MIAMI – The City of North Miami kicked of Haitian Heritage Month by bringing attention to a sore spot for some residents. Counselors see a mental health struggle begging for attention.
Inside the North Miami Public Library, Andy Dulcio teaches Kompa every Wednesday in May as part of the city’s heritage celebration.
“It’s the native dance of Haiti,” he told the class.
It is also a modern merengue that moves both mind and body, Dulcio said.
“I call it motion therapy because you can come here and just release,” he said. “You can come here and just be yourself and be your full self and whatever struggles you have and everything, you can just let it all out when it comes to dance.”
More than 20% of North Miami’s population came from Haiti or is of Haitian descent. Though many thrive like immigration attorney Vanessa Joseph and South Florida counselor Dr. Danna Demezier, there is an emotional strain.
Joseph’s parents went through it. Her clients did too.
“I have many clients who have told me stories about dogs eating folks that they’ve been traveling with on their way through the jungles of Colombia,” Joseph said. “I have many clients who tell me about watching people perish at sea.”
Dr. Dany Fanfan migrated with her parents on a plane when she was 12. They found asylum in South Florida. Dr. Fanfan, though, did not escape personal struggles.
“I encountered a lot of anti-Haitian-ism,” she said. “I was discriminated against for my accent, my cultural background. I was bullied.”
Her post-doctorate dissertation focused on migrant stress and depression. While currently researching the topics further, Dr. Fanfan and others found language barriers, money problems, family conflict and loss of social networks causing mental strain.
“Sometimes (migrants are) exposed to violence, sexual violence, (and) physical violence,” Dr. Demezier said. “Of course, there’s exploitation because I think anyone who sees people who are desperate for opportunities can look at that.”
Dr. Demezier said stigmas and confusion about mental health care keep too many from treatment. She and others hope people struggling step forward and find help.
The City of North Miami is hosting a two-hour conversation Thursday. It’s called Mental Health Lunch and Learn. It starts at noon inside the Scott Galvin Community Center at 1600 NE 126 Street in North Miami.
The event is open to the public.