MARLEINE BASTIEN: Activist charts course to social justice

Author:  Dawn A. Davis
Marleine Bastien has been an activist for social justice and human rights most of her life. In her native Haiti as a teenager, she fought for the right to access education, risking possible backlash from the then oppressive Duvalier regime. Bastien knew then what her life's work would be.

Bastien“It started in my native land when I sprung to action to protest an edict that we (students) could no longer study under lampposts,” she recalled. “We were interviewed by the famous journalist Konpe Filo on his very progressive and popular radio show ‘Haiti-Inter’ ... We spoke with passion and I found my voice.”

Bastien comes from a family of activists. Her father built a school in their village and, as a result, was targeted by the despotic government. But even after being arrested he remained determined to educate the youth. Her grandmother was also an activist.

GREATER GOOD

Bastien said she was taught early the importance of contributing to the greater good. After witnessing atrocities in Haiti, her resolve became more fierce.  “When I arrived in Miami in 1981, two days later I volunteered at the Haitian Refugee Center,” she explained. “My father introduced me to the late Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who ran the center, and said this is my daughter, put her to work. And, I've been in the struggle for immigrant rights and human rights since.”

Bastien has earned respect. "My parents are proud,” she said. “They see what I do as an extension of their work in Haiti. Their work was not in vain.”

COURSE

As executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (FANM), Bastien represents the Haitian American and other ethnic communities in immigration rights, HIV-AIDS education, breast cancer awareness and domestic violence. FANM means Haitian Women of Miami. However, Bastien is fighting for all genders, including the LGBT community.

Bastien charted a course through continued community outreach and activism. She spent five years at the Haitian Refugee Center helping refugees apply for political asylum and locating their family members. She then decided to become a social worker and earned a master's degree in the field at Florida International University.

Bastien spent a decade gaining clinical experience as a medical social worker. In 1991 she officially created FANM with the mandate to tackle the human rights and social injustice issues that plague the Haitian American community.

GENTRIFICATION

Among the biggest problems is a fast-moving gentrification “epidemic” in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, where many Haitian nationals have called home for years. In one example, an area once called Sabal Palm Court, rebranded as Design Place, is under massive redevelopment.

“Sabal Palm used to have 100 percent Haitians living there, including Father Gerard Jean-Juste,” said Bastien. “But now the area is completely gentrified. Now there are no Haitians there. Instead there is a billion dollar residential complex.” Bastien insisted Little Haiti must be saved. She lambasted the government for creating policies that discriminate against dark skinned newcomers.

“Ever since the black masses of refugees started to come, there have been discriminatory policies aimed at excluding them without giving them the basic right of due process, which is wrong,” Bastien explained. “... At FANM we're not only fighting for us, we are fighting for our immigrant families because we are all in this together.”

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