Haitians In Tijuana Look Back At A Decade Of Displacement Following 2010 Earthquake
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler
Ten years ago this past Sunday, Haiti was rocked by an earthquake that left at least 100,000 people dead. Since, thousands of Haitians have come to America's southern border, only to find themselves marooned in Tijuana, where many have put down roots.
Tucked into a canyon near the U.S. border is Little Haiti. It's the first among several stops for Haitians who began heading to Mexico in 2016 on their way to the U.S.
In Little Haiti, many have fled a decade of tragedy and instability following the earthquake. First the destruction of the capital in the quake, then a cholera outbreak, then Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Haiti’s divided parliament has been unable to form a government for over a year and violence has increased sharply.
Fritznel is 38. He was in Arcahai, 40 miles from the capital when the earthquake hit. He was working on a construction site when it collapsed, leaving his arm trapped.
Fritznel left Haiti in August 2016, as the security situation on the island began to deteriorate. He didn’t want to give his last name because of worries about crime.
"I left Haiti, of course. After all those disasters, I was just forced to, for safety reasons," he said.
He first went to Brazil to look for work and has been in Mexico since May, with his wife and child. He’s had trouble finding work in Mexico and says he’s been robbed by the police.
Like many of the estimated 3500 Haitians living in Tijuana, Fritznel is stuck. He cannot enter the U.S. legally, and if he was deported to Haiti, he’d likely have no money and no job.
Fritznel and his family are getting by on the generosity of the Ambassadors of Jesus that supports Little Haiti.
Michaelle, 35, is a psychologist. She was in Port-Au-Prince 10 years ago and was coming home from a job interview when the city collapsed around her. She wandered the streets before she found her family, miraculously unharmed. She then helped earthquake survivors deal with their trauma.
Michaelle now works with the Haitian community in Tijuana.
"I don’t know if we are just a people that has an incredible capacity for survival, an amazing resilience," she said. "It is something that cannot be logically explained."
One of the leaders in the community there is John Arnold Lazard. Lazard’s eight-year-old brother died in the earthquake. He left the country because he couldn’t deal with the memories of the dead.
"After the earthquake, the burials, it made me very frustrated, very sad, and I wasn’t able to tolerate it, internally," he said.
Now, Lazard is a student in Tijuana and helps with the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an organization that assists Haitians in California and Mexico.
He told KPBS that he originally intended to migrate to the U.S., but because of the situation with immigration enforcement, he’s going to school in Tijuana and plans to make a life of it there helping other Haitians.
Lazard helped host a vigil on Sunday night to mark the anniversary. It began with a moment of silence.
Soon Haitians began to pack the small church they use in the evenings which is run by the group “Ministerio Llamada Final,” to sing and pray.
Ten years later and thousands of miles away, they came together to remember the dead, and a decade that has found thousands of Haitians still trying to put the pieces back together.
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