Skip To Content

Alumnae Stories

Littane Bien-Aime Pens Op-Ed Celebrating Her Haitian Heritage

January 2018

Spelman alumna Littane Bien-AimeAlumna Littane Bien-Aime, is truly exercising her choice to change the world as a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State in São Paulo, Brazil. She previously served as an economic officer for the U.S. Mission to the African Union, and was a member of a talented group of Foreign Services officers representing U.S. policies on the African continent. In that role, she worked with the African Union, the 54-member continental body that addresses political, peace and security, health, education, trade, investment, and continental integration related to free trade agreements and cross border trade.

 A 2009 cum laude economics major from Spelman, Bien-Aime is of Haitian descent and her op-ed piece in response to comments on immigration made by President Donald Trump, was recently published on Blavity

As A Haitian-American, I Stand Proud Of My Heritage

blue-quote-left... Failure was never an option or even a remote possibility because of my Haitian parents. Their efforts and sacrifices gave this little Black, first generation American girl from the housing projects of east Cambridge endless opportunities. Though they couldn't always guide me or advocate for me the way other non-immigrant parents did, through their selflessness and sheer determination my Haitian parents enabled me to graduate near the top of my high school class, attend blue-quote-rightSpelman College on a dean's scholarship, intern and work on Wall Street, attend the Harvard Kennedy School on a full ride, serve as a U.S. diplomat in Ethiopia, Brazil, Cape Verde and Haiti, and travel to over 30 countries.

Read Bien-Aime's Full Response on Blavity.com

Spelman Alumna Littane Bien-Aime

Question & Answers with Bien-Aime

Q: What was that turning point in your mind that prompted you to write a response to Trump's remarks?

A: The turning point was the singling out of Haiti and African countries. False narratives about Haiti and African countries like Nigeria have existed for years and disparaging comments from world leaders only further the misconceptions that people already have about these countries and their people. These false narratives are dangerous and hard to combat.  

In 1983, the Center for Disease Control created a list of four “high-risk” groups of people who were supposedly more susceptible to contracting HIV/AIDS.  The list, know as the 4-Hs included hemophiliacs, heroine users, homosexuals and Haitians, the only ethnic group added. After the CDC’s announcement, there was a great deal of backlash against Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

Members of the Haitian community in the U.S. experienced a lot of discrimination.  Haitians were barred from donating blood, they had difficulty renting and selling their homes, they were fired from their jobs, and Haitian children were kept out of school. The CDC eventually removed Haitians from its list but 35 years later that stigma still remains.  Having the president of such a powerful country reinforce negative stereotypes about Haitians and other groups only sets these communities back and threatens the progress that they’ve made.    
 
After the most recent comments, I decided I wouldn’t be silent anymore. I decided to combat these false narratives about Haiti and respond by sharing my personal story and that of my parents. By adding my voice to the conversation and speaking on behalf of my parents, my family and so many other immigrants who may not have the platform to do so for themselves, I hope to do my part in shaping and molding a new and accurate narrative of Haitians and immigrants. 

Q: What do you hope people who read your essay will learn from it?

A: After reading my essay, I would hope that people would be reminded that the United States of America is a country made up of immigrants from all over the world.  The United States owes all its rich history, customs, traditions, and beliefs to immigrants, enslaved Africans, and their descendants who have contributed over time to make this country what it is today.  Whether or not you can trace your roots back to the Mayflower or Jamestown, VA, at the end of the day we’re all foreign to this land. Othering some immigrants, specifically Black immigrants from Haiti, Nigeria and elsewhere, is unacceptable and hypocritical. My piece aims to humanize the immigrant experience and remind people of the valuable contributions that immigrants and their descendants continue to make to the U.S. 

Q: How long have you been a Foreign Service officer and what do you do in the role?

A: I joined the Foreign Service in September 2012 and am going on six years in my role as a Foreign Service Officer.  My first tour was as the Economic Officer with the U.S. Mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I worked on trade, health and development issues. I’m currently finishing my second tour in São Paulo, Brazil where I work on socio-economic issues affecting marginalized communities.