the motherland.
Q: What did you do before coming to the museum?
A: I got my degree in
political science from Howard University, with a minor in
the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. That interest
came from growing up in South Florida, which is heavily populated
with people from both regions. I also used to work for our
current mayor, Manny Diaz. He started the Special Events Department,
which handled arts, culture, and entertainment. Three directors,
including myself, and another young lady got the new department
up and running. It's brought many great programs to South
Florida, like the Latin American Grammy Awards, Caribbean
movie festivals, and much more.
Q: You once said that when you started to work
for the museum you had
"found your calling." Can you explain what you meant?
A: I'd love to explain
that comment. Looking back in time, I realized that everything
that I've done since I was a little child prepared me for
this job. I feel that I've got a lifetime of experience to
offer. I grew up the daughter of Haitians. Yet, while in public
school, I began to see things in broader perspective. I realized
that I wasn't African American per se, even though most Haitians
trace their roots to Africa. I wasn't a Haitian either, even
though my parents spoke Creole and French. I was a Haitian
The picture grew even bigger for me when
I formed childhood friendships. For example, in high school,
I made a lot of Jewish friends and went to a lot of Jewish
ceremonies and events. I learned all about this culture, too.
So the period was very interesting to me, because it made
me sensitive to the incredible diversity of South Florida.
I left Miami to attend college, but all
my history papers focused on the Haitian War for Independence.
I went to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to
explore how different historians viewed this important event
in world history. So I never really moved far from my Haitian
culture. Instead, I wanted to know more and more about my
heritage, especially the role my ancestors played in spreading
the ideals of freedom.
Being the museum's director and co-founder
at this time gives me the chance to share our culture. As
Haitians and Haitian Americans, we don't just want to keep
it for ourselves. We want others to know about it. We want
people to say, "Hey, I didn't know that Haitians or Haitian
Americans did that!"
As the number of Haitian Americans grow
in the years ahead, the museum will help them to keep in touch
with the heritage of their ancestors. The museum is about
creating a legacy. If you don't know where you come from,
you're not going to know where you're going. The museum is
about self-awareness and culturea kind of educational
revolution. I stay this because a center like ours is new
to the United States. It ties Haitiansespecially our
childrento our past and to our future. The museum says,
"Here's where we once were, and here's where we are today.
Look at all the great strides that we've made. Aren't you
Q: Some people might be tempted to say, "Oh, Miami
has another great art museum." But the Haitian Heritage
Museum is about more than art, isn't it?
A: The museum's name says
it all. We're about a people's heritage. The major parts,
or components, of this museum will focus on the visual arts.
Yet, we want to put Haitian art into the big picture of world
art. We hope to start an artist exchange program, in which
Haitian artists and artists from other countries learn about
each other's styles and techniques.
We'll also have a theatric component. Right
now, Haitian film is huge. The bicentennial of Haitian independence
in 2004 prompted people to make new films and to watch older
ones. We plan to hold a film festival that will shine a spotlight
on young Haitian filmmakers. This may inspire other Haitian
students to pursue careers in film. Our museum will give them
a place to show their works and to compare them to Haitian
films of the past.
We will a literary component, too. We'll
house important works written by talented Haitian writers
of the past and present. Just think of authors like Edwidge
Dantikat. She's young, but is already a creative force. She's
really captured the Haitian experience in her books. By reading
books like hers, the new generation of Haitian Americans can
travel back to Haiti without leaving the United States.
Finally, we're also going to have a family
component at the museum. For example, we plan to set aside
time on Sunday when family members can create an art piece
together. Such activities will help cement the generations.
Q: Will the museum include music?
A: Oh yes, there will
be lots of music and dance. I was fortunate enough to have
someone send me a whole bunch of artifacts related to Haitian
music and the different styles of dance. These artifacts will
form the first of many exhibits related to the performing
Like the visual arts, we'll want to place
Haitian music and dance into a broader world perspective.
As you may know, Katherine Dunham, the great American dancer
and choreographer, spent a lot of time in Haiti. She had an
important dance school there. In the 1930s, Dunham brought
some of what she learned to New York City, where she had been
invited to perform the "Yanvalou," a very old Haitian
Basically, whether we're focusing on art,
music, dance, or film, we'll have one goal in mindincreasing
the self-esteem of young people. If they have high self-esteem,
they'll be more likely to stay away from drugs and other kinds
of trouble. Young people know about the problems facing Haiti.
But they may not know about all the good things that Haitians
and Haitian American have done. We want to tell them. We're
about healthy pride, the feeling that says "we can do
something important with our lives."
Q: Did Haiti ever have a "golden age"
of the arts?
A: Most definitely. From
what I understand, it took place in the 1930s and 1940s. Langston
Hughes, an African American writer in the Harlem Renaissance,
used to travel back and forth to Haiti at that time. Other
writers came to Haiti, too. They wanted to absorb the island's
spirit, to sense the feelings in the first black nation to
win its independence.
Haiti was different than the United States
at that time. Large numbers of African Americans lived under
Crow laws and experienced discrimination because of their
African heritage. When African Americans went to Haiti, they
escaped that prejudice. They came in touch with another aspect
of their African culture. As Haitians, we might speak Creole
or French, but we've always known that most of us descended
from people carried to the Americas on slave ships. Nearly
95 percent of all Haitians have a piece of Africa in their
past. I think African Americans like Langston Hughes, who
also carried a piece of Africa in his soul, may have found
Q: What has been the response of African Americans
to construction of the museum?
A: The response has been
overwhelming, but not just from African Americans. Remember
we're in diverse Miami. We've gotten support from people from
many ethnic and national backgrounds. When we had our first
advisory council meeting, people more or less said, "Well,
it's about time! It's about time for this kind of museum."
We actually have two council members from
Key Beach Park Trust. They're building the first African
American museum geared to this beach. During the period of
segregation, it was the only beach in South Florida where
people of color could go swimming. So we have a partnership
with them. We also have a partnership with the Black Archives,
History, and Research Foundation, which works to preserve
Miami's African American sites.
But the partnerships don't stop with African
Americans. Like I said, so many other groups want to become
involved with our project. And we welcome their involvement.
Q: How did you start such a huge project—a
museum costing millions of dollars? And how do you keep it
A: The most important
thing in starting any type of project, big or small, is that
you have to believe in it first. Once you believe in a project,
then other people will believe in it too. If you don't believe
in something that you're doing, how can you sell it to anybody
else? You need the passion. With the passion, people start
to come to you as word gets around. There's a lot of hard
work, too. We have to hold fundraisers, go to corporate and
private sponsors, apply for grants, and so much more. We've
contacted Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and anybody else who
might be interested in helping a program geared at Haitian
youth. We have this whole, huge funding campaign for the 2005-2006
We're simply not going to stop. The project
has sparked a new interest in the dyaspora, Haitians who live
outside the motherland. We're getting calls from cities all
around the United States. We've been contacted by the media
in Canada, and recently we did an interview for an African
magazine. So the project can't ever wear us down. We see its
global effects and feel like working even harder.
Q: How have you involved young people in the project?
A: We have college students
helping us now. For example, at one of our fundraisers, we
had this wonderful opera singer, Cassandra Guerrier, perform.
She was still in college at the time, but her performance
led Governor Jeb Bush to invite her to perform for him. She
was later asked to audition for the lead role in the great
play Prince of Haiti, King of Paris.
We also gave a young Haitian American saxophone
player named Fred Thomas a chance to play before a huge public
audience. It goes on and on. At our fundraisers, and later
at the museum itself, young Haitian American performers can
find a place on the stage.
In addition, we've developed a scholarship
called the Haitian Heritage Museum Scholastic Award, which
will go to a high school senior, either Haitian or Haitian
America. This scholarship grows out of talks with schools
in our area. Principals and teachers say Haitian and Haitian
American students want to attend college, but quite often
lack the money. Since many Haitian students are the first
generation in their families to even dream of college, we
feel it is very important that to give them something to aim
for, in this case a scholarship.
We're reaching out to elementary and middle
school students, too. We've got the wheels spinning for a
Haitian Heritage Museum club. We're planning to go into schools
with large concentrations of Haitians so that we can teach
them about their culture at an early age. Can you imagine
the effect of a well-established artist from Haiti or the
Caribbean speaking directly to children? Or can you imagine
an artist or performer showing them how to create something
So we have decided to do many great things
with children and young people of all ages. The legacy starts
with them. They're the ones who will pass it on to the next
generation of children, who will understand their uniqueness.
Q: You're based in Florida. How have you extended the
reach of your ideas outside the area?
A: We have one gentleman
named Carl Fombrun who sits on our executive board. He also
has an extensive Carl's Corner in the media, including the
Internet, and he will be setting up a Carl's Corner at our
museum. His family owns a museum in Haiti, so he's helping
us strengthen the link to the motherland. He's loaning many
pieces of art to our museum. Mr. Fombrun is also allowing
us to use his e-mail list to reach thousands of people in
Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Washington,
We're also working with the DuSable Museum
of African American History in Chicago. As you may know, Jean
Baptiste Pointe DuSable was the Haitian American fur trader
who founded Chicago. We sent one of our advisory council members
to this museum to explore ways that we might form a partnership.
In addition, we attend the National Haitian
Student Conference, a yearly event that explores and celebrates
Haitian culture and society. It started in 1997 primarily
as a meeting for colleges in New York City, but now it draws
students, scholars, professionals, and famous Haitians from
around the world. We speak before this conference to spread
news of our museum.
We basically try to hit all of the important
events that draw peoples from the African Diaspora, including
Haitians. They come not only from the United States, but from
countries all over the world—wherever Africans were
taken during the centuries of African slavery or wherever
they settled on their own.
We do local and national radio. We accept
interviews in newspapers, magazines, and educational websites
like this one. More and more tourists who visit Little Haiti
ask, "Do you know where we can find the Haitian Heritage
People are learning that we're more than
diri kole ak pwa rou, "rice and red beans."
We're more than konpa. Oh yes, we love our konpa!
It makes us want to dance. Yet as important as Haitian foods
and kompa are to our culture, we're still more. Oh,
we're so much more!
Q: Where do you see the museum going in the future?
A: I dream that the museum
will be a staple, something essential to our lives. It will
not only educate Haitian Americans about their culture, it
will educate others as well. It will bring more and more people
into Miami and into Little Haiti. We want the museum to last
forever and a day. We want it to be a part of Haitian culture
around the world and around this beautiful city we call Miami.
It's all about creating a legacy, not only for children of
Haitian ancestry but all children—the diverse children
who will inherit our United States.