Jonathan Odjo was born in the Ivory Coast in Africa, his mother was from Haiti and he was educated in the United States. He and President Donald Trump disagree on something – Odjo believes Haiti and the continent of Africa are far from being considered “shithole countries.”
“I am proud to be Haitian and African,” Odjo said. “I am proud of my history and people, and I am proud that I strike fear in people just because I look different than what people are used to.”
Trump met with lawmakers on Jan. 12 to discuss protections for immigrants from countries like El Salvador and Haiti, as well as some African countries. Several people briefed on the meeting later released that the president said “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” to describe the mentioned countries.
Odjo, a Webster alum, said he was already proud to be from Haiti and the Ivory Coast, but these comments made his pride even stronger.
“I felt a sense of power, a sense of patriotism to my heritage and roots,” Odjo said. “I felt proud to be a part of not one, but both of the nations he name dropped because I know I wouldn’t change my culture or background for anything in the world.”
Odjo and his family moved to the United States when he was 5 years old. He said immigrants like his family did not come to the U.S. to be accepted and welcomed by the president. They came to get a better life, to escape civil war or civil unrest and find better opportunities.
Dr. Kelly-Kate Pease is a professor of international relations at Webster University. Pease and Odjo both agreed this was something they have come to expect from the president. Pease said what was most offensive was how it was used racially.
“It was used to refer to the countries of origins of people of color and that we somehow don’t want ‘those people’ and that we should desire immigrants from Norway, a predominantly white country,” Pease said. “Racism is ugly and reflects poorly on the U.S. and the president.”
Odjo said he does not believe much separates immigrants from Haiti, countries in Africa and Norway except one thing – the color of their skin. He added, if what separates them are slums and different living situations, you can find those conditions in all countries, including the United States.
“The same way we have slums in Compton and Brooklyn and East St. Louis and Riviera Beach, Fla., they have slums in Haiti and Africa,” Odjo said. “The same way we have the nice places, such as Beverly Hills and Miami Beach, you will find nice and wealthy places in Africa and Haiti. The people there do more with less, they do more work with less opportunity and money, but deserve to be celebrated and encouraged, not poked fun at.”
Part of Webster University’s core values is global citizenship, which develops the idea of educating a diverse population locally, nationally and internationally. This includes campuses on four continents: Asia, Europe, North America and Africa.
As of Fall 2017, Webster had students representing 144 countries worldwide, including three from Haiti, four from El Salvador and 262 students from across the African continent.
Webster Ghana’s Director Christa Sanders said she and her faculty and staff at the campus in Accra were appalled by the president’s reference of African countries as “s-holes.” In response to his comments, the Ghana campus hosted a student and faculty discussion forum Tuesday. This discussion was led by international relations professor Jean-Germain Gros from Haiti.