Monet Massac ’21 Explores US Haitian Identity in Summer Research Project

Over 60 years ago, an 18-year-old Marie Massac traveled from Haiti to Vermont in flight from the despotic regime of François Duvalier, the politician who was on the rise to become president of Haiti in 1957. Having aged out of the church-run orphanage in which she had grown up, Marie would end up working as a domestic, ultimately landing in Harlem, New York.

Marie’s story is one of individual struggle, perseverance, and uncertainty, but it is also emblematic of the larger phenomenon of Haitian migration that surged under Duvalier’s presidency. By 1980, the State Department estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 Haitians had entered the US, and by 2015, there were 676,000 Haitian immigrants living in the United States.

A New York Times article notes that “these immigrants confronted what Michel Laguerre, a Haitian-American anthropologist, calls their ‘triple minority status,’ as blacks, foreigners and non-English speakers.” To understand how Haitian immigrants negotiated this identity on US soil, Monet Massac ’21, granddaughter of Marie, is embarking on a summer research project that explores how Haitian migrants from the 1970s–90s navigate the racial terrain of the United States.

“I’m curious to see how Haitian people see themselves, coming from a majority Black nation to the racially stratified United States,” says Massac. “They hold onto their nationhood because they reject the lowered status they experience in America, but also very much relate to Black Americans. This experience in which they constantly look back to where they came from reveals how Haitian immigrants, and perhaps immigrants as a whole, engage in a transnational process in their migration.”

Specifically, Massac will investigate which areas migrants move to, their varying documentation statuses, and the role of their color and class in their adjustment to a new place. She will also explore how the classic phase and post-classic phase of the Civil Rights Movement influenced migrants’ reception in the United States.

Massac’s research is supported by a Stanley and Marie Johnson Research Award. For almost 30 years, these competitive awards have supported Scripps College students while they conduct independent, interdisciplinary research under faculty guidance. The projects are completed during the summer months and presented to the College community in the fall; for those who participate, it’s often a seminal part of the Scripps experience.

“The generous award allows me to focus on research that I’ll use throughout my time at Scripps,” says Massac. “Without it, my time researching would probably be split with a summer job. With less distraction, I am able to reach more depth in my research and gain further insights into my topic.”

A history major focused on Latin American Caribbean studies, Massac became interested in these topics while taking the course The Civil Rights Movement Modern Era with Rita Roberts, professor of history and Africana Studies, Nathaniel Wright Stephenson Chair in History and Biography, and chair of the Department of History, who also serves as Massac’s faculty advisor the summer research project. “I really got sold on history because of Professor Robert. She taught the revisionist history and I felt like there was a lot to correct in my previous understandings—there were a lot of invisible histories I wasn’t aware of before,” says Massac.

With hopes to eventually enter law school, Massac sees this project as a first step in her academic journey, envisioning this research as a portion of her eventual senior thesis. But it has also been a personal journey. “As mixed-race Haitian and Japanese, I’m learning so much about my personal history and how it continues to the present day,” she says. “It’s been very liberating.”