WT: We see people take the traditional recipes and change them every year. Like Chef said, we’ve had people do the soup joumou with seafood only, or a vegan version of it. We’ve seen people do it with salmon.
People don’t take away from the recipe, but they will add these other things. And we know, it’s home, it’s family. We understand that’s happening and we create conversation around it. We ask our communities: Is this okay? Are we okay with this? And the comments are always 50-50. Some people are like, yes, we can remix it a little. And others say no, you do not mess with the recipe.
The Haitian community has this saying: What happens at home, stays at home. The streets do not need to know our business. But inside the Haitian community, they’ll talk. If I want to go viral for a week, I know I should do something with food, and I will go viral that week. I know it. It never fails. Haitians are so proud of our food.
Wanda, you told me that every year around this time, at the start of the holidays, you start to hear from food writers. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
WT: We know around soup joumou time, there’s going to be a lot of stories. A lot of publications want to write about it, or they’re going to create their own. Every year, you see the interest growing and growing more about this dish and the history that’s tied behind it. And a lot of different chefs and people have an opportunity to tell that story. So we’re happy. We’re excited that’s happening, but we want to make sure it’s done right. We want to make sure they’re reaching back home and tapping in Haitian chefs and speaking to Haitian chefs.
We’re happy now that we are getting attention from other areas in the world, and that it isn’t just about politics or charity or giving back. We’re happy that they have an interest in who we are now. But if you want to know who we are, we’re happy that you’re interested in us now on this level, but you have to come home.
That’s why you started L’union Suite—to highlight stories about the community from the community?
WT: If you want to tell our story, you have to understand the core of it. You have to go to the people. I started L’union Suite to find myself. I wasn’t raised in the culture, and it was a journey for self discovery, to connect with my people and find out as much as I could about this country me and my family are from. One of the biggest reasons why we are not connected is because we don’t know, we’re not educated enough. We don’t know our own history. We don’t know our contributions to the world. We grow up hearing so much of what people don’t like, or whatever narrative the news is telling us about Haiti. And now we’re invested in telling our story. We’re invested in making sure that our narrative is clear about who we are.
How does fighting negative stereotypes play a role in that?
WT: Who we are is just as important as everyone else. We are so used to people not paying attention to us, or if they do pay attention to us, it’s for their own benefit or spreading false narratives of who we are.
I mean, our current president started his term in office talking bad about us, and bringing up all these false stereotypes. And we spent four years trying to fight some of these stereotypes that our ancestors fought to get away from.