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Smith Atibon Nazaire left Haiti in his teens to go to college in Boston. Now in his 30s and an American citizen, this musician has been crying over his birthplace.
"You know, I've been trying my best to contain my emotion," he said. "But this is where I became a man, this is where I learned to be who I am, a sensible human being."
While still seeking information about loved ones, many Haitians are also coming to grips with the realization that their relationship with their homeland could be forever different.
Nazaire was supposed to arrive in Haiti on Thursday morning, his first trip in five years. He was looking forward to getting sun and eating fresh seafood. Instead, he's at home in Boston and paralyzed by the latest natural disaster to compound the years and years of man-made problems in Haiti.
"I never thought it could have gotten this bad," he said. "This is the last straw."
Perhaps more than any other immigrant group in Boston, Haitians here lead double lives. One here and one in the Caribbean.
Richard Chacon heads the state's office for refugees and immigrants. "There has been a unique kind of fluidity with our Haitian population, immigrant population, here in Massachusetts," he said.
"Because of technology and just the ability to be so mobile, many people even hold on to this idea that they'll go back to Haiti," Chacon explained. "Hold on to that idea of going back to Haiti or having that house in Haiti."
Now, many of their houses are in rubble. So is the National Cathedral and the National Palace. That's the equivalent of losing the White House.
Jean Dany Joachim is the poet laureate for Cambridge. He's lived in the Boston area nearly 20 years, after growing up in Haiti.
"Because of technology and just the ability to be so mobile, many people even hold onto this idea that they'll go back to Haiti."
--Richard Chacon, ORI director
"You know, when you see the National Palace collapse, looking at what I saw, it's suddenly I have memories of my childhood," he said. "You know, I walked by that place to go to school almost all my life there."
Although Joachim travels to Haiti frequently, he's well-established here in Boston, and teaches at Bunker Hill Community College.
Haitian service providers don't worry much about people like Joachim. The new arrivals, however, will need help.
"They'll need emotional help, like how to cope with the fact that the country that you just left within the last year has completely been destroyed," said Rhode Milord Leblanc, who counsels new immigrant Haitians in Mattapan. "You're here and you came here for a better life. How do you move on knowing a lot of people came here specifically to help their family back home? They don't have a home anymore. They don't have a family."
Instead of sending millions of dollars home to help their families, they may now send it home to rebuild or to bring more family here and focus their attention on Boston.
Smith Atibon Nazaire says he's not giving up on Haiti.
"Because with some creativity, this could be the renaissance, if you will," he said. "This could be the start of something fantastic. As painful as it is, I'm going to remain optimistic. My home is going to be my home, in spite — despite — of whatever."
Like many other Haitians in Boston, Nazaire hopes to get on one of the next flights to Haiti. So he can keep living here and there.
This program aired on January 14, 2010.
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