Haiti is one of the most beautiful places to exist. With so many misconceptions of the Haitian community it’s so easy for their story to be erased and swept under the rug. There is so much richness in the culture, food, music, language and most of all the people and that’s what makes Haiti stand out from the rest. Haiti has been extremely influential and paved the way for much liberation and freedom of other Latin American countries. It’s time Haitians receive the proper recognition they deserve and we work to bridge the gap that has separated us.
There are so many ways to uniquely bring visibility and preserve Haiti’s narrative. Guerds and Indjina makes up The Jean Twins and use lifestyle vlogging as a platform to create conversations that should be amplified. Whether it’s through health and fitness, generational wealth, beauty and or education on the Black Disapora, their platform is impactful and stimulates Afro-Latinas and other Black creatives to tap into their true identity .
As two proud Haitian women it is vital the Jean Twins use their voices to preserve their countries traditions and customs and unify Haitians amongst the other Latin American countries. For Women’s History Month we honor The Jean Twins and all their efforts and contributions to Women’s History.
What are qualities that emcompasses The Jean Twins?
One quality in particular is passion, we’re very passionate about our community. When covid was striking our communities at higher rates than the counterparts, we started health initiatives with young Black female trainers and we encouraged our supporters to exercise with us every Workout Wednesday on IG Live and Fitness Friday on Facebook Live. One of our goals is to promote generational health in the community because health is wealth.
We’re so ecstatic because our weekly workouts have allowed Indjina’s heart condition to improve. She was prescribed three medications daily however after her most recent visit, it has decreased to just one. Her heart is now in the best shape it’s ever been. We are making a positive difference in not only our community, but in our personal lives too and Indjina is living proof of it.
Do you both identify as Afro-Latina and if so what does that term mean to you?
Yes, at first only Guerds did because Indjina didn’t know that Haitians, Caribbeans and West Indians were included within the Afro-Latin culture. Guerds learned from being a part of the Latin American Student Association as well as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student organizations during her time at Berea College. And it made sense because Haitians are from the same region as Latinos, eat similar staple foods (fried plantains, mangoes, rice, beans), are predominantly Catholic, and the music has similar undertones. Guerds told Indjina about this part of our heritage and encouraged Indjina to embrace it as well.
How was growing up Haitian, walk me through your upbringing?
It was all about, “lékol, lakay, legliz” , meaning “church, home and school”. We weren’t allowed to go to many other places besides that because we had a strict upbringing but growing up in Naples, Florida shaped a lot of who we are. We were adopted by Haitian parents, we attended a Haitian church where we worshiped in Haitian-Creole and French and our high school had a very high Haitian population. The largest Black population was Haitian there and from there then Bahamian, African-American and Jamaican.
Our dad was really proud to support Haitian businesses. We remember going with him to the Haitian dry cleaners and stopping by his cousin’s alteration shop and going with our mom to the Haitian grocery store where the owner would tell us how great our birth mom was. There were also many Haitian restaurants. Growing up Haitian meant to grow up proud of where you came from no matter what was said about your country in the media.
How do you both preserve and embrace your Haitian culture?
One of our favorite traditions is New Year’s because it’s Haitian Independence Day. We gather at the Haitian church that we grew up in and everyone holds hands in a circle praying into the New Year. Just recently we found out that many African-American churches do that as well so it’s cool that it’s a diasporic tradition. However, after praying we drink ginger tea with Haitian/West Indian bread. The best part is eating soup joumou because Haitians weren’t allowed to eat it during enslavement. The squash, pumpkin and best vegetables and meats were saved for the slave masters. After independence, it became a tradition to eat it because we became our own masters. The soup just tastes like freedom and liberation so nothing tastes better.
Have you ever experienced any challenges within your cultural identity?
Honestly, yes. It’s difficult to find a balance between our Haitian and American cultures. Within the Haitian culture there’s the belief that it takes a village to raise a child but for a Haitian child that grew up in the US it’s hard to tolerate so many different people, especially those you aren’t particularly close to, having a say in what you do. Our culture can sometimes feel limiting because you have to think about what someone will say to your parents if someone sees you doing normal adult things such as drinking at a bar or dancing at a club.
It’s sometimes restricting because you want to live your life without so many other people’s opinions but not caring about their opinion comes off as so countercultural. It can be hard to switch off the language switch also. We’ve found ourselves saying Haitian Creole words to our friends who aren’t Haitian so we have to catch ourselves. Once we get home we try our best to switch on our Haitian Creole language switch. Being an immigrant is hard work lol.
What is one misconception you have heard about the Haitian culture?
That Haiti is so dangerous but that’s not all it is, that’s just one narrative. There’s beautiful marble mansions and large patios and courtyards for some homes and the clearest most beautiful blue beaches and there are so many historical artifacts such as statues and buildings to learn from. You can find artistic vendors with the most amazing craftsmanship. Our country is vibrant and full of life. Even our busses are hand painted with portraits of Jesus, Tupac, Bob Marley and more. However, because the media often portrays it as a place where only crimes happen it’s hard for someone to be willing to experience the true beauty of the island.
What is your opinion on the bridge between Haiti and the Dominican Republic?
That’s a tough question and one that we’ve spent some time thinking about. Conversation, teaching and healing are necessary. It might have to start with the second generation Haitian Americans and Dominican – Americans here because there aren’t as many memories of hurt and pain as there may be on the island. Conferences and discussions here are vital but teaching that Haitians too are Latinos may help both sides to see that there are more similarities than differences. The main difference is the language but that was not a chosen difference, that was a forced difference because of colonizers and slavery. There needs to be more of an allegiance to one another than the remnants of French and Spanish culture that are still present. Also, dismantling the construct of colorism will show both parts of the island that black is and will always be beautiful and that both parts of the island have high black populations and because of that there should be a camaraderie. When one side of the island hurts the other it should be seen as hurting a brother or sister not hurting another nation.
Have you ever faced discrimination because of your skin color from the Latinx community ?If so, how did you overcome that?
Yes, oftentimes the World and especially our Latin community doesn’t recognize us as part of them. This goes back to our history where even now Dominican Republic and Haiti are at a crossroads. When someone thinks of a Latino person, they seldom think of Black Latinos or Latinas or they think that because you are darker there is no way you can be Latino. That’s the beauty of being Haitian though. Our island was originally named Hispaniola and we derived from the Taínos (Native Haitians/Americans). Being Haitian and even speaking Haitian Creole means you have so many different types of cultural blood running through your veins.
How do you use your platform to raise consciousness about racism towards African descendants that exist in the Latin Americas?
First and foremost we always identify as Afro – Latinas and we are continuously working with other Black owned and Black Latino owned businesses and entrepreneurs to spread generational wealth in our Black and Black Latino communities. We also will be having our posts captioned in both English and Spanish in order to further reach our Latino community because they are as much a part of us as we are a part of them.
What encouraged the The Jean Twins youtube channel?
Two words: our love. Being twins, we have an inseparable love for each other and we wanted to have fun showing the world that while creating another stream of income for ourselves. We use our phones daily and we are constantly on social media so why not use them as a source of income and to bring awareness or promote what we love; our people, education, generational wealth and entrepreneurship. YouTube is just a way for us to communicate with our audience while just being ourselves, it’s the best job ever.
How was growing up identical twins?
Growing up as twins was hard and fun, especially being identical twins. We are constantly thought of as together, as in people will always say “Guerds” with “Indjina” and vice versa. It was funny when it came to our family because our parents constantly confuse us. Sometimes even Guerds will be confused as to who’s who in a picture of us two. We were and still are able to take tests for each other and constantly trick the world. We hope our brand can trick you guys as much as us in real life does.
Do you both share the same interest in things you individually enjoy?
No, not at all lol. We are identical yet completely unique. Indjina is a huge shopper while Guerds is such a saver, she will just hold her bags when she’s dragged to stores with her. Guerds is more for health and fitness while Indjina is all for looking the part. Guerds is more interested in Spanish and speaks four languages as she was a Spanish teacher while Indjina will sound fluent in our native language on a good day. Guerds loves traveling and being an extrovert while Indjina is more of an introverted homebody. However it’s Indjina’s ADHD that constantly sparks a billion new ideas to our brand while Guards’ love for organization and order executes the ideas.
What is your purpose and what do you want your fans to take away from your content?
That anyone can make it. If someone would have said that us, two little black girls from Haiti whose mom was deported when we were nine and dad was shot and killed when we were thirteen, would have become a Geriatric Nurse and Spanish Teacher and then said that we’d continue nursing school and go on to law school, people would’ve laughed. But here we are as students, influencers, bloggers, models, and brand ambassadors. The path isn’t and won’t be easy but the greatest blessings often come with the hardest tests.
We still have a few tests we’re fighting ourselves such as Indjina’s medical conditions (tricuspid atresia and neurocardiogenic syncope) and Guards’ DACA status which doesn’t allow her to return to Haiti so she hasn’t seen our birth mom in seventeen years or our older twin brothers in twenty one years. The trick is to keep pushing no matter what, no matter how many times Indjina faints in class or at work and no matter how many times politicians rescind the DACA program. You don’t have to be the strongest person in the world, just practice getting up after each fall and at some point it’ll become a habit then you won’t have any other option.
Check out The Jean Twins Youtube vlog here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZeL50wGw8eDcRJksI2RfbQ
The Jean Twins Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/TheJeanTwins/