Q&A with Hamda Yusuf for the Seattle Globalist

Talking with Hamda at UW

Meet Hamda Yusuf: She’s 19, she’s a local slam poetry champion, and she wants to be the US ambassador to Somalia.

At the Youth Speaks! Poetry Grand Slam last month, most of the poems performed on stage were punctuated by supportive hoots and shouts of, “Youth speaks!” from the packed crowd, culminating in rowdy choruses of applause. But only a few poets earned multiple sets of straight 10s from the judges.

One of them was Hamda Yusuf.

Incredibly, only ten years ago she didn’t speak English. Her family had just migrated from Somalia.

Today she’s a 19-year-old UW freshman pursuing a degree in international studies. But she already has a wealth of global experience under her belt, having lived on three continents.

After advancing through the preliminaries, Yusuf took the opportunity at the Grand Slam final to evoke ancient Somali traditions and stoke the crowd’s indignation at Islamophobia. What set her apart, though, was the earnest humor and moments of mundane Americaness mixed into her poetry—all delivered with a sublime confidence.

Read the rest on the Seattle Globalist »

“If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.”

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It’s about time I publish this interview I conducted last year with Georges Sassine, President of The Association of Industries of Haiti and Executive Director of CTMO-HOPE. Under the US law of the same name, the HOPE commission is charged with maintaining labor standards in Haitian factories that receive tariff-exemptions and trade privileges for garments they export United States.

I found his blunt honesty to be refreshing. Sassine lays out his entire argument, projecting 12 years into the future, for how garment manufacturing can alleviate Haiti’s poverty in the long run. He’s a man on a mission.

He also responds to charges made last year by union activists that bosses were firing workers for organizing in Port-au-Prince’s textile factories. I quoted in him my report for Inter-Press News on the controversy. The Better Work Haiti labor monitoring program later backed up the allegations and the workers were ultimately reinstated.

I introduced myself as a journalist trying to learn more about the alleged worker firings, as we sat down at a table at the Hotel Montana:

Georges Sassine: The incidents were not about organizing anything.  The incidents were: One of them was a guy who wanted to make something, and the other was someone distributing leaflets and they asked him to stop doing it and he started to yell. Continue Reading…

Interview: Before Duvalier There Was Hope

Below, an edited September 2010 interview with Dr. Matthew J. Smith, historian at Jamaica’s University of the West Indies, Mona and author of Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957 – the first comprehensive history of the post-occupation era, arguing that “the period (from 1934 until the rise of dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier to the presidency in 1957) constituted modern Haiti’s greatest moment of political promise.”

I ordered the award-winning book just in time for it to be delivered before my plane left for Haiti in September of ’09. It goes a long way towards explaining why the Duvaliers rose and clung to power for so long; I can’t recommend it highly enough. I hope other American reporters have read the book as well so we can see start to see some desperately-needed decent journalism on Haiti in the establishment media. As Gina Athena Ulysse says, “Yes, we are poor and have a history of political strife, but it’s not innate. And hell no, it’s not because we are mostly black. We are not reducible to our conditions.”

What caused you to write Red & Black in Haiti? What kind of response did it generate – both within and outside in Haiti?

Growing up in Jamaica, I had seen how intense political rivalries create dangerous problems and in many instances lead to violent solutions. I wanted to find out to what extent this history was matched in Haiti, a country which I have always considered to be incredibly similar to Jamaica. An earlier generation of scholars, such as David Nicholls, Michel Hector, and J. Michael Dash had indicated in their work that the tension between Marxists and Black Nationalists in Haiti was a defining feature of the 1930s-1950s. This intrigued me and encouraged me to go further and explore this tension.

The two decades before Duvalier were very transformative for Haiti in terms of politics, but in a much larger sense in terms of culture and history. So much happened in the postoccupation period that deserved careful attention. It was really the beginning of a modern political era in Haiti, one that was defined by an increase in popular politicization.

Yet it had not been given the attention it deserved. The possibility of great positive change seemed very real in this period and Haiti could very well have evolved differently as a result. I also wanted to write a political history of Haiti that did not reduce Haitian politics to a series of failures but to give it rigorous and fair-minded assessment and to show that the radical generation of that era had invested a great deal in improving the welfare of their country. Continue Reading…

Another kidnapping. And a response from Djalòki Dessables, Haitian organizer.

I got a call yesterday afternoon from a newspaper. They asked me to track down a Haitian family and interview them – the only information they had was the general area where they live and some of their names. “I think this will be a test of your detective abilities! Also, don’t take any risks,” the editor wrote to me.

Of course, it wasn’t too difficult to find them. Everyone knows everyone. I called Weed, a motorcycle taxi driver I met after the earthquake who has since become a trusted friend (he’s teaching me how to drive a moto). He picked me up and we headed out, camera slung over my shoulder.

Over some broken, pothole-filled roads out of Delmas, until we hit Grand Rue and weaved through traffic. I remembered how eerie Grand Rue was, the morning after the earthquake, smelling faintly of bodies, quiet and empty of cars and people. Life goes on.

Weed pulled over into a dim alley. Hopped off the moto and asked two men sitting against wall if they knew the family. I mispronounced the surname at first, then got it right. “Oh yeah we know them. He’ll take you there.”

We were led through a maze of narrow alleys – past old men playing checkers, naked children bathing, women washing clothes. Expressions that sometimes seem like glares softened into little smiles each time I said hello. A baby girl sleeping face down on the grimy concrete, a smudge of feces on her butt. I fought off the impulse to snap a photo.

The family is desperately poor, living under a thin tarp that leaks in the rain in an alley. 19 people all together in one tiny space. When we finished the interviews thirty minutes later, the same guy led us back out, taking a different route. “Pi rapide konsa” – it’s faster this way.

Arrived back at the guest house. Amber Munger, a human rights worker, saw me walk in. “You should know something,” she said. Continue Reading…

Interview: UN Deputy Envoy to Haiti Dr. Paul Farmer

farmerI spoke to Dr. Farmer at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Haiti investor conference at Hotel Caribe last Thursday evening following speeches by UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton and Haitian President Rene Preval. As the crowd of investors, journalists, and officials moved to a neighboring ballroom to hear Clinton’s next speech, we stayed in the room to interview Farmer, who co-founded Partners in Health and authored “The Uses of Haiti.” I asked him about democracy in Haiti, the struggle over the minimum wage here, accountability to Haitians, and criticisms of Clinton-led efforts to attract investment to Haiti. Farmer was later driven away from the hotel in a $200,000 armored vehicle, according to a one blog. Background noise largely fades away after start of interview.

MP3. Pictures of Farmer, Clinton, Preval, and Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis, and other photos of Haiti taken over the past 11 days at my Flickr photostream.

UPDATE: Rough transcript below. Continue Reading…

Judge authorizes DHS to begin building border wall on indigenous land in South Texas

Eloisa Tamez

My short story on this for FSRN is here. Image from the Associated Press.

I spoke earlier today by phone to Dr. Eloisa Tamez, who owns a tract of property on the Texas-Mexico border and has been fighting the government’s attempt to construct a wall on it for over a year. She is a member of the Lipan Apache tribe and her family has owned the land for several centuries. Federal judge Andrew Hanen ruled in March that the Department of Homeland Security must negotiate with landowners before property can be seized, but yesterday he ordered Tamez to allow DHS to start construction on her land.

Dr. Tamez told me that she is disappointed with the ruling and will continue speaking out. She said she has seen nothing to indicate President Obama will change the border wall policy – especially since wall construction is providing jobs in the area. Tamez believes she can still appeal the ruling, but says Homeland Security contractors have already been trespassing on areas of her land.

Here’s a complete transcript of my interview with her (I’ve added emphasis in certain places). Continue Reading…

SXSW 2008: Talking with Blue Scholars

It’s too bad I didn’t discover Blue Scholars earlier, say, in 2004 when I felt disillusioned and fed up with school during my freshmen year at the University of Washington. “Fuck class, get your education on the Ave,” the rallying cry of the song “The Ave,” was exactly what I wanted to do (video here). Finally listening to their debut EP got me hooked on underground hip-hop – that fiercely independent, worldwide, beat-infused CNN of the streets. This genre would become the soundtrack to my radio show. And whenever I miss home here in Austin, I play a Blue Scholars track. They are all about representing Seattle from the bottom up, from the Southside to the 2000 WTO riots to the daily ride on the Metro bus.

When I heard MC Geologic and producer Sabzi were coming to Austin for SXSW 2008, I arranged to skip work to interview them. I met them in their hotel room and had a wonderful chat with two of the most down-to-earth and inspiring “cultural workers” in the game right now. Tune in below the jump.

Continue Reading…

Election podcast: Green Party VP candidate Rosa Clemente!

I really should get back to studying for an exam, but I wanted to get this interview I did last night with Rosa Clemente, longtime hip-hop journalist and organizer and 2008 Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate, up here at Mediahacker.  When I have some time I’ll split this is up into clips, but in the meantime take a listen below – we discuss differences between the Green candidacy and Nader, hip-hop’s role in the campaign, racism in the corporate and progressive media, and more…

Podcast: Bad journalism hurts Haiti

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.   Journalists routinely include this statistic in their reports on Haiti, which in recent months have focused on hurricane-triggered flooding and protests over skyrocketing food prices (seen above).  But why is resource-rich Haiti, the second-oldest democracy in the hemisphere and just 800 miles off the coast of Florida, so poor?   The U.S. media have failed miserably to explain the reasons for Haiti’s poverty in their reporting.

Dan Beeton, International Communications Coordinator at the Center for Economic Policy Research, talked to a number of journalists about Haiti and identified the under- and mis-reported stories in a piece for NACLA.org. In an interview for my radio program, Dan and I discussed how U.S. foreign policy has usually blocked Haiti’s progress against corruption and poverty – and how the media have missed the story time and time again.  Listen to the interview below or download it.

For the latest (real) news on Haiti, see ijdh.org and haitianalysis.com.