She was invited there to participate in a celebration of the United Nations International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade from March 21-25.
Fontenette said she understood most or all of the conversations in Creole. French and Creole are the official languages of Haiti.
After all of the media images of devastation in Haiti post-earthquake in 2010, Fontenette was awaiting scenes of destruction and hopelessness. Instead, she found a physically beautiful country and people with unbroken spirits. Although she says she found economic poverty in abundance, she also found a richness of spirit and human relations.
She cautions about blindly believing news media reports, because what she found and the articles she read and reports she heard prior to her arrival were completely different. She says she left Haiti with a “good feeling” about the progression of the country.
She spoke to one builder, a Mr. Bateau, who informed her that the Haitians knew what they wanted to do and were right on track to accomplish it.
Fontenette’s visit, although tied to her work with the museum and the City of St. Martinville, was on her own time. Her trip was sponsored by Les Anneaux de la Mémoire (Shackles of Memory), an organization in France dedicated to educating people about slavery and the slave trade, and by the Haitian Resource Development Foundation, in part to bring the exhibit on the slave trade between Haiti and France, created by Les Anneaux, to Haiti.
She was also invited to be part of the commemoration of the UN International Day of Remembrance and to further build relationships between St. Martinville, Louisiana and Haiti.
Along with Fontenette were seven others from the United States who were invited to participate in an exchange of art and music to demonstrate the links and progression of art between Haiti and the migration to the United States. Included in the group were a trumpet player and a woman who paints on clothing, which ties into the important Haitian art on cloth.
Fontenette has been a driving force with building ties between St. Martinville and Gorée Island in Senegal. She believes building relations with Haiti is a natural progression. She speaks enthusiastically about the importance of the Haitian connection in Louisiana history.
What really brought it home for her was the work of a Haitian group in New Orleans looking for names in graveyards. She brought them to St. Martinville for a workshop and for a look in the graveyard where they found names tied to Haiti, including the surnames Charles and Etienne.
St. Martin Parish had recent connections with Haiti through a student internet exchange between France, Haiti and the United States, which included 4th through 7th grade French immersion students in Cecilia. They studied history in the areas of art and music, in an effort to learn their own and each other’s histories and to develop a new form of art or music that reflected the three cultures.
St. Martinville will welcome a delegation of Haitian mayors and other dignitaries April 25-27. This visit is sponsored by the Haitian Resource Development Group and the International Francophone Organization.