Liminality by definition is the, “is being on the ‘threshold’ of or between two different existential planes.” Christie Jean, CLAS ’11, is taking this concept and applying it to Haitian immigrants for her honors senior thesis and at the same time finding herself in a position of liminality, too.
Jean, an English major and political science and African American studies minor from Stamford, Conn., is of Haitian descent. Growing up she felt at war with her ethnic background and being an American citizen.
“In high school and middle school being Haitian had such a bad stigma, and I wasn’t proud of my background,” Jean said.
When she came to UConn she found a Haitian student population that celebrated who they were. In her sophomore year she joined the student group, A.H.E.A.D, which stands for Assisting in Haitian Education and Development. The organization heightens awareness about Haitian culture and raises tuition money for university students in Haiti.
“I was excited to find a group of students who were Haitian and were willing to give back to the country,” Jean said.
During her junior year, Haiti experienced its devastating earthquake. Many of Jean’s family live in the country and they were cut off from communication. At this time Jean became vice-president of the A.H.E.A.D and did everything she could to help the country from UConn. Working with Community Outreach, Jean and A.H.E.A.D organized a vigil for Haitian Relief efforts; donations were given to the Clinton and Bush Foundation.
“I feel like I’ve gained more from A.H.E.A.D than I’ve given,” Jean said. Just going to this atmosphere where we discuss current Haitian events, learning more about the culture, I’ve acquired a new love for my mother country.
Her newfound connection to Haiti transferred into Jean’s academics as well. She spent the summer of her junior year reading the Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, and she took an English literature and a capstone course that motivated her to base her senior honors thesis on liminality in the Haitian immigrant experience.
“What happened in Haiti really affected me. Just to turn on the TV and watch the news was so devastating,” Jean said. “We would talk about it in class and when I was coming up with a paper topic, I wanted to do research on something that had real bearing with me and what I wanted to do in the future.”
Jean found that liminality becomes an area of growth for a person. She discovered that Haitian Immigrants become more multi-faceted with being able to identify with home life and Haitian traditions and American society, ultimately making them more adaptable to anything.
“This project is as much a personal project as well as academic for me,” Jean said. “It’s a project on how I have come to terms with who I am.”
Jean and her family are in the beginning stages of creating a company that buys coffee from local vendors in order to sell it back to Haitian farmers at a cheaper price. This eliminates the need to buy coffee, which is a local cash crop, from the Dominican Republic at a high price. The goal is to take something vital for the Haitian community and let Haitians profit from it.
“With this project I really found out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I want to become an immigration attorney,” Jean said. She recently decided to attend UConn Law School.
Jean is also a 3rd year Residential Assistant (RA).
To release the stress of her activities on campus, Jean sings with the Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir.
“It’s a release when things are so stressful,” Jean said. “Being a part of Christian groups on campus really grounded me.”