By Seth Daniel
Today, as the Haitian flag is lifted over City Hall for the first time ever, it will be more than a gesture of inclusivity for those in the Haitian community, but a sign that one of the largest immigrant groups in the city has been accepted and brought into the fold.
For the first time ever, the Haitian flag will be raised at Everett City Hall today, May 18, as a gesture to the community that has immigrated to Everett in large numbers over the last two decades.
“What make it very special is I think we are the first group to raise our flag in the city,” said Rev. Myrlande DesRosiers of the Everett Haitian Community Center (EHCC). “It’s such an honor. Our vision is to see the community’s great number of Haitian American voters and immigrants in the City not be a number, but an extension of City Hall. We want to feel everybody is include in the fabric of the city. We really would call this a big deal.”
Added Rebecca Zama, youth cultural director at EHCC, “It’s a great moment for the community and City Hall representing the different groups. For us to be first is such an honor.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said it was a nod to embracing new people in the City.
“I want to thank everyone for the work you do helping immigrants and refugees with housing challenges, job training work and advocacy promoting civic engagement,” he said prior to the flag raising. “That work are critical to integrating families into the fabric of our community. Everett is truly a diverse community. Many new Americans now call the city home. That is our strength. By embracing and assisting these new Americans, we flourish together. As the old Haitian Proverb says, ‘Many hands make the load lighter.’”
The Haitian community in Everett is seen as one of the largest voting blocks in the City behind long-time Everett residents. They are the second most populous immigrant group and have found great success in Everett over the years.
DesRosiers and Zama explained that it will be the 113th Anniversary of the flag and is officially Haitian Flag Day. As part of that celebration, they will be honoring Catherine Flond, who sewed the first Haitian flag and is similar to the American story of Betsy Ross.
“We will be making note of her as she is the first woman who actually sewed the flag together,” said DesRosiers. “Prior to that, it was not the red and blue flag, but the black flag. The story tells us she was a descendant of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the father of our freedom.”
DesRosiers also explained that the Haitian flag and Flag Day are very, very important in the culture. The flag, she said, evokes an intense feeling of pride and sacrifice for Haitians.
“Everywhere there is a possibility to raise the Haitian flag in government, you see an intense interest and excitement and jubilation from Haitians,” he said. “That bridges any type of gap – poor, middle-class or rich. The unity of Haiti is really around the flag.”
Added Zama, “It is an ideal and a value we hold dear. The way we approach the flag is based on principle and based on emotion. That’s why it makes it so intense.”
Both also added that the contribution of Haitian Americans in Everett has been substantial, which was the impetus for pursuing a flag raising.
Zama had suggested it as a way to show the culture to the rest of the city, and it was warmly embraced.
“We hope it brings Haitians in a different light and brings back the energy,” she said. “This is a chance for our hosts, the long-time residents in Everett to see us as real in the City and we can contribute and have a great and rich culture. It’s not just what you see on TV and this will show the culture in a way that’s more meaningful than just the food we eat.”
In addition to the ceremony, the keynote speaker will be Mayor DeMaria and the special guest will be former State Rep. Marie St. Fleur – the first Haitian woman elected to public office. The Haitian Consul Sandra Cazir will also be in attendance.
It will be in association with EHCC and the Haitian Americans United, Inc. of Boston.