Lucie Tondreau, Untiring Fighter for Haitian Immigrant Rights

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Wednesday, 21 December 2011 22:02

MIAMI, USA ( – Living in Miami for 26 years, Lucie Tondreau is one of the most active community leaders in the Haitian Diaspora. Having left Haiti with her family under the totalitarian regime of Francois Duvalier in 1967, she has long fought for the rights of compatriots. "The battles were tough, but worth it, however they are not finished," says activist in an interview with Defend Haiti.

MIAMI, USA ( – Living in Miami for 26 years, Lucie Tondreau is one of the most active community leaders in the Haitian Diaspora. Having left Haiti with her family under the totalitarian regime of Francois Duvalier in 1967, she has long fought for the rights of compatriots. "The battles were tough, but worth it, however they are not finished," says activist in an interview with Defend Haiti.

Born in Haiti and raised in Canada, Lucie Tondreau had “discovered” Miami in 1984 “by accident”. After leaving the Canadian cold, she was first in 1982 in New York where she was already involved in the fight for the Haitian immigrants’ rights.

After two years in the Big Apple, Lucie Tondreau landed in Florida while on her way to the Bahamas to meet with Haitian refugees there. When the plane stopped at the Miami airport, the activist realized that there was a place in the United States where there was heat all year long.

Enchanted by the beauty of this tropical US corner, Lucie Tondreau let the harsh winter of New York to settle in Miami. Then she begins to meet with the Haitian community in Florida and got to know the reality of Haitian immigrants there. She realized that in spite of the beauty of the Sunshine State, located two hours by plane to Haiti, things were not rosy for fellow Haitians.

"I did not really realize the extent of the refugee problem when I was in Canada and New York. In Florida I have seen the living conditions of many Haitian immigrants. At this time, fellows took the sea on small boats to escape the Duvalier dictatorship, "says Lucie whose family was exiled to Canada in 1967 after her father had spent six months in the deadly jails of the notorious Fort-Dimanche.

Exiled in her youth in Canada, Lucie had to face the reality of a young black immigrant in a Caucasian country. "At this time there were not many Haitians there. Every time we met a Black, it was a celebration, "says one whose timbre is reminiscent of a well-known former Haitian minister.

Growing up in Canada, Lucie Tondreau didn’t speak Creole too well. She would later learn that language in literacy classes in New York. "Today, I speak, write and read Creole properly," says proudly the fervent defender of the rights of Haitians.

He killed himself because he is Haitian

In years when Lucie Tondreau began to fight for the rights of compatriots, it was not too good to be Haitian in the United States because "the image of Haiti wasn’t something one wanted to assume or be associated with" she says.

“On major American TV channels, the images broadcast were either those of the fierce Duvalier dictatorship, or those of Haitian refugees’ corpses found on Miami Beach or small boats crowded with Haitians trying to enter illegally in the US", recalls Ms. Tondreau. It took then a group of people for defending these refugees.

"When the U.S. administration was trying to suggest that people left Haiti for economic reasons, we had to demonstrate that the Duvalier dictatorship motivated them to do so" explains the political activist who so got involved in community movements to defend the refugees’ rights.

She has engaged herself in literacy classes, training fellow countrymen, most of which coming from the Haitian provincial towns, having no idea of how a country as organized as the United States does.

"It was an amazing experience and a challenge to say for example to the Haitians when they are sick, they should go to the doctor and not to the voodoo priest, to show them how to use the phone, to prevent them not to go out and leave their young children home alone because it is considered a felony in U.S. The police arrested many Haitians who didn’t know these things," said Ms. Tondreau.

In the same time, some Haitians were being badly treated and some fellow hid their nationality, posing as Jamaican or French Caribbean. However, in 1984, a dramatic incident occurred in the Haitian community and that would challenge the conscience of many. "A young Haitian dating an African-

American girl in high school committed suicide when his girlfriend has learned the truth about his Haitian nationality," said Lucie Tondreau.

It was then that community dynamics came to change, she says. "It took time to teach young Haitian-Americans what Haiti is, its history, its culture, we had to restore their identity so that they no longer ashamed to be Haitian."

When in Eighties one said he (she) was Haitian, adds Tondreau, this sounded like all that was negative in US society. Some young Haitians were even beaten and were nicknamed "Frenchie," not because of French, but with a pejorative meaning they were either ignorant, foreign or they didn’t speak English. To protect themselves, young Haitians imitated African-Americans to move the crowd and avoid being bullied.

For that reason, leaders of the Haitian community had to fight and occupy the streets to claim their rights, which earned them being nicknamed "white feet" ... because of their constant demonstrations.

"We were demonstrating, either in front of the U.S. Immigration, whether in a place where a Haitian was beaten, or to a shop where a fellow was accused of having taken an item without paying. Each time they touched one of us, the whole community stood up, "recalls political activist.

Combat discrimination

The community also mobilized when compatriots were placed in refugee detention center called Krome. "The U.S. administration took the opportunity to do scientific experiments on prisoners. So they injected female hormones to men who were growing breasts. This resulted in a lawsuit against the U.S. government to compensate these people, "says Lucie Tondreau.

Demonstrations also to denounce the discriminatory treatment to compatriots who reached on the Florida coast. They were locked as if they were criminals when the Cubans came here under the same conditions were accepted and received legal documents shortly thereafter.

The many struggles led US authorities to grant in 1982 the "Cuban-Haitian entrance" which allowed Haitians to stay in the United States till they were issued legal documents. It was one of the first victories won by the Haitian community. Other types of grants will be provided later to Haitians as the Farmer Relief Worker and the Haitian Immigration Fairness Relief (HRIFA).

Many battles have been conducted, some lost, others won, summarizes Ms. Tondreau. Among the victories, one was on the US education system. Haitian activists demanded to place children from Haiti in special classes so they can adapt to the American system.

Another battle was to make May the month of the Haitian culture. May 18, in all schools the Haitian flag is hoisted and our culture is in the spotlight. Haitian pupils can take local food to school and Haitian community leaders talk of Haiti and its people with Haitian-Americans and African Americans.

Finally, Creole has been admitted as an official language in South Florida and New-York; all paperwork must be translated and published in that language as for English and Spanish. The last victory was the grant of TPS (Temporary Protection Status) to compatriots after the earthquake of January 12, 2010 in Haiti.

"The battles were tough, but worth it. However, they are not finished, "says activist and advocate of the rights of Haitian refugees.

About Lucie Tondreau

Holder of the "Claire-Heureuse Award", Lucie Tondreau was the flagship of most battles fought by the Haitian community to defend its rights.

Lucie Tondreau began a journalist career in 1982 in the program "Moman Kreyol" broadcast in New York. In Florida since 1984, she provides on radio news from Haiti, issues analysis, and informs her compatriots on migration issues. On television, she anchors since November 2010 the program "Face to Face" on Island TV. She receives guests, politicians, officials, journalists, artists and experts in various fields to comment on the socio-political and cultural news of Haiti and the Diaspora.

Lucia is a member of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition which includes 16 Haitian-American organizations. She holds in the city of North Miami a consulting firm for immigration issues, Tondreau & Associates.

Lucie Tondreau in 2002 was candidate for the position of District Commissioner of Miami-Dade County. Position now held by the Haitian Jean Monestime.

The human rights activist is currently fighting to enforce the article on dual citizenship contained in the amended Haitian Constitution, voted in 2010 but not yet published. The next step in the battle to require transparency around the tax imposed in June 2010 to the Diaspora by the Haitian government on phone calls and money transfers to Haiti.