Aftershock

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 20, 2010

SOMERVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
MONDAY, 7 PM
Mayor Joseph Curtatone thanks the Haitian Coalition of Somerville for helping organize the evening. He seems slightly awkward, or at least reserved, addressing this predominately minority crowd about a Third World earthquake on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But Curtatone is both sincere and respectably nervous. "The best thing we can do right now is rally around one another," he says. "It's easy being in my position during a time like this, because everyone is willing to pitch in and help."

The mayor's words help connect two groups that may not often interact in this municipality: working-class Haitian-Americans and their artsy and academic neighbors. Six Creole-speaking police officers who offered to assist with local aid and on-the-ground relief efforts in Haiti, if needed, are given a rousing round of applause by the diverse crowd, which holds up white roses that were passed out at the door. Thanks are also given to Somerville High School students, who already held their own vigil and have collected donations for Haiti during every lunch period since Wednesday.

There's been much talk recently about how near Haiti is to South Florida. But Haitians in New England and other far-flung, snow-dusted regions are thousands of miles from their ancestral homelands. For two thirtysomething women from Inman Square — one of whom still has not reached several teenage nephews — the Monday-night vigil at Somerville High School is a first chance to find temporary solace among strangers in the second phase of aftershock.

Due to the holiday bus schedule and foul weather, families arrive late as State Representative Denise Provost and her Beacon Hill colleague, Senator Pat Jehlen, address the assembly. The latter, fighting her emotions, is hardly audible, but wipes beneath her glasses and chokes back tears long enough to note, "I can barely imagine the loss." Haitian Coalition Executive Director Franklin Dalembert gets a bit more out: "We have faced a tremendous pain that we have never before faced as a community," he says, somberly. "But we are grateful to you all for making it a little easier for us to bear."

For an encore, the Mission Church True Light Choir steps to the front in black-on-black suits, with the women donning sequin-sparkled knit hats. They deliver the most resplendent console of all — an angelic departure from otherwise miserable circumstances. But their message is getting harder to digest as the homeless, death, and injured tolls continue rising: "Hold on just a little while longer . . . pray on just a little while longer . . . fight on just a little while longer . . . everything will be all right."

Chris Faraone can be reached at cfaraone@phx.com.

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