The world is an island
Patrick Celestin came to the United States from his native Haiti in 1964 to escape the “Papa Doc” regime and eventually moved to Sacramento in 1977. Six years later, he opened the successful Celestin’s Island Eats & Cajun Cuisine (1815 K Street). His son Colin Celestin now operates the popular restaurant with his wife, but Patrick recently spoke out about the recent disaster in Haiti and the loss of some family ties on the island. He suggests that anyone interested in donating to support Haiti should visit Partners in Health (www.pih.org) and the Haitian Education & Leadership Program (www.haitianeducation.org).
What’s Haiti’s biggest need right now?
Paramount, anything that anyone can do to help would be the first thing. At this point, it’s important that people understand that right now we need supplies and money and that there are various organizations to which one can send [aid].
How long did it take to get in contact with family?
In the beginning, it was very difficult to get through. We were spottily getting through. We had a network between the Haitians in New York and Miami and Los Angeles, and whoever got through would let everyone else know. And in that manner, I found out that Monday, I lost my uncle, when one of the walls around the house fell on him. He was alive for a couple of hours but is not with us anymore. On Wednesday, my aunt suffered the same fate; the house collapsed on my aunt and uncle. We are just bracing for more bad news.
I don’t think many people have an accurate view of what life in Haiti was like prior to the quake.
Haiti is the poorest country in the world. Very, very, very poor. I believe that 70 percent in Haiti live in abject poverty. Prior to the quake, these people were already suffering, lack of an infrastructure, a massive AIDS epidemic. They are dealing with political corruption. They are dealing with deforestation. They are dealing with severe erosion, mainly due to the deforestation of the country, because these people have to cook with something, so they cut down the trees. It’s a huge problem. When it rains, the mountains literally erode down into the ocean, killing the corals. And here we are. It’s a ripple effect.
Has Sacramento’s support been good?
Absolutely, man, absolutely. People are calling and asking what they can do. As a result, my son Colin Celestin and his wife, Stephanie, [organized] a fundraiser.
What do you say to people like Pat Robertson who believe Haiti made a pact with the devil?
I don’t expect anything else from people like Pat Robertson. My main concern is that there are thousands and thousands of people out there listening to this. Religion and arrogance is a very dangerous combination. Adding money on top of that makes it lethal. It is just incredible; the amount of ignorance of some of these groups is amazing. It is expected for Robertson to say such trash. I hear it and I just let it go over my head. It’s not worth getting angry, but it is worth getting concerned about. If anybody in the 21st century still believes in making pacts with the devil and all that kind of stuff, I really feel sorry for people who believe in that kind of trash. The only devils that exist are the ones in our minds.
Do you think that the United States could have done more to prevent Haiti from being so vulnerable?
(Laughs.) You’re going to get me into politics here. The United States foreign policy around the world, we have a lot to be ashamed about, as we also have a lot of things to be proud about. We have the Peace Corps. Any time there is an earthquake or tsunami, the United States has always, always been there. I always say as much as the United States has helped other countries is as much as they have taken and as much as they have pillaged.
But you know, I’m an [President Barack] Obama man. I believe that had this happened under the Bush administration, I don’t think we would have gotten a fraction of the immediate deployment of help and supplies. I don’t think we should blame the government for ignoring Haiti, because, let me tell you, the Haitians have a responsibility to their country. Because we have been impoverished. I think that, yes, the rest of the world owes it to Haiti, as it owes it to Darfur, as it owes it to any country that has suffering citizens. … My family and I came out here in 1964, and thank God we came out here. I think as a result of having lived in this country, I have been able to look at the world in a very different way, a broader way of thinking. There is no blame here. But as I said, the United States foreign policy in the past, and still in the present, has been awful.