Its red and blue colors have long symbolized strength, the coming together of two separate groups of freedom fighters, joining forces in their quest to become the first independent black nation.
Now as Haiti prepares to honor its beginning, the 207th anniversary of the flag that has long symbolized its strength — L'Union Fait La Force — the nation finds its people struggling to reclaim their identity in the midst of handouts, foreign troops and an uncertain future.
"The independence of Haiti is the symbol for the dignity of man, black men in particular," said Dr. Georges Michel, a Haitian historian who helped draft Haiti's current constitution. "Flag Day must be celebrated even if we have an occupation of a polyglot of foreign troops."
Four months after the 7.0-magnitude quake, the Haitian government, along with international aid groups, struggle to clear public plazas and private land of an estimated 1.5 million victims. Other challenges include organizing elections for a new president and parliament against a backdrop of increasing demonstrations, and keeping budding frustrations at bay.
"The 18th of May?" said Annette "So Ann" Auguste, a singer and supporter of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who turned her Port-au-Prince home into a shelter for quake victims. "What do I have to celebrate" when "independence today is being stepped on?"
But for every mixed emotion over commemorating Flag Day, there are also pockets of pride over its dawning, especially in Arcahaie, a town of 102,000, 29 miles north of the ravaged capital.
Largely spared the destruction of its neighbors, the city is nevertheless feeling the effects of the quake.
Town leaders estimate that 10 percent to 15 percent of Arcahaie's buildings, many of them more than a century old, were damaged or destroyed.
One is St. Francois d'Sales Catholic school, where students attend classes in an annex constructed from pieces of cardboard and used University of Miami banners. The century-old school building is uninhabitable, Sister Jeanne Jean said.
"It's with a lot of difficulty that we are trying to ensure that the students don't lose the school year," she said.
Like most people in this sleepy coastal town, Sister Jeanne can't say with certainty how many people fled to Arcahaie after the disaster. What she does know, she said, is that a lot are here -- even if the town is absent of the tent cities that blanket Port-au-Prince.
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