Chèche Lavi: TIJUANA
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 the Brazilian government began issuing work visas to Haitians. At the time work prospects in Brazil were promising with the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. In Pétionville, where the Brazilian consulate in Haiti is located, daily crowds of people hoping for work visas spilled out into the streets and it became common to hear people discussing a family member who had left for Brazil.
When the Brazilian economy took a turn and work opportunities diminished, thousands of Haitians started making their way to the the United States by land. This long and expensive journey included passing though the dangers of the Darién Gap and paying smugglers expensive passage through Nicaragua. Initially, thousands of Haitians were able to enter the United States but many were stuck in Tijuana waiting to cross the San Ysidro border into the United States.
Chèche Lavi is a Kreyòl expression that translates as “looking for life” and means searching for economic opportunity. When I moved to Haiti in 2011 and started to learn Kreyòl, “chèche lavi” was an expression I started to hear often. When I visited different points of the border that divides Haiti and the Dominican Republic I heard the expression used by people who were crossing the border to buy and sell goods. I heard the expression used in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic by both people of Haitian descent who spoke Kreyòl with a Spanish accent and by Haitians who had crossed the border to work for a season.
In 2016 when thousands of Haitians and people of Haitian descent were forced into exile in the remote Haitian border town of Anse-à-Pitres I heard the expression used to explain why they or their parents had originally left Haiti to work in the Dominican Republic. I also heard the expression the following year in Tijuana, Mexico where thousands of Haitians who had made the long, expensive and dangerous journey by land from Brazil to Mexico were waiting to cross the border, in search of economic opportunity in the United States.