Marie St. Fleur’s election to the House of Representatives in July 1999 made her the first Haitian-American elected official in Massachusetts. That distinction also makes her planned departure — at the end of the current term next January —significant.
Some will say “ who cares” and “why is this important.” I’ll tell you why: For years she has been our liaison with the government here in Massachusetts. I question if her leaving will create some sort of a gap. Will her leaving inspire someone of Haitian decent to step up to the plate? I know she has definitely inspired me. We as a people have come a long way. Her being a woman of color is a big deal to me. Her being Haitian is an even bigger deal.
I decided to talk to some Haitian Americans between the ages of 18 to 35 to get their views. I asked how her position has impacted them and whether her departure affect our community in any way.
Edjoodelky Louis said he thought St. Fleur worked hard to dispel the notion — held by some in Haiti— that Haitians in the diaspora are “sell-outs.” He hopes she will continue to do that in her next career— whatever that may be.
“I think she is really articulate,” said Louis, adding, “I hope she uses her political muscles from Haiti politics. I think her savvy and her knowledge will be great for the political spectrum in Haiti. I think it’s her time now to lead a real fight for Haiti, and start turning things around in Haiti.”
Louis acknowledges that St. Fleur and other Haitian-American elected officials may have a tough time navigating the political waters within Haiti.
“She has to fight the machine and the conception that we Haitian Americans abroad are sell-outs or American puppets. Her story and her background will be the key and denounce all those ideas that dual citizens do not like Haiti,we are C.I.A.(spies).”
Ermolande Jean-Simon said that news of St. Fleur’s departure from Boston’s political scene was “ a shock for all Haitians living in Boston”, but also saw it “as an opportunity for Rep. St. Fleur to probably use her great skills and talent to dedicate her efforts in rebuilding Haiti.”
“She reminds me of a female Haitian version of Ted Kennedy when she speaks,” Jean-Simon said. “She is humble, but roars like a lion. She is someone that Haiti needs to continue lifting up their spirits. I pray and hope that President Bill Clinton and President Obama are able to put Rep. St. Fleur in the forefront of rebuilding Haiti. As Rep. St. Fleur prepares herself for the infinite possibilities and opportunities that awaits her, I pray that there is one Haitian person out there who will consider standing beside Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry’s side to continue helping the Haitians in Boston.”
Ermolande hit the nail on the head. I love how she compared Marie to a Haitian version of Ted Kennedy for the Haitian people. I’m sure Linda Dorcena Forry wouldn’t mind a Haitian brother or sister by her side.
Bethanie Glass recalled the time that she heard Rep. St. Fleur speak to an Africana Studies class at UMass-Boston. Her appearance made her “especially proud to be a Haitian woman.”
“It was just beautiful to see a young Haitian woman doing her thing and helping out the community. One thing that I have learned throughout my work in the community is that there was no talking about the Haitian community without her name being mentioned,” Glass said. “She has become a permanent fixture in Boston as a voice for the Haitian people and also the voice of the Haitian women which many times goes unheard. So as she leaves office I have no doubt that she will continue to work on her communities’ behalf.
“As I sat and listened to her at the State House last week speaking about the importance of childcare she reignited my passion for being the best woman that I can be, looking up for motivation and down only to bring my brothers and sisters up. Thank you Marie for your inspiration.”
Leon David did not follow St. Fleur’s career closely, as her lives in Malden, but feared that Haitian-Americans in the region would feel the loss of her leadership on Beacon Hill in a unique way.
Leon stated before responding that he didn’t know much about Marie but I felt his thoughts on her departure should still be heard.
“The Haitian community is already fragmented enough as it is and we have no core leadership to represent the interests of our community here in the Boston/New England area,” David said. “I say this not to defame the representative but this is a position that could have been used to rally the community together and it seems like this task has been a missed opportunity. At this critical time, what the Haitian community needs most is leadership.”
For my part, as someone who has been inspired by Marie St. Fleur over recent years, I’d like to close by saying “thank you!” Thank you for all you have done for the Haitian community. I do know your work for us does not end here. We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors, we know you are near. Because of you, many little Marie St. Fleurs have been born.
Fafa Girault’s column appears monthly in the Boston Haitian Reporter.