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Finding Hope in L.A. After Terror in Haiti, Fear on the High Seas : An Aristide supporter risked the perilous ocean voyage after his friends were beaten and killed. 'I don't know if I could ever go back,' he says, afraid to reveal his identity.

August 21, 1994|JEAN PAUL | Jean Paul is a pseudonym for a 28-year-old Haitian man who was among the boat people who fled their homeland after the November, 1991, overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president. Jean Paul says that using his real name could endanger his family still in Haiti. A speaker of Haitian Creole, he was interviewed through an interpreter by Mike Wyma. and

It was in 1992, before Christmas, that I escaped. I had to because I was in charge of a youth committee organized under the Aristide government. What we did was go out and clean the streets. When Aristide was exiled, the new government came looking for anybody or any group that was supporting him. The group I was in charge of stayed together even after Aristide left, so they came after us.

I escaped, but a lot of the members of that youth group were arrested. Some were killed, some were beaten up. Some of them were 18 or younger.

I was in hiding for three days in a place called Souspistel. It's like a neighborhood or a very small town. In Souspistel I met others who were also in hiding. They told me that they were going to take a boat out of the country and I should come along with them.

I was very frightened of the ocean but I decided I would rather die there than by staying in my country. We left on a Saturday and by Sunday afternoon we ran into the American boats. They took us to Guantanamo.

I was at Guantanamo and was transferred to Miami. I have family in Miami but I couldn't find them. I was given an offer by the immigration service to come to Los Angeles. I have permission from the immigration service to stay as a political refugee.

I was a house painter and a handyman. In Haiti you don't need certification to work as a painter. When I came to Los Angeles I found a job as a painter and handyman but I didn't have a painting contractor's license. So I could not continue working.

I needed to go to school and get a certification and that was just too complicated and would take too long. So now I'm working for a company that manufactures syringes. After the syringes are finished, I clean them up for shipping. Catholic Charities helped me find the job.

I didn't know anybody when I came here. I didn't have any family. I was scared. A man from Catholic Charities was there at the airport to receive the refugees. Catholic Charities had rented a hotel where they put all the refugees. We stayed there about two weeks.

When I started working, I started getting to know people. Now I'm renting an apartment with a friend near Adams Boulevard and Vermont. I've made some good friends in the refugee community, but no one really outside of that community.

I want to learn English. To live in this country you have to speak English. That's the starting point for me. Once I learn English I can learn a trade of some sort and really get a better job and improve my life. I really feel the language barrier.

I was going to school to learn English before I got the job I have now, but the school and the job are very far apart. The job is in the San Fernando Valley. I had to stop the school.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have helped me get through the difficult times. I used to be a Protestant back home but I'm with the Jehovah's Witnesses now, studying. I like the teachings.

In Haiti I have my mother and two brothers. My mother would never leave Haiti. One brother loves Haiti very much and would never leave. The other one would like to leave.

I don't know if I could ever go back. The people who are after me, even if the government changed, there are so many of them you can never tell if they have all left.

Things are not exactly like I'd like them to be in Los Angeles. I have a lot of difficulties. However, it's a lot better than in Haiti. Not only did I have more problems there, my life was in danger. So I'm a lot better off.

I would like to go to school, but because of the jobs I find, that is not a possibility right now.

I would like to write to my family back home or to hear from them to see how they're doing. But it's just not a safe thing to be doing. That saddens me.

I never thought I'd come to America, so I didn't have any ideas about it. I didn't have expectations. Now that I'm here, I like it. But I still love my country too.

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