Multicultural children’s book series introduces children to the richness of the Haitian Culture
“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an old English-language proverb which means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need. That’s the energizing thought that drove Carline Smothers, the mother of three young Haitian American children (a nine-year-old son and two daughters, ages seven and three) to create and self-publish her two books: “Fanmi Mwen (My Family),” written in Haitian Creole and English, and “Mmmmm! Soup Joumou,” a children’s book series that highlights their Haitian heritage.
A businesswoman with a higher purpose, Carline started Zoe Beautee in 2011, offering a line of t-shirts that sport the Creole phrase Bèl Fanm (Beautiful Woman) in order to celebrate the beauty of the Haitian language. “My goal is to help build confidence and self-love,” says Carline. All products are available for purchase at www.zoebeautee.com
Here’s what Smothers, the children’s book author and owner of www.zoebeautee.com, had to share about the richness of her Haitian heritage and why she wrote “Fanmi Mwen (My Family)” (Haitian Creole and English) and “Mmmmm! Soup Joumou.”
L.A. Sentinel (LAS): What are African-Americans missing about the Haitian culture?
Carline Smothers: There are so many negative stereotypes about Haitians. When I was younger, my family and I were constantly teased for being Haitian in school. As I would look at the American children who teased us, their skin, eyes, and hair looked like ours. I did not understand why we were treated so cruel. Some kids would even fight and throw things at the Haitian students. They told us we ate cats and dogs. That all Haitians are dark-black, ugly, and dirty.
I would get offended when I was told I did not look Haitian, which insinuated that Haitians are not beautiful people. Of course, everything stated above is completely false. We are beautiful people who come in all shades, as everyone else around the world. I had no idea where these kids were getting their information from, or if that is what was being taught in their homes.
My parents are immigrants from Haiti and instilled in my siblings and me values, empathy, respect, and compassion. They came to America to give us a better opportunity to grow and prosper. I do not see it being any different from others who move from state-to-state, for such growth. My parents did not leave Haiti because they didn’t like it there; in fact, they told us all the time how beautiful Haiti is, with amazing beaches and mountains. Haitian culture is rich in food, language, music, art, and so much more. If we all took the time to learn about other cultures, this world would be a better place!
LAS: How does your community incorporate its traditions into American ones?
CS: Haiti is the first Black Republic to regain its independence [which took place] on January 1st, 1804. Haitians offered a helping hand and fought for the United States independence as well, which is something very few people know about. With all the natural disasters Haiti has had, there is no denying the strength of its people.
America recognizes May as Haitian Heritage Month. We are proud of who we are and our African roots. I have noticed others embracing Haitian culture through the language, food, and displaying the flag. For an example, the Haitian flag is seen waving in the opening of DJ Khaled and Rihanna’s video. We have come a long way from how Haitians were viewed when I was growing up.
LAS: Why did you feel the need to start www.zoebeautee.com and self-publish two children books that focus on the Haitian culture?
CS: I started my Zoe Beautee brand to celebrate the beauty of the Haitian culture and its people. By first creating Bèl Fanm (Beautiful Woman) Fashion Tees. I was inspired by my three young children to create the children’s book series. My husband is African American and I did not want them to lose the culture.
When we watch television shows, movies, and read books for children, we are open to learning other languages and cultures. However, I couldn’t help but noticed the lack of Haitians and my children need to be able to relate to the characters. This is why I am passionate about what I have created. Every child deserves to be represented and see a reflection of themselves. I saw a need and have been working tirelessly to bring my vision to life.
To learn more go to: “Expressing Beauty Through Language”
Founder and CEO Carline Smothers
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