As we shift our focus from poetry to human rights, I found myself sadly unsurprised at the lack of great children’s and YA literature on human rights and Latin America. On the one hand, everything can be boiled down to human rights; and indeed, much of what we discuss on Vamos centers on the idea that one of those rights is the right to be in a diverse, culturally sensitive, exploration centered classroom, where all students see themselves and their future potential in the books they read, the stories they hear and the arts they craft. On the other hand, if everything is boiled down to human rights, does that take away some salience from those pillars of Rights that everyone is entitled to? Or does discussing rights necessarily encompass all our daily interactions? If you have the answers, let me know. As a student, a scholar and woman with a huge heart, I am continually grappling with questions of rights and constantly fighting my inner skeptic that some (most?) of those rights are only a reality for the very lucky few. And while it may be a worldwide UN Declaration on Human Rights nobly meant to apply to all, created out of the horrors of the Holocaust and the promise (more broken than kept) that “never again” will we be idle to these abuses, the world system only applies Rights to a few. My hope then, is that our posts on Human Rights will help you and your young humans fight my (and their) inner skeptic and answer some of these agonizing questions. I also hope that these posts more readily prepare your students to venture into a world in which they may not want to go; a world of torture, sorrow and seemingly insurmountable problems. Ultimately, I hope that within this dark thicket, our posts help you look up and see the light desperately blinking through the shadows and remember that even when all humanity seems utterly lost, light, life and compassion break through.
From 1957-1971, François ‘Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled Haiti with brutal terror. He used his version of the SS, the Tonton Macoute (bogeymen) to murder over 60,000 Haitians, rape, abuse and enact lifetimes of mental, emotional and physical violence on untold numbers more. Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti by Frances Temple tells the story of Djo, one of the followers of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, outspoken opponent of both ‘Papa’ and ‘Baby Doc’ (François’ son and successor who ruled until 1986). ‘Titid’s boys’ as those who helped Aristide were affectionately known, risked everything for the vision of a better Haiti. At the time of the novel, Aristide has won the presidency (the first time in 1991) and Djo is lying injured in a hospital bed. Titid has asked Jeremie, a young girl, to go and record Djo’s story as he comes in and out of consciousness, remembering his past and Haiti’s struggle in bits and pieces. Eventually, Djo comes to learn just how much Papa Doc and his horrific Macoutes have effected everyone, including Jeremie.
Simply written description weaves through the staccato dialogue Temple has set up as the norm for the way Haitians speak. Beautifully and achingly told, Temple has offered us a window into the world of Haiti under Papa Doc; a world of terror, heartache and slavery. But Djo inhabits a world that Papa Doc cannot take from him, the world of falling in love, of speaking truth, of keeping hope. You and your classroom will be thankful you picked up this book.
“I was pondering, you know, pondering on the question of what make freedom.” –Djo