Local author reads from L’Ouverture book at Harvard

Local activist and author Veronica De La Croix held a book signing co-hosted by the Haitian Harvard Alliance (HHA) on December 3 for her recently published text “Presenting My Hero: Toussaint L’Ouverture”. As its namesake indicates, De La Croix introduces Toussaint L’Ouverture, a leader of the struggle for Haitian independence and abolition of slavery, with her own historical assessments.
The book includes addendums such as poetry, photography, and statistics on Haiti’s 18th century economy. The central fixture of the book is L’Ouverture’s autobiography.
“Toussaint didn’t have anything but his dream –which set me free,” said Gerthy Lahens, a fellow at the MIT Center for Reflective Community Practices, as she introduced Veronica La Croix. Lahens describes the influence the historical figure, L’Ouverture, had: “After my family, Toussaint has given me a destiny – it is about what you have done with your liberty.” This set the tone for De La Croix’s talk on L’Ouverture which was at once familiar, referring to him on a first name basis, and yet reverential in its praises.
De La Croix first came across Toussaint L’Ouverture as a thirteen year-old student. She describes that encounter as thrilling. However, she wanted to know more. Three years of research have produced “Presenting my Hero: Toussaint L’Ouverture.”
Before reading snippets of the book, De La Croix cites one other impetus for writing the manuscript. “It came close to home when my daughter told me that sometimes she liked being Haitian, and sometimes she didn’t…I started doing my research because I wanted to show her Haiti and I knew one thing about Haiti – that we led the biggest fight for human dignity.”
Growing in Hinche, a city not far from the Dominican Republic border, De La Croix recalls her literary background. Her mother owned “the only one-stop shop that serviced ten cities, like a mini BJs” which funded De La Croix’s private school education. She began writing earnestly at an early age. Her mother’s sensibilities –“She was a businesswoman! I will never be hungry because I learned from her” – appear to have informed her. Indeed for the evening of her book signing De La Croix was both the guest-of-honor as well as the caterer, bringing both books and food to the event.
The bankruptcy of her mother’s store in Hinche and subsequent departure to the United States figured as a traumatic period for the author.
“I tried to understand why my parents would leave me,” she explains to the audience. “I wanted to die so I wrote in my journal.” The poverty that catapulted her parents and eventually herself to the United States inspires this ode to Haiti’s better days, what she considers to be the country’s more noble origins.
At the request of the audience, De La Croix read the preface and addendums to her book. She also read a speech by Wendell Phillips, president of the anti-slavery society, delivered in Boston in praise of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s historical greatness. A Q&A soon followed with queries on the nature of her research and what it meant to produce the book.
“We fought for liberty and for freedom, we fought to show everybody that we are not slaves, we were not slaves, and we will never be slaves. I know that no matter how apart we are now, we were together once. Basically this is what I want people to get from the book, because I love my country.”
When asked whether she consulted pre-existing history books, she replied, “I learned only lies from other history books.”
For De La Croix, her text stands alone.
The reception concluded with an a capella musical performance by her daughter, an appropriate return to one of the muses for her writing. Guests then mingled with community activists, students, DJs, and professors including Carol Burgen who instructs French at Harvard College and is advisor to HHA. David Hutchinson, a sophomore at the College and new president HHA described the book signing: “This is the principle event for this semester.” Other Harvard students like Edad Mercier remarked after De La Croix’s reading, “It’s great to see her passion,” which enlivens what Mercier’s studies in her History concentration.
“It’s about future generations – there’s something beyond one’s self. It’s about love, about uncovering yourself, recognizing that it can be beautiful even if it’s painful,” says Lahens discussing expressions of Haitian history, and indeed, this seems to echo the surprising tears that came from De La Croix as she read her preface.
De La Croix is in the process of translating “Presenting My Hero” into Kreyol with a Haitian publisher. She hopes to one day have the book included as part of a civic history curriculum for classrooms across Haiti. Another of De La Croix’s anthology of Haitian history, “Declassified Truth, Part 1” (verite deklasifye #1), is due out next year.