Five years ago today, Wyclef Jean – the Haitian-American hip-hop superstar whose 2004 hit song mused, “If I was President” – revealed in an interview with me that he was actually running for President. Of Haiti. Whether Jean would have been a good pwezidan is certainly debatable. But what made his candidacy most significant – especially in the wake of Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake – was the prospect of finally seeing a real bridge built between Haiti and its large diaspora. “I’m the only man who can stand in the middle and get the diaspora and Haiti’s elite families to cooperate,” Jean told me. And yet Haiti’s elite families hardly seemed ready to welcome Jean into the presidential palace. Three weeks after he entered the 2010 presidential race, Haiti’s election commission disqualified him because it said he didn’t meet constitutional residency requirements. This despite the fact that Jean was born in Haiti and hadn’t ditched his Haitian citizenship. As a result, many Haitian-Americans said his ejection was typical of how Haiti treats the Haitian diaspora.
“It’s frustrating,” says Sandy Dorsainvil, who heads the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami. Dorsainvil was born in the U.S. to Haitian immigrant parents. But as far as she’s concerned, “as much as I am American, I’m Haitian, and it’s part of my home. My mom lives there. Right now as we speak my two children are there on summer vacation. I own a home there. So I want to be able to participate in the political process.”
Which brings us to this Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Haiti. After the Wyclef Jean controversy, the Haitian government promised to give Haitian expats and their families dual citizenship – including the right to vote and even run in Haitian
elections. Haiti supposedly passed a bill to that effect three years ago. It still hasn’t been enacted, and as Haitian-Americans like Dorsainvil put it: “I do not see the light at the end of the tunnel at this point.”