State senator pushes for recognition of Caribbean nations’ holidays

State Sen. Jason Pizzo    photo courtesy Florida Senate

Florida state Senator Jason Pizzo wants the United States Congress to recognize Haitians and other Caribbean-Americans’ holidays.

As of 2014, approximately 4 million Caribbean immigrants live in the U.S. Of the 4 million, more than 1 million are from Haiti, with a large percentage residing in Miami and the greater South Florida area. 

That helps explain why the Democrat from Miami is urging Congress to recognize Jan. 1 as “Haitian Independence Day,” the month of May as “Haitian American Heritage Month,” May 18 as “Haitian Flag Day” and June as “Caribbean American Heritage Month.” 

He also wants  these days to have a higher profile within the state. Pizzo mentions the Haitian matriarchs he represents and works with in his district, and says that they served as a motivation for filing the memorial in addition to the political turmoil in Haiti. 

“The first neighborhood I lived in was little Haiti and it has me so mesmerized. By settling in Miami they built churches, restaurants, supermarkets … a whole black neighborhood. You can feel the pride when it comes to this neighborhood,” said Vanessa Chery, a junior computer information systems student, at Florida A&M.“I think it’s a great idea that the senator is trying to make Congress recognize Haitian flag day [and other holidays].”

Pizzo recounts a moment where the upheaval almost prevented a paralyzed 13-year-old constituent of his from receiving the care she needed. He traveled to Haiti and arranged to help her father process a document needed so she can claim her U.S. passport that would allow her the benefits granted to a naturalized citizen. 

During the past six months Haiti has been issued a level four travel advisory by the U.S. State Department, which is a “do not travel” notice. It has since dropped to a level three, which advises strongly against traveling to the island nation.  

“It’s really unfortunate that you can’t; so close, go touch and see and explore your own heritage. I’m of Scottish, Irish and Italian descent and I can hop on a flight and go see where my ancestors came from and explore villages and you (migrant children) can’t do that,” Pizzo said. 

Christelle Haygood, a sophomore business administration student from Fort Lauderdale said, “I believe Haiti has impacted this entire world. First from the revolution which created a domino effect … if you really look into the history, Haitians have been of service to this country from slaves to creating the baseballs we use. I appreciate America [Senator Pizzo] for considering those dates but in our hearts it is already a national holiday.”

His proposal cites other federal recognitions such as Jewish American Heritage Month and Asian Pacific Heritage Month, which are celebrated in May. He says this memorial benefits the children of immigrants who can’t readily visit their mother country. 

Pizzo also filed a memorial to recognize Oct. 17 as Jean-Jacques Dessalines Day. However, it was met with mixed reviews by lawmakers.

The memorial passed the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee, days after the 10th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. 

Memorials are not subjected to the governor’s approval or veto powers. They are also not subjected to constitutional title requirements, and do not have the effect of law. They are mechanisms to formally petition the federal government to act on a particular subject.