When Rebekah Gaillard came from Haiti to America at the age of two, her mother wanted to provide a better life for her and her family in every possible way she could.
“At 24, she moved me and her here to America” Gaillard said. “She was so young, not knowing English well with a two year old was a big sacrifice. But I’m so grateful for what she did.”
Gaillard, now 22, graduated from Ball State last summer. During her time at Ball State, she cites the pride of her country and relentless spirit she learned from her family and community as motivation these past four years.
She served as as president on the University Program Board (UPB) as well as public relations chair for the Black Student Association (BSA).
Gaillard, now lives in Indianapolis and works for Herd Strategies, a public relations and communications firm.
Gaillard identifies herself as an African American and Haitian. The most notable thing she loves about being Haitian is the language, food, people and history.
“We’re so rich in history and so rich in culture. The fact of we were the first black republic on the western hemisphere to gain independence.”
She takes pride in her heritage and its cultural influences it has on her life. That’s why she was insulted when she heard what took place during a White House meeting that discussed immigration.
In a January White House meeting with lawmakers, there was a discussion on a bipartisan immigration deal when some lawmakers said that President Donald Trump became frustrated with the suggestion of restoring the protected statues of immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and various African countries.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” Trump reportedly said in the meeting.
According to Trump he never said the remarks even though lawmakers such as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin confirmed the derogatory remarks.
Durbin was the first to confirm the alleged reports of Trump’s references to the African nations. Durbin said that the president did say those comments and said them repeatedly.
Trump stated in his tweets that he never said anything derogatory about Haitians or Haiti, “other than it obviously, a very poor and troubled country.” He says that it was made up by the Democrats.
However when Gaillard heard that Trump reportedly call her country a “shithole,” she was in shock.
“The fact that he said this around the anniversary of the earthquake and I’ve could’ve lost my grandfather and sisters and I did lose family members,” she said. “All of us Haitians got together and we cried. It was tragic. So for you to call us a ‘shithole’ when we help yall out to get independence, it just baffles my mind.”
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul G. Altidor released a statement that Trump was either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people. Haiti has since asked for an explanation for Trump’s comments from U.S. officials.
Since Trump’s remarks, outcries of frustration, disgust and disappointment were made by members of Congress, celebrities, and others.
Graduate student and African Student Association President Bright Afriyie says that Trump’s comments were surprising but at the same time it wasn’t surprising.
“I do have respect for him because he is the president and expect that in a multicultural environment like America you should have respect for every culture, every identity and every race because you are seen on top and whatever you say will affect the lives of people,” he said. “He could’ve spared everyone by not saying it.”
The White House has said Trump is defending his immigration principles as he is an “advocate for the American people.” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah says that Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that will make the country stronger by having those contribute to society, grow the economy and assimilate into the nation. “He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway,” Shah said.
According to , who originally reported the comments from that White House meeting, the lawmakers said that Trump wanted immigrants from Haiti to be left out of any immigration deal. Last November, the deportation protection that was given to 60,000 Haitians after the 2010 earthquake was revoked and all Haitian immigrants have to return home by July 2019. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security barred people from Haiti and other Caribbean countries from applying for low skilled working visas. The departments claims that the reasoning behind it was due to high levels of fraud and abuse.
During Trump’s State of the Union Address earlier this week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus were wearing all black attire and Kente cloth in protest of the State of the Union as well as Trump’s remarks towards African countries.
Despite the negative stereotypes associated with Haiti, Gaillard believes there is so much more that meets the eye.
“Treat everyone like people. We’re all human at the end of the day, no matter where they come from. This nation was not built by only white people. It was people of color who were defying odds, breaking records and immigrants are apart of that.” Gaillard said.
“They’re coming over here for better opportunities because their country is not the best. So who are we to tell them no, they can’t come over here. I want people to change that stigma. The world is so small you never know how closely related you could be to the person next to you.”
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