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How My Favorite Not-so-Guilty Pleasure Taught Me the Important History of a Nation

A Real Housewives super fan uncovers Haitian history.

What is it about the Real Housewives franchise? Maybe it’s the fact that we get to witness grown women on TV fight over luxurious villa suites, maybe it’s the Shakespearean plotlines, like “The Dinner Party From Hell,” a delightfully Machiavellian television spectacle. Maybe it’s just fun seeing very rich women behave badly.

Nonetheless, the iconic, wildly-popular, and at most times, completely bonkers veteran Bravo franchise has a grip on me so strong, that the mere glimpse of the word, “Housewives” in my inbox can send me into a frenzy. And one weekday afternoon, that is exactly what happened.

There in my inbox was an invite to a silent auction/benefit for Travel & Give‘s Fourth Annual Travel with a Purpose Fundraiser. The body text happened to include all my other favorite words, like “Lisa Vanderpump” “Garcelle Beauvais” “TomTom” and “cocktails.” Like Charlie with THE golden ticket in my hand, I sprung from bed (ahem, more like Charlie’s aging grandfather) and hastily replied to the invite.

In my excitement, I managed to completely glaze over the *ahem* more pertinent and important details about the event, and Travel & Give’s noble mission and ethos, which is to serve disabled youth in Kenya and Haiti, and in this case, with specific service to the latter’s children recently affected by the country’s earthquake and tropical storm.

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Haiti is frequently referred to as “The Poorest Country On Earth,” and stuck with that oh-so-distinguished title, it’s no wonder that myself and others in our ignorance fail to even explore the reasons why. In my haste to bump elbows with my favorite Bravo-lebrities, I neglected to search for the reasons Haiti has historically lacked the infrastructure to weather ecological disasters, or oftentimes relies on relief aid and fundraising efforts as a means to help it’s people. Until I did some research.

A Very Brief History of Haiti

Once upon a time, there was an island named Hispaniola. On that island were two countries, one colonized by Spain, the Dominican Republic, and one colonized by France, Haiti. For hundreds of years, the Dominican Republic economically prospered, with ecological bounty, exports, and, eventually, tourism, while Haiti suffered, plagued by earthquakes, deforestation, and dictatorship. 

How can one island contain such stark contrasts? How has one country thrived, while another is often referred to as “the poorest country in the world?” Like many modern tragedies, the problem can be traced back to slavery. Surprise! 

History tells us that when Spain was busy colonizing the Dominican Republic, they couldn’t afford slave labor on the island, and thus left its natural resources (and natural beauty) fairly untouched. It’s a geographical issue too. The land is more fertile on the eastern half of Hispaniola, making it easier to regenerate forest life and healthy crops. On the western half of the island, in Haiti, things were diametrically opposite. 

The land is drier, and it suffered mass deforestation at the hands of the French (its original export was lumber). Enslaved people developed their own language, Haitian-Creole, a language not dissimilar to French, but entirely its own (and not spoken by the vast majority of the global population–another isolating barrier for Haitians). Sprinkle in a deadly and costly war for independence in the late 1700s and this brief, abbreviated version of the last 300 years might begin to paint a picture of why and how Haiti got where it is today.

A Evening at TomTom, AKA, My Super Bowl

Konrad Allen & Danny Smith

The evening of the event, I managed not to make a complete fool of myself, aside from one moment where I quoted Lisa Vanderpump’s season five tagline back to her. (“Throw me to the wolves and I shall return leading the pack.” – I mean, iconic!) I can also report that Tom Schwartz, OG Vanderpump cast member, often known as the series loveable, clueless, goofball, is a bona fide GREAT time and deeply kind and generous human. 

Konrad Allen & Danny Smith

But who I was really there to see was Garcelle Beauvais, current RHOBH who is of Haitian descent and has spoken candidly about her struggle to feel accepted and seen this past season. As a Black woman, not only did I relate to Garcelle’s struggle, but I felt inspired by her candidness, openness, and how unafraid she was to call out the proverbial BS (particularly Dorit’s, but I digress!). 

In person, Garcelle is everything you want her to be and more. Striking, warm, attentive, and thoughtful, in regards to how race was depicted this season and having to stand up for herself she told me, It’s a tough conversation to have but it had to be brought up.” 

She also said she’d love to introduce a Black “Friend Of” (Housewives-speak for a close friend of a full-time member of the Housewives universe who makes appearances throughout the season), referring to Will Smith’s ex-wife, and close friend Sheree Zampino. 

Being Haitian is a strong part of Garcelle’s identity, and this season she opened up her home to viewers and fellow Housewives, sharing recipes and traditions quintessential to Haitian culture. 

While the other Beverly Hills Housewives seemed completely out of their element, it was a necessary and progressive moment for the show and Haitian culture. And it showed that even backed by wealth and fame, immigrant women can still feel the pangs of ostracization and stigma that many immigrants experience. 

Intro to World History 101 – Housewives Style

The morning after the party, stories would run about the on-going feud between Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle Richards, and Erika Giradi’s possible-probable guilt (all you need to know is her name has been linked to the words “ponzi scheme”), but little context would be given for the actual reason the Housewives and other Bravo-lebrities had gathered. 

Haiti has been devastated for centuries by slavery, famine, and natural disasters, but it’s people are resilient, joyful, and thrive. Garcelle is proof of it, and Travel & Give is proof too. 

If you learned something from this story (non-Housewives related) consider donating to Travel & Give here. And if you aren’t yet a Housewives fan–well then you’re just tardy for the party.