Haitians in Evanston dismayed by Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comment


Daily file photo by Christian Surtz

Former mayoral candidate Gary Gaspard speaks at a campaign event. Gaspard, originally from Haiti, said he had tears in his eyes when he heard the president call his country a “shithole.”

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

When Gary Gaspard immigrated to Evanston in the 1980s, he started driving a taxi to earn a living. He said he was inspired by the Northwestern students he drove around, and soon earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Gaspard said he considers Haiti his home of origin, but that Evanston is truly his home. So when he heard President Donald Trump call Haiti a “shithole,” he cried.

“I had tears in my eyes just like a little kid,” Gaspard said. “I lost my voice. It was very awful. We might have problems, but we don’t come from a ‘shithole’ country. We contribute a lot to this community. We contribute a lot to the United States.”

The 54-year-old former mayoral candidate has lived in Evanston for over 30 years, ever since he immigrated from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, at 19. He produced radio programs, served in student government at Northeastern Illinois University and worked with at-risk youth in Chicago.

Mayor Steve Hagerty wrote in a Facebook post on Jan. 12 that he is glad so many Haitians, including Gaspard, have made Evanston their home.

“Their contributions to Evanston and the wider country and world are immeasurable,” Hagerty said in the post. “Our community and our country are richer because of our Haitian neighbors and all immigrant neighbors for that matter.”

Gaspard said after hearing Trump’s comment, he now believes that the president is racist. He said he used to think that Trump was just playing a political game to earn support with his base, but Gaspard’s opinion of the president has now changed.

“Now I think he is playing the game,” Gaspard said, “but most importantly I think he has a problem with minorities, any form of minorities. Black, Hispanic, brown, whatever.”

Gaspard said he was emotional when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) spoke out against Trump’s comment and that he wants Durbin to run for president. Similarly, Evanston resident Tania Richard said it is both important and powerful when local politicians like Durbin and Hagerty stand up for the people in their communities.

Richard, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said she was hurt to find out there were many other people in the meeting when Trump made his comments who stayed silent.

“Although Dick Durbin didn’t say anything in the meeting, the fact that he had the wherewithal to say something afterwards is important and what it means to be an ally,” she said. “I really admire that despite the pushback that he’s received, he’s standing strong and saying that’s what he’s heard.”

Richard wrote a blog post after hearing about Trump’s comment to give a portrait of Haitian people. She updated a post from 2010, which she had written after Hurricane Tomas to let people know that Haiti was more than the tragic images they were seeing. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake also shook the island that year.

She added that she felt like Trump was spitting on her parents’ graves, who, after coming to the United States, practiced medicine for over 30 years. Richard said her parents and their friends were good people who raised good children who contribute to society.

“I just wanted to speak to the tapestry of people who come from other places, and who bring humanity and a breath of life experience and generations to this country,” Richard said. “These people deserve to be respected and not dismissed.”

The Trump administration on Wednesday announced that Haitians will no longer be eligible for visas given to low-skilled workers because they are “not meeting the standards set out in the regulation,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Gaspard added that many of the Haitians he knows in the United States and the Chicago area work hard, pay taxes and send their children to schools here. He said he believes in the Constitution and tells Haitians to become American citizens so they can make their voices heard with their ballots.

When he ran for mayor, he said one of his personal slogans was “accept me” and that he is an Evanstonian.

“America is my home,” he said. “I’m about to be 55 next month. I’ve been living here for 30- some years. That’s way more than half of my age. This is my home. Nobody can tell me get out.”

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Twitter: @sn_handler