How My Haitian Heritage Inspires Me to Create
It's fascinating how much culture sticks with you. I moved to Guatemala from Haiti at 9 years old and then to the U.S. at 13 years old. There are things I do monthly, weekly, even daily, in and around my work process as a director, that are deeply rooted in Haitian culture. I didn't even realize that the things I thought were my own process are in fact "way of life" practices from back home, until I started writing a film about a girl connecting back to her Haitian roots and had to do some research.
For example, every day before I sit at my desk to work, I clean my workspace. This means the floor, tabletops and surfaces. The space gets organized. Every few months, decorative items are moved around my office to imbue a freshness and inspirational environment that shifts and offers me new things to look at. It's not quite Feng Shui, but more of an instinctual thing—akin to the New Years' tradition of deep-cleaning entire dwellings, or the weekly "washing of the house," which happened every weekend of my childhood back home. The thinking is, before you work, you make room in the physical space; you make it tidy so there's room to get messy. You wipe the slate clean so you can paint on it again.
One specific practice is physical. Before sitting down to write, I dance/stretch/move my body to clear my mind and hollow myself, so the spirit of inspiration can flow through me. "Movement to clear the mind" is not a new idea, as runners know this concept well, but it's dance specifically to drums I can tie back to Haiti. There are specific movements/dances with origins all the way back to Africa that are used for clearing energy, healing and making way for inspiration. Some movements are for celebration or to honor ancestors, but the result is always the same: an exhilarated spirit, loose body and centered mind.
Before I began filmmaking over a decade ago, I was a dancer and often worked on music videos, which also goes a lot of the way in explaining my habit. It's deeper than that, though. My Haitian roots forever shaped my directorial lens long before I danced on—and subsequently stepped off—sets. My childhood there influenced my dance certainly, but also my spirituality, love of movement in the films and commercials I create, and the joy I feel bringing news to my supportive community back home.
I remember learning in high school about the concept of axiology, "the study of the nature of value and valuation, and of the kinds of things that are valuable"—specifically as it relates to ethnic groups and even races of people from Dr. Joy DeGruy—and it really resonated with me. It's stuck with me and served me well in my work.
I find it important to honor the axiology of any group of people—the notion that if I tap into and honor the values of a group of people, working with them as a director would be that much more fluid. Being raised by a Haitian woman in Haiti, I bring with me Haitian/African diaspora values. The one I honor most is to SEE and acknowledge people BEFORE talking about "business," even if for a moment. I find properly acknowledging everyone on the team does miracles for morale and sets a tone for every project. A shift from the "time is money" value to "honor the relationship" value is very Haitian ... and in the end, still makes you money.