The Commander in Chief of Canada's armed forces is a native of Haiti. Bet you didn't know that.
Most Americans, in fact, have no idea who Michaelle Jean is, but they should. Hers is a remarkable, inspiring story of one Haitian's success.
Jean is Canada's Governor-General, Queen Elizabeth's personal representative to our northern neighbor. She is also Canada's first Governor-General of Caribbean descent.
Yet the American media have paid scant attention to her since the horrific Haitian earthquake, despite an emotional press conference in Ottawa last week in which Jean cried when the high-ranking official talked about the fate of the Canadian embassy's staff in Port-au-Prince and "the most vulnerable people in the Americas," the Haitians.
For Jean, the quake was uniquely personal. She concluded her statement with a Creole message directly to her Haitian homeland.
"I was saying to the Haitian people they are not alone," a teary Jean told reporters before departing.
Jean had just happened to have a dinner planned the night of the quake in Ottawa with U.S. ambassador David Jacobson. She received constant updates from Haiti in the Canadian capitol's stately Rideau Hall.
"She was very interested in making sure that the Canadian response was effective," said Jacobson afterwards. "But I think most of all, last night she was personally moved by the situation."
""We had long discussions about buildings in Haiti that had collapsed, about people in Haiti, friends of hers in Haiti and the dire reports last night about the situation."
Jean's family left Haiti for the dreary, remote mining town of Thetford Mines, Quebec, in 1968 (she was 10) to escape the oppressive "Papa Doc" Duvalier regime. Duvalier had tortured Jean's philosopher father and kept him from his family for 30 years before the family's exile to much colder Canada.
The multilingual Jean went on to receive degrees in Italian and Hispanic literature from the University of Montreal, taught Italian studies and also worked at a women's shelter. Her Excellency speaks four languages, including Haitian creole. She is a remarkable role model for women, Haitians, Canadians and Americans.
Jean also became a Canadian TV anchor and filmmaker. One of her award-winning films was "Haiti dans tous nos reves". ("Haiti in all our dreams"). Jean never forgot her stricken native land and its constant struggles.
At her emotional Ottawa press conference, Jean said she'd been in contact with a frail uncle in Haiti and that he was in a safe place. But the day, she said, was not about her. All the Haitian diaspora, she said, is engulfed with a feeling of worry and of "selflessness." "What is reassuring is to see that Canadians are not indifferent," said Jean. "We can see Canadians' solidarity at its best."
In her first meeting with President Obama, in Ottawa 11 months ago shortly after his inauguration, Jeanne said, the conversation with the new U.S. President revolved around Haiti. She said Obama wanted to know her impressions about progress in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
So it's a good bet one of Obama's first phone calls after the deadly quake was to Jean in Ottawa. It's also safe to assume the two have spoken several times this past week. Obama knows a unique source of information and wisdom when he sees one.
Jean's story is as remarkable and as inspirational as Obama's, and for that reason and especially given her Haitian roots, we should have been hearing a whole lot more about Michaelle Jean in the U.S. media this past week. We've heard almost nothing.
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