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PSS Summer '12

Immigrant Identity

Daphney Etienne

DAPHNEY ETIENNE ’12

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y. (via Haiti)

Major: Writing and Rhetoric

Beyond HWS: This summer, Etienne will visit Haiti with her family.

  • Koshare Dance Collective
  • Intern at Self and Lucky Magazines
  • Senior Civic Leader for the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning
  • Graduated with Honors in Writing and Rhetoric

Daphney Etienne ’12 is many things - a dancer, a writing and rhetoric major, an avid follower of fashion and a civic leader on campus. She is also Haitian.

As the earthquake ravaged her family’s homeland two years ago, Etienne remembers the ever-present glow of the television while she and her parents watched the continuous news coverage of Haiti from their home in Brooklyn. “There were just dead bodies,” recalls Etienne. “And I remember there was so much pity; there was this perception that the Haitian people were already damaged, that they were weak.”

This revelation was in contradiction with her Haitian upbringing, an identity characterized by indefatigable spirit. In search of images that would positively reflect the Haitian people, Etienne discovered the work of renowned Haitian photographer Daniel Morel. Morel's photos spoke to Etienne – evocative images of a people coping with tragedy in dignity and unparalleled determination.

“These people are resilient; they are fierce,” says Etienne. “Haitian people are strong because they have survived coups, political instability, natural disasters – they were the first black nation to achieve independence.”

With the help of her Honors Adviser, Assistant Professor Writing and Rhetoric Neeta Bhasin, Etienne used the photos as the basis for her Honors project. “Haiti Through the Lens" investigates the construction of Haitian identity.

"I feel like there is a great deal of responsibility on me, as a Haitian immigrant, to disrupt the stereotype of helplessness that plagues Haiti,” says Etienne. “The history, the Creole language, the culture – it is all so rich. I want to put into people’s heads what was put into mine at a young age: Haitians are strong – and it is something to celebrate.”