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The following appeared in the November 2005 issue of the Boston Haitian
Reporter under the title:
UMass Conference featured prolific author
My most memorable experience at the Haitian Studies Association (HSA)
conference at U/Mass Boston last October was the chance to meet Madame Odette Roy
Fombrun. I have seen her books in bookstores in Dakar, Senegal and in Paris, and
have heard editors speak admiringly about her. She has been a role model
and an inspiration to me all my adult life. I have spoken by telephone to
Madame Fombrun, corresponded with her and e-mailed her, but to meet her at last in
person was truly exciting.
Born in Haiti in June l917, Madame Fombrun looks 15 or 20 years younger than
her 88 years. I asked what her secret was for staying so energetic. She
told me, âKeep your spirits high, stay busy, and eat well but avoid canned
food.â Madame Fombrun graduated for LâEcole Normale dâInstitrutice in
Port-au-Prince in l935. In l945 she was trained at Boston Nursery School, a pre-school
institution then, affiliated with Tufts University. In l953, she studied
floral arrangements in Cuba and opened the first floral shop in Port-au-Prince,
Tabou Fleurs. Among various church documents, Madame Fombrun studied the
encyclical Humanae Vitae, the teaching of the catholic church on family planning while
she was the secretary of Catholic movement in Algeria from l966 to 1968.
Madame Fombrun began writing in l949. She autographed a 1950 reading book
FranÃais par les Textes that I showed her. Up until the early l980s except Les
Freres de lâInstruction Chretienne (The Christian brothers), Madame Jacqueline
Turian Cardozo and Marie Therese Colimon, Madame Fombrun wrote most books
used at the elementary level in Haiti. She is still working as an author of
childrenâs books for Haitiâs most prominent publisher, Henri Deschamps.
Madame Fombrun said someone compiled a list of 350 articles and essays she
has published in magazines in Haiti and abroad. She does not remember how many
books she has published in France, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo, Senegal, Ivory
Coast, Canada, Haiti, and the United States. Besides childrenâs books and
textbooks, she has written young adult books in French and Creole about literature,
the environment, history, politics, civic instruction, geography, and
constitution of Haiti. She also published an autobiography, Ma vie en trois temps,
about her early life in Haiti, her years in exile abroad, and her return home.
Madame Fombrun told me that her writing has always been based on her life
Madame Fombrun was the keynote speaker on Saturday morning. One thing that
struck me in her introduction was her statement that sometimes people think she
is in a fight with someone. She explained that âI am not fighting with
anyone, I am fighting for a cause.â Throughout history, those who take positions
that are unpopular tend to be misunderstood. For instance, W.E.B. DuBois
was shunned for years by the Black intellectual community. One of Madame
Fombrunâs causes now, based on her keynote presentation, is dual citizenship.
Because of globalization (in her word, âMondializationâ) one is free to be a
citizen of the world. She objects to the deportation of delinquents and former
prisoners to Haiti. She is also deeply concerned about the deteriorating physical
environment which poses great danger for the people of Haiti. Her most
quixotic cause (which she admits is shared by few) is changing the name of the
entire island of Hispaniola to Quisqueya Island, one of Haitiâs original names.
(I was reminded of a history lesson when I was a schoolgirl that Haiti had
three names: Haiti, Quisqueya , and Boyo).
Madame Fombrun received a well-deserved life accomplishment award from the
HSA. After thanking the audience, she said she felt invigorated, and had
gotten more ideas to continue the fight.
I want to commend the Haitian Studies Association for their excellent job of
convening Haitian and non-Haitian academics, journalists, elected leaders,
and professionals from many fields from Haiti and other Caribbean islands,
Europe, the United States and Canada. It was an examplary model of partnership to
involve the Wellesley College music department and the Haitian Womenâs
Association in the social and cultural activities. Apart from when the National
Haitian Catholic Apostolate convenes in Boston, HSAâs conference was one of the
few times I have felt in a learning and fellowship environment in my adopted
city. I wish such events would occurr in Boston more frequently. As Bill Forry
the Reporterâs managing editor commented in his presentation, the academics
can also consider making their research or their papers available in the
internet in a secular language.
As one of the rare Haitians who had remained active in every social,
educational, religious, and media aspects of the Haitian milieu since my adolescent
years while studying and traveling the world, I have lived the decline of the
educational level of the community as a whole. Madame Fombrun had also told me
over her life span the quantity of Haitians in the schools have increased,
while the quality of education in Haiti deteriorated. Thus members of the Haitian
Studies would do great service to Haiti and the diasporic Haitians by making
this wealth of knowledge available to the average person through the internet,
radio coverage, the churches, and accessible to those who canât afford the
time or money to come to conferences.
Though the HSA has been based in Boston since l989, Haitian academics may
need to be more involved with the local Haitian community. The presence of
non-academic Haitian stakeholders was not great. There was a handful of educators
who were not necessarily classroom teachers. I did not notice any Catholic
priests or Protestant clergy, nor any active lay pastoral agents, and only
identified two or three radio and TV hosts from the 20 or more media outlets in the
area. I noticed few university students at the conference. This is
particularly unfortunate, for I believe the new generation must have a chance to meet and
be inspired by our intellectual leaders the way I was inspired by reading
Madame Fombrunâs works and meeting many other Haitian scholars from my teenage
years up to today. What a difference it could make if appearances by Haitian
cultural, educational, and religious leaders in the Boston area were given wide
publicity in the media, and venues arranged for ordinary people, including
the youth who have so few daily role models, to meet and talk with these
outstanding country men and women. Young Haitians have no prominent people to look
up to, and few have read or heard of any living or past Haitian scholars. How
many Haitian collegiates will learn about such people in their courses?
Historian Ghislaine Charlier, author and first Haitian priest to bring the
drum and Creole to the Haitian church Joseph Augustin, and the most published
and prolific Haitian priest, Micial Nerestant were among prominent Haitians who
visited Boston in the past and would have enjoyed meeting our young people
and vice versa. I am not the only one to identify this problem. The idea of a
cultural center for young Haitians was raised in the conference so Haitians can
have a location for cultural gathering and young people can meet prominent
Haitians that they will not likely hear of in the radios, in churches, or at
Like Madame Fombrun, I am not in a fight against anyone. I have only been
addressing the issues of domestic violence, of civic involvement, of caring for
our young people, and educating three generations of Haitians in the 21rst
century world at what appears to be ânot always the right momentâ or the âright
audience.â My longing is for us Haitians to imagine what the future
resembles by assessing what we have accomplished in close to three hundred years of
our presence in the United States.
Despite those constructive remarks, I want to thank HSA for bringing my life
long admirer, Madame Odette Roy Fombrun to Boston.
Nekita Lamour is a veteran educator with a Jesuit theological degree and
writes monthly for the Reporter.