Haitian-Americans mark 1st year since earthquake

Grief and pride are painted into a colorful new mural, unveiled for Wednesday's anniversary of Haiti's massive earthquake, wrapping a prominent corner in this city's Little Haiti neighborhood.

Grief and pride are painted into a colorful new mural, unveiled for Wednesday's anniversary of Haiti's massive earthquake, wrapping a prominent corner in this city's Little Haiti neighborhood.

The presidential palace and hillside homes of Haiti's capital stand firm and uncracked, but the images are from the past. The mural's artists painted tears running down the solemn faces of Haiti's revolutionary heroes, a presidential-appearing hip hop star Wyclef Jean and a young girl stitching together the red and blue fields of Haiti's flag.

"Even the sky is very sad today," said Dr. Suzie Armas, emerging from a morning Mass at nearby Notre Dame d'Haiti to damp, gray clouds. "This is the same way the Haitian community has been feeling. Unfortunately, there has not been that much progress."

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck on Jan. 12, 2010, killing more than 230,000 people. Roughly a million remain homeless amid the debris and stuttering reconstruction efforts in Port-au-Prince.

At the National Press Club in Washington, American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern said the charity will spend $30 million in a partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development to build homes at two locations in the Caribbean nation, plus another $15 million to construct homes with the Inter-American Development Bank on land identified by Haiti's government.

A plan to distribute $40 million in cash assistance to Haitians living in camps was halted in October, she said, because Haiti's government said it would encourage families to remain in the camps. The money was reallocated to cash-for-work programs, school vouchers and relocation grants.

The bells at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., were set to toll 35 times at the start of a memorial Mass on Wednesday afternoon, as a reminder of the 35-second quake.

A moment of silence at 4:53 p.m. — the moment the quake struck — followed the Haitian and American national anthems in a North Miami municipal plaza. At the same time, a larger crowd of Haitian Americans with Haitian flags blocked traffic at a stature of Toussaint Louverture in Miami's Little Haiti.

In New York's Times Square, a crowd carried signs saying "Remove the Rubble Now" and "Give the Haitian people jobs." Participants then marched to the Haitian Consulate and planned a rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations, capped by a moment of silence of their own.

In Miami, a woman fell to her knees and buried her cries in her arms in front of the altar Wednesday morning at Notre Dame d'Haiti, the church where thousands of Haitian-Americans gathered in the weeks after the earthquake to donate relief items, pray and trade news from Haiti.

Anguish over not being able to get home, just 90 minutes away by plane, in the quake's aftermath or do more to help its victims lingers in the patients Armas sees at a Little Haiti clinic.

"This is a trauma that might continue forever," she said.

But grief and blame must give way to hope and courage to fight for Haiti's future, said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, the pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti. "Now is the time for us to start afresh and see what we can do so that next year we can see a new face of Haiti," he said before opening his church for a day of prayer.

Survivors now in the U.S., many of whom were airlifted for medical care, say they feel blessed to be alive, but also anxious about what the next year will bring.

Many Haitians brought to the U.S. in the first weeks of the international aid effort thought they would be going back after a while. The shock and disruption of the earthquake has been followed by the shock of the reality that going back is nowhere near a viable option.

Valerie Placide fled with her 9-year-old son in the days after the quake. She has watched from Spring Valley, N.Y., just north of New York City and some 1,500 miles from Haiti, as recovery efforts floundered, cholera killed more than 3,600 and political unrest turned to riots.

"You've spent a year hoping that everything would be better," Placide said. Instead, she said, "I'm not hopeful at all."

Sitting with his mother last week in a Miami homeless shelter, 10-year-old Peterson Exais contemplated returning someday to Port-au-Prince, where he spent four days buried beneath the rubble of his house. Thin, pale scars cut through his hair and circle his left eye.

"It's better here," he says in the English he's learned this past year in hospitals and school. "Haiti is broken."

Peterson was lucky to have his mother with them when they were evacuated, along with thousands of Haitian children. Many others arrived in the U.S. alone and are recovering in the care of distant relatives or social services.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center released a report Wednesday recommending Homeland Security offer humanitarian parole to the unaccompanied children's parents. The unaccompanied children, now recovering with distant relatives or in federal custody, need better legal representation and some kind of assurance that they won't be returned to Haiti in the midst of a cholera outbreak and political strife, the advocates said.

Haitian-American leaders and others, including new House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are using Wednesday's anniversary of Haiti's massive earthquake to implore the Obama administration to welcome tens of thousands of Haitians who were promised visas but remain in the stricken country on waiting lists.

Immigration authorities had approved requests from 55,000 Haitians to join relatives in the United States before the earthquake. But because the U.S. caps the number of visas it grants per country annually, it can take a decade for an approved request to produce a visa.

The argument is based on more than compassion: Supporters say that once they found jobs they could send money to help relatives in Haiti, boosting the more than $1 billion Haitians abroad send back home each year, about a sixth of the gross domestic product for the hemisphere's most impoverished nation.

But allowing tens of thousands of Haitians to jump the visa line could suddenly burden the infrastructure and environment for a population that has grown rapidly in the last 10 years because of immigration, both legal and illegal, said David North, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.

Federal officials are reviewing the issue, said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency.

___

Associated Press writers Brett Zongker in Washington and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

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