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5.25.2012

Feature Fridays: Haiti Cultural Exchange

"There’s just something substantial yet inexplicable that becomes part of the Haitian who is immersed in all aspects of Haitian life. It’s not enough to be fluent in Kreyòl, listen, and dance to Konpa or Racine music; It’s not enough to eat griyo, pate, and banann peze. When Haiti is more than an integral part of who you are, there is an ‘other’ sense of being that you’ll find difficult to express. It’s just there, and recognizable only by those in whom the same inhabits. It’s a Haitian thing. . ."
-Régine  Roumain, in Voices from Haiti Innerview

Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) is a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization established to develop, present, and promote the cultural expressions of the Haitian people.  HCX does this through innovative and engaging programs featuring a plethora of talented artists, visionaries, and educators.  HCX collaborates with numerous organizations to present Haitian culture to a wider audience.  HCX has collaborated with the Brooklyn Museum, Five Myles Gallery, New York HIstorical Society, MoCADA, and WBAI just to name a few. You all are already used to seeing HCX's events all over this blog because they are constantly providing the community with some of the coolest events in NY, which give us the opportunity to experience Haitian culture in a unique way.

I had the pleasure of interning with Haiti Cultural Exchange in Communications for a semester last year, fresh out of college.  It was a fulfilling and inspiring experience, which allowed me to learn so much from the team, especially from my wonderful co-intern, Kassandra and my amazing Executive Director, Régine Roumain. Their persistence, determination, and responsibility to our Haitian culture is what allows HCX to continue growing.  The team has an unwavering dedication to the Haitian community, which inspires us all to immerse ourselves in all aspects of our culture and present it to the world as a positive reflection of Haiti. I had a chance to chat with Régine and it is with great pleasure that I present to you, Haiti Cultural Exchange.

Tell us about yourself!
I was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn to two politically active parents and moved to Haiti in 1986 when Jean Claude Duvalier was overthrown.  Moving to Haiti was definitely a transformational experience for me. I am a mother of two, happily married and live and work in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for over 10 years and in 2009, I decided to devote myself to Haiti Cultural Exchange full time. This focused transition to my passions, arts engagement and Haiti, has allowed me to grow my interests into a service for our community. Over the past few years, we have developed ongoing and signature programs like our monthly An n’ Pale | Café Conversations, youth development programs, Haiti Film Fest, and community collaborations with cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum and the New York Historical Society. 
I think in order to convey a message, you need to be connected to the message and I know you most certainly are. What message are you sending to the world, about Haiti, through Haiti Cultural Exchange?
We are strong. We have agency.  We have voice.  Let’s make ourselves, our needs, our desires known and heard.  If HCX has taught me anything it’s that we can all do something positive for Haiti – no matter how small.  We can and we must.

In your opinion, what is the role of artists in the Haiti of tomorrow?
I think the artist of tomorrow will be, as they always have been, catalysts for positive change in the nation. But I feel that artists have an important role in society that must be nurtured and supported.  We often talk about Haiti from a deficit model and I think that we need to refocus on our assets and begin to chart a new course for positive change in the country.  I am not of the mind that we need to deny our very real problems of poverty, injustice, lack of free quality education… and solely focus on the positive but I do believe that we should value the artists role in this transformation.

Haiti Cultural Exchange was born out of a strong desire to see Haitian culture grow and thrive, to provide positive experiences for people from diverse backgrounds to experience Haitian culture and to use the arts as a platform to discuss social issues and foster community growth and individual agency at home in Haiti and abroad. Through my organization and countless other groups and individuals - Buyu Ambroise, Michele Voltaire Marcelin, Val Jeanty, Yves Fanfan Joseph, Nadege Fleurimond, Markus Schwartz & Lakou Mizik, Peniel Guerrier, Kongo Band, Tiga Jean-Baptiste & Tchaka, Ibi Zoboi- we are all using our arts to establish Haiti as evolving, thriving and conscious.
A big part of HCX's message is establishing New York's first Haitian Culture Center. This is clearly very important! Can you talk about what you hope the Haitian community specifically could gain from this?
With the right support, HCX can continue to grow and we can bring forth our vision for a Haitian cultural center in NYC.  We hope that the community will join us in supporting this vision – a cultural space for multi-disciplinary arts programming to showcase our vibrant culture in all of its facets.  A place where children can learn and enjoy our traditions, where people can purchase Haitian art, crafts, books, music, jewelry… learn about our history, see dance, music, film and art exhibits…  It’s time!

Having a platform for artists to present their work and present Haitian/Diaspora issues within a cultural context is critical.  The artists we have worked with are extraordinary and I am delighted to provide an outlet for their voices & ideas to be heard.  By creating a geographical center in NYC dedicated to Haitian culture from all parts of the world, I think HCX is contributing to the solidarity of the Haitian Diaspora and the deconstruction of modern myths and stigmatization of Haiti, its culture and its people.
Your work through Haiti Cultural Exchange inspires me, and I'm sure the rest of the Haitian community in New York. But...what inspires you?
I am inspired by the myriad of artists that I encounter through my work at HCX.  Their ability to create, to give voice to their experiences, to do this important cultural work, often times, in very difficult circumstances is inspirational. 

You were born in New York, and lived in Haiti during your teenage years. So even though you are full-blooded Haitian in culture and spirit, you are also American.  I'm interested in the duality of this identity because it is something I share to a certain extent. Can you talk about how your cultural identity manifests itself in your work?
My cultural identity manifests itself in everything that I do – raising my children, my family relationships, my work…  My identity is definitely grounded in being Haitian, in our traditions, our language, our culture, our music.  But, as you mention, I was born in the U.S. and have certainly been influenced by many aspects of American culture.

It’s really important to me that HCX presents not only traditional aspects of Haitian culture but also the non-traditional and contemporary aspects.  My interests lie at those intersections and I find that the most interesting conversations can emerge from this exploration. I am dedicated to bringing some of these ideas and voices to the fore through my work.      
My readers are interested in maintaining life balance through the arts, culture, and holistic health. How do you maintain balance Régine?
Maintaining balance is an ongoing life goal.  I have a terrific and supportive family, two great daughters, friends, work that I love. One of my goals is to go home to Haiti more often.  I think that reconnecting with the people, the culture, the land is an important thing for me personally and I have to strive to make that a reality in my life.  

What is the proudest moment you've had with HCX?
Every day is actually a moment to be grateful for.  I get to do what I love, work with some amazing people, and provide an outlet for Haitian voices and experiences. 

HCX just received a grant for summer programs! Congrats! What are some cool programs we can look forward to?
We have lots planned for the summer!  HCX| Mizik Ayiti!  is a music series which we are launching on Thursday, June 21st at Putnam Triangle Plaza with a performance by ZING EXPERIENCE.

We will also have Krik: Krak! Storytelling and Songs in venues throughout Brooklyn this summer.

And we’re planning our second annual HCX | Film Fest for November.

How can we contact you and stay up to date with Haiti Cultural Exchange?
I can be contacted at regine@haiticulturalx.org; our website is www.haiticulturalx.org, and we are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Anything else you want to tell us?
It was great to have you as an intern at HCX!  Keep up the great work that you are doing through your blog and beyond!

Thanks Regine!

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Feature Fridays highlights people of color (with a special focus on those of Haitian descent) and organizations who are doing meaningful wok everywhere from the arts, music, and fashion, to politics, business and the non-profit world.
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