Haitian community, local leaders react to Trump comments

MIAMI (WSVN) - The Haitian community in South Florida sounded off on comments reportedly made by President Donald Trump on restoring protection for immigrants of certain countries, including Haiti.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, read the Washington Post article containing the remarks on camera and expressed her disapproval.

“Unbelievable, unbelievable,” said Bastien. “[The comments] are racist, divisive – he’s basically saying all he wants is the blond hair and blue eyes. He doesn’t want people from from, from El Salvador, from the Americas.”

Bastien’s reaction came hours before an event paying tribute to the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti scheduled to take place at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. That event was preceded by a march down the streets of this Miami neighborhood in protest of the commander in chief’s comments.

7News cameras captured protesters taking to the streets of Little Haiti, near North Miami Avenue and 62nd Street, as they made their way to the cultural center arm in arm. Children were seen holding a large Haitian flag, as the peaceful demonstrators sang and remembered the earthquake that, government officials said, claimed more than 300,000 lives in their homeland.

But protesters also wanted to send a message about the commander in chief. Some carried signs that read, among other things, “President Trump is a racist.”

Before taking to the streets, protesters spoke out about Trump’s remarks. “It could just lead to believe that a different color is the enemy, that a different nationality is the enemy or a different country is the enemy,” said protester Alex Bailey. “Just think of people who may have an idea that this is OK to say. If they agree with this, then there will be some kind of strike between the Haitian community and other communities.”

“Haitians are strong. Haitians have dignity. Haitians never fall,” said Dr. Flore Lindor-Latortue. “We may be poor, but we are strongly educated.”

“Overall, I believe it was unpresidential and un-American,” said historian David Brown.

Protester Sonya Brown-Wilson did not mince words when asked what she thought of Trump’s comments. “It was humiliating, embarrassing,” said protester Sonya Brown-Wilson. “He’s an embarrassment. It was very cruel. He has no finesse as a president of the United States.”

The demonstration underscored the shock and outrage from members of South Florida’s Haitian-American community.

Bastien said Trump’s remarks show he does not fully understand the immigration crisis. “It shows, obviously, the president’s ignorance, about Haiti and other countries,” she said, “because Haiti is not a sh*ithole country. As a matter of fact, if we have a powerful United States of America today, it is because of the contributions of Haiti.”

Bastien recalled that Trump seemed to have a different stance on Haiti as a candidate, when he paid a visit to Miami’s Little Haiti.

“President Trump came to Little Haiti and told the people he shared their values of hardworking people just like his parents who came here as immigrants,” she said.

“I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion,” Trump proclaimed during his visit.

“It shows a president that speaks out of both corners of his mouth,” said Bastien. “It also shows his hypocrisy.”

North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph said the comments were especially insulting. “This is low,” he said. “This president needs to rise up and understand that the very value of a man is not just the material wealth. It’s the positive impact that you have on your fellow men; that’s what matters.”

Joseph said he came to the U.S. with nothing. Then worked to become a doctor and a local leader. “And contributing to the economy of this country,” he said. “For you to not recognize that, I don’t know what kind of person you are.”

Trump’s remarks also prompted a reaction from Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski. “The words were certainly disappointing and shocking,” he said. “The president was wrong in his assessment of the quality of these immigrants.”

On Friday, Miami-Dade Public Schools’ superintendent Alberto Carvalho reached out to students at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. He urged them not to be discouraged by Trump’s comments, and he told them their success will be the best revenge.

“Whether your parents were born here or in Haiti, you all matter,” said Carvalho.

Students were also given a chance to share their thoughts. “There’s nothing he can say to my people to make me regret who I am because I am Haitian,” said Laudz Pierre.

Other local leaders shared their reactions as well.

Commissioner Jean Monestime, a Miami-Dade Commissioner and a Haitian-American, issued a statement that read in part, “Mr. Trump surely does not understand that what makes America Great is its diversity.”

Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson was also displeased, saying, “His comments are yet another sign that people of color cannot count on this administration to create an agenda that treats all Americans fairly.”

Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen added, “Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms, and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”

“Belittling people, bullying people, undermining people is not becoming of a president of the most important nation of the world,” said Bastien. “He’s the president. His words matter!”

“This kind of rhetoric, especially by the leader of the most important country in the world, it is really atrocious,” said Brown.

About 100 people participated in Friday’s march.

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