Before the 17th annual Haitian-American Unity Parade began its march along Blue Hill Avenue Sunday, the crowd prayed together in a circle. Heads bowed, they considered the thousands of Haitians who could be deported if the federal government does not renew their temporary protected status.
“We have a heartbeat for our family, our friends, our brothers, sisters, cousins, who are in a situation uncertain,” said Bishop Nicolas Homicil of Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle in Mattapan. He asked God to move the hearts of politicians on Capitol Hill to extend this humanitarian provision.
“What do you want? TPS! What do you want? TPS! When do you want it? Right now!” the crowd chanted, using the initials of the program offered to many Haitians after the 2010 earthquake that devastated their country.
Temporary protected status is implemented for people who, because of violence or natural disasters, cannot return to their home countries. The Department of Homeland Security will decide this week whether to extend the program for affected Haitians or to let it expire in July.
The decision could affect more than 4,300 Haitians living in Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire.
The uncertain prospects of the program added notes of concern to what is usually a celebratory day of Haitian heritage, music, and dancing.
Signs were waved along the route with the words: “Renew TPS for Haitians! Don’t break families apart!’’
Surrounded by Haitian families donning the Haitian flag on T-shirts and bandanas, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry pledged their support.
“On Friday, we sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly to make sure they know that we in Boston stand with the 50,000 Haitians in America to make sure they can stay in our country,” said Walsh.
Pastor Dieufort J. Fleurissaint of Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle said people are worried.
“These are professionals who are working hard to take care of families in the US and family members in Haiti,” Fleurissaint said. Homeowners and business owners are at risk of losing everything they’ve built in this country, he said.
And yet, still they celebrated. Because Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America or the Caribbean, because theirs is a rich culture that has overcome so much.
“We are a people shown through history to break walls,” said the Rev. Myrlande DesRosiers, director of the Everett Haitian Community Center and grand marshal of the parade.
Sunday was a day to gather and enjoy Soup joumou, a Haitian dish traditionally eaten to celebrate the nation’s independence day, Jan. 1.
Boston resident Cassandre Latortue-Celestin, 31, said she has gone to every Haitian parade since the event began 17 years ago. Now, she brings her daughter.
“It unites us all,” said Euphonise Loiseau, 25. She and her friends Ashley Clerge, 22, and Stephanie Apollon, 24, are all first-generation Haitian-Americans.
All three felt it was important to celebrate the beauty of their culture, their homeland, and have their community stand together unafraid.
The United States is home now, according to Randolph resident Marie Yves Ramfort, 53. She said she would be incredibly relieved if temporary protected status was renewed for the masses that need it.
“If Haiti was good, they’d stay,” said Apollon, translating for Ramfort.
“Their kids were born here. They don’t know Haiti.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.