Artist Statement: Rachelle Salnave
The following is a statement from the filmmaker of the documentary, Madame Pipi, Rachelle Salnave. Reel South premiered the film in May 2022 for Haitian Heritage Month in companion to another short film from Florida.
New York City Nightlife in the 80’s was internationally known. In my collective memory, the promoters, DJ’s, bouncers, bartender’s, the bar boys, the dancers, and hostess were all a nostalgic portrait of the party scene in Manhattan. Were the bathroom attendants around and I just didn’t recognize them? Well, I started noticing when I started partying in Miami.
In my discovery to connect with my Haitian roots, my cultural antennas had anything “Haiti” on my radar. Every bathroom attendant I met was Haitian. They traveled to Miami, some risking their lives, to find a better life for themselves and a way to support their families back in Haiti.
A family friend in France told me in Paris, these attendants are called “Madame Pipi” or “Dame Pipi.” He shared a romantic tale about the origin of these bathroom attendants had been Russian immigrants, descendants of royalty. In all my research, this appeared to be a myth, but the name stuck with me.
Madame Pipi soon became a metaphor that explored the idea that these women, who have to clean up urine (pipi/pee) and the likes are supporting more than 1/3 of the GDP of Haiti. These women, just like the Russian Immigrants became metaphorically royal to me and to their country. This is a Miami-based love poem to Haiti – a letter from the Diaspora to Haiti. A letter from a Haitian Mother that expresses the hardship and emotional toll it takes just to survive in expensive Miami and help feed Haiti.
I hope audiences that do see this film in various formats, experience a more varied story about the Haitian community—one that interweaves the political underscore of race in America, but also the hypocrisy of their tips being an actual monetary value to Haiti through remittances. Whether one woman left Haiti for economic opportunity or the other woman fled after the Haiti Earthquake of 2012, or had to leave their family back home, they all have a story to tell of why being in America is so vital to their survival.
In this era, immigrants have become the spotlight revealing the ugly truths and at times complex, hypocritical perspectives of people who come from other countries. These bathroom attendants are real human beings that all have universal stories of loss and triumph. These women are part of the fabric of the Miami nightlife scene. It’s a unique take and a glance at these women’s lives. A voice never exhibited before.