I was near closure on President Donald Trump, yet again, putting his foot into the toilet — there’s no more room in this mouth — when he reportedly characterized Haiti and Africa (a whole continent) as a “s***thole.”
But my emotional pot started boiling again when I called a friend and former colleague who just happens to be Haitian. I was calling about something else, but I couldn’t get away without asking her about the president’s comments.
I asked how she felt about the president downgrading her country and in doing so, downgrading her, too. Mind you, she came to America and earned a degree from one of this country’s top universities.
“It was hurtful. It hurt a lot,” she said, adding that it also pained her friends and others who have battled adversity to make a life in the United States. Her friends are paying local, state and federal taxes that go to help schools, roads, law enforcement and the military. It’s what she and many of her fellow "s***thole" countrymen are doing in America.
Some of them are also giving to charities to help the poor here in the United States.
They are doing it without telling the media, as our president has done, that they are finally helping someone other than themselves.
My Haitian friend also said that the pain is extra tough because her country would love to strike back at the president’s callousness but can’t. it is still trying to recover from the devastation of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010. Between 100,000 and 300,000 people were killed and about 1.5 million were displaced.
“They can’t afford to respond strongly to Trump because they still need U.S. aid,” she said. But it’s Trump who comes off as not only insensitive but also as the classic bully.
Oh, by the way, the children of my Haitian friend are all getting advanced college degrees both here and in Canada. They are paying their taxes and making contributions to other parts of society. They are living the part of the dream that Trump’s ancestors and others came to this country to get.
Also at my former job, I met a niece of my Haitian friend. She came to America just months after her father, sister and brother died in the same 2010 earthquake.
She finished high school in Florida and came to Southern University here in Baton Rouge. I remember her as this little girl who engaged in short conversations and had an occasional smile. She had to learn English, and on top of that, had to learn the different dialects of English spoken in Louisiana.
I remember her later telling me, “I didn’t understand a lot. I had to ask people to explain what they were saying.”
She had everything against her. No one would have blamed her if her emotions would have caused her to quit. But she had her extended Haitian family and friends who stuck by her. Yeah, those people from that s***hole country helped her scratch and claw her way through school and life.
Over time, I tried to get her to open up about her loss. It was not until she was near graduation that she could bring herself to have a full conversation about it. I wonder if this president has had to deal with such a devastating loss as a child that she did and have the strength to pick himself up. Oh wait, he did have terrifying and painful bone spurs (wink, wink) that kept him out of military service.
So how has this young woman done from that s***thole country? She got an undergraduate and graduate degree, and now she is working in New York City and prospering. And, yes, she is paying taxes, supporting this country where the president of the United States found time to be so petty as to trash her native country.
What’s more, this woman is not alone. In that same former job, I met three other Haitian students who are all working in the United States and succeeding. They also will have to carry the sting of the words of our president, who has no earthly idea of the pain he has caused. What’s more, he probably doesn’t care. But he does care immensely if someone says he has little hands.
But I know those young people and others will continue to be strong — much stronger than the man with the allegedly bad feet. They, and so many other Haitians like them here, will continue to kick down enormous barriers and handle troubles this president and his children have never faced.
On the day my friend’s niece got her undergraduate degree, she said something profound. “I hope this will inspire other people so that they won’t be discouraged by the little stuff,” she said. That’s a far better sentiment than “s***thole.”
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at email@example.com.