UNION, NJ — Union celebrated Haitian Flag Day yesterday with a flag raising ceremony at town hall. The newly formed Haitian American Civic Association co-hosted the event as leaders and members of the community came to honor the rich heritage of Haiti and the history of its flag.
The Haitian flag has long been a symbol of pride for the Haitian community. Emblazoned with the country’s coat of arms against a backdrop of bright red and blue, it first came into use in 1806 when Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader in the Haitian Revolution against France, removed the white in the French flag to symbolize an end of European influence. The blue is said to represent the former African slaves who were brought to Haiti by the country’s colonial rulers. The red stands for people of mixed ancestry.
Union mayor Manuel Figueiredo told LocalSource that the event represents a large and vibrant part of the Union community. “The Haitian immigrant population in the United States is the fourth-largest immigrant group from the Caribbean,” Figueiredo said. “I met earlier this year with the Haitian Community in Union and I was privileged to be told of a Haitian proverb that says, “little by little the bird builds its nest.” To watch the Haitian community grow and thrive in Union — more recently with the formation of the Union Haitian American Civic Association — is proof that their nest is slowly becoming whole. Their contribution to the salad bowl in the United States is ever-increasingly vital to the overall texture of our demographics,” said Figueiredo.
Union committeewoman Michele Delisfort said that immigrants from Haiti represent a growing and vibrant share of the total foreign-born population in the U.S. “While it can be said that there have been members of the Haitian community present in the local area for many years, the entire country experienced an influx of Haitian immigrants after the devastating earthquake in 2010, after which the US government added Haiti to the list of countries receiving temporary protective status,” Delisfort told LocalSource. “The Haitian community has certainly added to the diversity of our community and contributed their familial dynamic to their individual neighborhoods. We have also shared customs, food and culture, and added to the broader population of people from different countries that make Union so unique.”
Maconel Saint-Vil, president of the Union Haitian American Civic Association, said that one of the biggest challenges the Haitian community faces is the language barrier. “The main struggle for the Haitian community is language,” said Saint-Vil. “They don’t really have a place where people speak Haitian. We’re trying to see if we can provide something like that for the Haitian community.”
Delisfort, who is a first-generation American, agrees. “I think that as a first-generation American, I have been privileged with a dual perspective in life where, as I have enjoyed the comforts of being born and raised in the United States, I have also witnessed first-hand the struggles faced by members of my family where it came to acclimating one’s self to a foreign place, overcoming languages barriers, the difficulty of finding work and providing for a family,” said Delisfort. “As a result, I believe that I was conditioned from a very early age on the importance of giving a voice to the immigrant community, and ensuring that they can have access to the things that can help them overcome their obstacles and help them get one step closer to realizing their dreams,” she said.
Delisfort believes that an event like this celebrates the unique contributions of diverse populations. “If you take one look at Union Center- where you will find cuisine from all parts of the world — you will see that our town is the epitome of what it means to be American,” said Delisfort. “The beauty of this country is that we can all be “American” while still celebrating and sharing with each other the beauty of our places of origin. The Haitian Flag Day celebration is just that, and I hope that the members of our community will join us and share in this exciting celebration of culture and history.”