The IIIC's Cross-Cultural Coffee event in Mattapan.

By Katie Burke

On Sunday, October 23, the IIIC hosted its third Cross-Cultural Coffee gathering of 2011, this time with a group of immigrants from Haiti and Ireland. The 21 participants may have expected that Haiti and Ireland would have little in common. However, in sharing their respective homelands’ geography, culture, and history, it became evident that there are similarities in the experiences and outlooks of those who hail from these island nations.

The event began with various stories of journeying to America, as well as stories of the isolation immigrants often face as they try to assimilate into an entirely new environment. Participants agreed that the weather alone had been a challenge. An Irish man recalled a three-day drive to Florida from Massachusetts in winter, and his amazement at the change from snow in the north to blazing heat in the south – climate extremes in the US that would be unthinkable in Haiti or Ireland.

One young Haitian man spoke of the hostility he had faced from his high school classmates upon first relocating to Boston, and how he initially got himself in trouble by reacting to the bullying from his peers. This experience spoke of the misconceptions and prejudices which often burden such a transition. As another participant mentioned, “It was very strange coming to a country without your close knit community and where you don’t know anyone. It is hard to adjust.”

Throughout the conversation, participants found that one thing their respective ethnic groups most definitely have in common is a spirit of resilience. Several of the Haitian participants told how they had arrived in the US after the devastating earthquake in January 2010, and some had lost family members in the quake.

They had searched for jobs in the US to provide money to send back home. However, the language barrier, in addition to the US economic recession, has often led to fruitless searches. Despite such barriers, they continue to persevere move forward towards a better life for themselves and their families.

There was a true sense of both the Irish and Haitian communities being able to share their experiences and help one another. As an Irish participant commented, “One thing I really love about our culture, and that I see in the Haitian community as well, is that we are very helpful and supportive of our own kind. It doesn’t matter whether or not you know someone personally.”

As they got to know each other over the course of the gathering, it became clear there was potential for Haitian and Irish immigrants to form a strong bond over their shared similarities. As Ronnie Millar, Deputy Director of the IIIC, commented, “It is great to see how the Irish and Haitian people share a spirit of resilience, generosity and openness to meeting each other. I hope this is the start of a long friendship. We are all in this together. If we can find a way to work together it will be much better for everyone.”

The goal of the IIIC’s Cross-Cultural Coffees program is to bring together groups who might not ordinarily meet with each other, to build understanding, friendships and possible collaborations.

The discussion was facilitated by IIIC board member Jeff Stone, and interpretation was provided by Dony Destorel-Dessam, a local community organizer. For more information on how to get involved in future cross-cultural events, contact Ally at 617-542-7654.