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Georges Woke Up Laughing: Long-Distance Nationalism and the Search for Home. By Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Eugene Fouron. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. x + 324 p., photographs, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 0-8223-2791-0 pbk.)[Notice]

  • A. Jade Alburo

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  • A. Jade Alburo
    Memorial University of Newfoundland
    St. John’s, Newfoundland

“Georges woke up laughing”, begins this book. It continues with Fouron’s (one of the authors) recollection of his “wonderful” dream about Haiti, which first brings joyous emotions but is eventually replaced with sadness, as he realizes that he “had been dreaming of a Haiti that never was” (1). This introductory anecdote tersely but poignantly evinces the nostalgia that is at the core of this subject matter; it conveys the homesickness that many immigrants feel, which often transforms their memories of their native lands into idealizations. However, this story is not simply about the nocturnal workings of Georges’s subconscious but, as is made clearer in the rest of the book, of a collective dream, in which both immigrants and non-immigrants yearn for better futures for their home countries and for equality among all nations of the world. With a beginning such as this, I am intrigued and immediately hooked. After setting the stage in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 proceeds by providing a definition of long-distance nationalism, or the transborder “identification with a particular, existing state or the desire to create a new state” (23). The Haitian discussion begins in Chapter 3 with descriptions of the homecoming process, especially the delivering of “commissions” or presents. While the giving of commissions and remittances reconnects those abroad with those who remain in Haiti and elevates the status of transmigrants and their kin, it can also create conflict when people get envious or are angry when their financial expectations are not met. Both this chapter and Chapter 4 give the reader an understanding of the obligations and dependencies that face Haitian transmigrants. In particular, the obligation to help kin, and even non-kin, is depicted by interviewees in terms of “morality of knowledge”, meaning that those abroad are obliged to help because they know how awful the situation is in Haiti. The following three chapters examine the forces that shape various forms of long-distance nationalisms. In Chapter 5, the belief that the “blood remains Haitian”, regardless of citizenship, comes up often. While this notion allows those in Haiti to expand the “nation” and links them to lands of greater opportunity, it is especially significant to Haitian immigrants in the U.S., who often experience racism on a daily basis, as it gives them a location in which they can be proud of their race and to which they will always belong. Chapter 6 discusses multiple meanings of nationalism through the gender lens: “[b]y exploring why Nanie [Fouron’s mother] expressed her anger at a difficult marriage and oppressive system of gender by rejecting her nationality, we [come] to understand the different ways in which Haitian women and men, Haitians of different classes, and Haitians in Haiti and the diaspora, come to identify with and understand the nation” (132). Chapter 7 looks at the nationalism of the second generation, both those who have grown up in the U.S. and those who have come of age in Haiti. The last chapters consider the relationship between long-distance nationalism, the state, and a sociopolitical agenda. Chapters 8 and 9 highlight the paradox of expectations within long-distance nationalism. While homeland association projects and protests in the U.S. regarding Haitian issues indicate that transmigrants have an impact on Haiti and point to the fact that Haiti is a powerless apparent state, with the U.S. and U.S-led organizations pulling the strings, Haitians at home and abroad continue to view the state as autonomous and to hold it responsible for the well-being of the country and its citizens. Finally, Chapters 10 and 11 explain that, within the shared language of nationalism and love for Haiti, multiple …