Immigrant couple write book about their native Haiti
Disappointed with the information available on their homeland, two Haitian emigres decided to write...
BY JULIE LEVIN Special to The Miami Herald
Born in Haiti and now living in Davie, Yvrose and Jerry Gilles did not want their children to become disconnected from their roots. Unhappy with the resources the children had to learn about their homeland, the couple set about creating a permanent record of Haitian history that would be available for all. The result is a 200-page book, Bicentennial: Haiti's Gift to the World.'
'We were not satisfied with the history as told,'' said Yvrose Gilles, who began researching her book four years ago. ``We wanted to give our kids a better sense of who they are.'' The original idea was to have the book ready by 2004, in time for Haiti's bicentennial. But the recent political unrest in Haiti made that impossible. ''There was so much more, so I added that information to the final chapter,'' said Yvrose, the lead author. Jerry Gilles, a doctor at the University of Miami, served as editor for the self-published book. Yvrose Gilles said the book took on a celebratory tone, to answer the question of why the bicentennial should be commemorated despite the overwhelming poverty that grips the island nation. They researched the island's rich history, creating a timeline that goes back 200 years leading up to the revolution at the turn of the 18th century, when slaves overthrew their French colonial masters. ''It is kind of like a step-by-step review of where we came from,'' said Yvrose Gilles, who is trained as a teacher and used to write curricula for the New York City school system. Similar books are rare, Yvrose said, and those that do exist were not written by people of Haitian descent. She said daughter Tayina, 11, recently wanted to do a project on the Haitian revolution but was stymied in her research by the limited material available in school libraries. ''They couldn't find anything at all,'' she said. The Gilles also have a 7-year-old son, Jarad. Because Haitian archives have been destroyed, the Gilles turned to resources in local libraries and the Internet. ''It has allowed for information that previous authors of Haitian history could not have had access to in just one city, without traveling to various countries to recover those documents,'' Jerry Gilles said. They also interviewed family members and people of different cultures, including African. ''It allowed us to see how much of that culture continues on in Haiti,'' Jerry Gilles said. Both husband and wife were born in Haiti but educated in the United States, where they met at college. They say their book provides an in-depth look at Haiti's influence on the world, stemming back to the days of slavery, when many of those taken from Africa actually landed in Haiti, not the United States. ''Anyone who has an interest in modern economy, in how the Americas developed, Haiti played a crucial role in that,'' Jerry Gilles said. ``It tends to get lost because people only see the poverty.'' The last chapter focuses on the fact that only 1 percent of Haiti's rain forest remains and steps that can be taken to help avoid further environmental disaster. The desperately poor population has cut down the trees for survival. With no tree roots to hold soil, flooding is unchecked. The Haitian government has appealed to the international community for help in reforesting. The book sells for $21. The couple would like to be able to send a portion of the proceeds to Haiti but feel the current political situation is too unstable for the money to reach its intended goal. Although they haven't been able to return to their homeland in seven years, they help in other ways. Jerry Gilles has run free health clinics in Haiti and organized the building of sanitary public latrines. The Gilleses recently discussed their book on WLRN public radio program Topical Currents and have donated copies to Broward libraries. The book is available at www.bookmanlit.com. E-mail the authors at info@ Bookmanlit.com.