On a week during which Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood remembered thousands of Haitian earthquake victims, racially tinged remarks attributed to America’s President brought some to tears.
“I felt so outraged … I cried,” Farah Larrieux said. “This is the real face of Donald Trump – the face of hate, racism.”
Trump this week voiced frustration behind closed doors about people coming to the US from what he said were “shithole countries,” according to sources.
The remarks – which Trump denied amid wide condemnation in the United States and abroad – came during an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers. Trump asked why the US needed more people from Haiti and Africa. A person familiar with talk at the meeting told CNN that Trump also said: “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”
In South Florida, scores of Haitians turned out Friday to commemorate the anniversary of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck their homeland on January 12, 2010, killing as many as 300,000 people.
In Little Haiti, the President’s remarks became a part of what’s usually a solemn event. Participants waved Haitian flags, sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” and carried signs with messages such as “Haiti will not forget” and “Trump is a bigot.”
“For the American President who said he would be Haiti’s greatest champion … to stand up and make such a comment at this time… leaves me reeling,” community activist Gepsie Metellus said.
“It leaves me angry. It leaves me offended. It leaves me hurt and it leaves me wanting justice.”
Metellus referred to Trump’s September 2016 campaign stop in Little Haiti, where he promised “to be president of all Americans, that’s everybody, and whether you vote for me or don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion and I will be your champion.”
“The Haitian people deserve better,” the then-candidate said. “That is what I intend to give them. I will give them better.”
On Thursday, though, during White House talks about an immigration plan that would include protections for people from Haiti and other countries, Trump exploded with his “shithole” remarks, according to sources..
His administration late last year announced it would end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti, potentially forcing tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants to either leave the US or live in the shadows.
As an immigration status allowed by law for certain countries experiencing dire conditions, such as a natural disaster, epidemic or war, tps protects individuals from deportation and authorizes them to work in the US.
Larrieux, one of the more than 20,000 Haitian tps recipients in South Florida who now faces deportation, said she had given candidate Trump the benefit of the doubt.
“Now,” she said, “this is how he treats us.”
Marleine Bastien, the organizer of Friday’s event, could not bring herself to repeat the President’s disparaging description of her homeland.
“We are here to tell President Trump, Haiti is not what he called it,” she said. “Haiti is a proud nation.”
On Friday, Trump tweeted: “Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!”
Santcha Etienne, 37, was incredulous.
“How is that possible?” she asked of Trump’s so-called “wonderful relationship” with her community.
Adonia Simpson, a program director with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice, said Trump’s remarks had filled Miami’s Haitian community with “a lot of disappointment, hurt and anger.”
“It’s pretty clear it was a racist comment regarding people of color,” she said.
Metellus, the community activist, believes that pain and anger will be felt at the ballot box.
“I’m going to make sure we work to remember what he said in the midterm election … and clearly we will not have short memories in 2020,” she said.