As a contribution to Haitian Culture Month, an unveiling of Little Haiti’s newest tourist attraction took place at a Caribbean Marketplace May 12.
The Little Haiti Cultural Complex (LHCC) developed the neighborhood’s very own Tap Tap bus, Haiti’s favored mode of transportation. Abraham Metellus, managing director of the complex, brought this project to life to bring more tourism to Little Haiti.
“The mission of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex is to present and preserve culture,” Metellus said.
The Tap Tap is a share taxi in Haiti often painted with religious imagery and vibrant murals. The translation for the phrase “tap tap” is “quick quick,” but oddly enough these buses don’t leave their stop until the bus is full.
According to Haitian artist Serge Toussaint, each Tap Tap bus in Haiti has a name. The name for this first Tap Tap in Little Haiti was named “Lapasyans” which translates to patience.
About a year ago, Metellus came up with the Caribbean Marketplace, because he wanted more cultural happenings in Little Haiti.
But that wasn’t enough.
Metellus made the effort to contact three tour bus companies, who refused to tour in Little Haiti saying that tourists would rather go to other typical tourist destinations like Miami Beach rather than Little Haiti.
Metellus confided in his neighbor, Jean-Marie Dennis “Jean” Mapou, about wanting to bring more Haitian culture to the community. Mapou happened to know someone with a bus Metellus could use. Dr. Alphonse Dufreny borrowed lot space from Mapou to park his jitney. Dufreny gave in to Metellus and lent him the bus.
Dufreny, Metellus, and Jaqueline Hernandez, connection strategist for La Comunidad, met together to prepare for The Caribbean Marketplace.
Hernandez was first exposed to jitneys two years ago, when a friend of hers took jitneys to go to the dance studio and to get around town. Wanting to get involved with Little Haiti’s culture scene and with some prior knowledge of Tap Taps, she contacted the LHCC with an idea of getting a Tap Tap for Little Haiti.
“Call it timing or karma but they approached me for the Tap Tap because they wanted the same,” said Metellus.
After the bus was approved, Metellus approached Toussaint with the task of creating a mural for the Little Haiti Tap Tap.
“He’s the O.G.,” said Metellus, “[He’s] local, he’s a community member and he has a heart.”
La Comunidad sponsored the art and the artists for their work on the Tap Tap and cultural icons.
Toussaint collaborated with Rodrigue Gilbert, another local Haitian artist, to paint this mural.
The artwork of the bus is unlike traditional Tap Tap. This specific bus has classic images of Haitian landscapes and monuments instead of its usual religious illustrations. Located at the rear of the bus, the image of a man blowing into a conch shell – blowing life into the Haitian women and the island greenery above him.
The mural is a depiction of a commemorative statue of a runaway slave signaling the abolishment of slavery called “Nèg Mawon” – Maroon Man. Above it, “ansanm nou fò” – together we are strong.
Metellus said after an initial disappointment when the Caribbean Marketplace reopened in 2014 the anticipation for a market boom never came. The morale of community lowered. The Little Haiti community watching Toussaint and Gilbert work on the bus has made them hopeful.
“We’re hoping it’s a mobile mural,” Metellus said.
Dufreny is providing a “Lapasyans” with a driver who will be in charge of the daily operation of the bus.
“We will hope there are more [buses],” said Toussaint. “Once we put those buses around, it’s to remind you that Little Haiti is still around.”