Miss Haiti Defends Her Post
ALLISON KEYES, host:
Next, we turn to a Haitian woman who's hoping to use her formidable talents to bring hope to her country. Sarodj Bertin is a lawyer. She's fluent in four languages and she's worked for the International Alliance for Haiti's Recovery. But tonight, instead of a power suit, she'll be rocking a fabulous evening dress, and she hopes a crown. Bertin is competing in the Miss Universe competition and she's the first Miss Haiti in 22 years.
She joins us now from Las Vegas. How are you doing, Miss Haiti?
Ms. SARODJ BERTIN (Miss Haiti): Hello, how are you doing? I'm great.
KEYES: Twenty-two years, wow, that's got to be kind of a great responsibility.
Ms. BERTIN: It is. It's an honor for me. I feel really privileged because I'm representing my country after all those years. So I'm just having fun. I'm enjoying everything and I'm working hard to make my country feel proud of me.
KEYES: Tell me how the pageant was brought back after all of that time. And how did you earn that title in a year where, you know, I mean Haiti has been so devastated by the earthquake? How did all this happen?
Ms. BERTIN: Yeah, actually, I was retired from modeling since three years when I graduated from law school. So I was walking out as a lawyer. I wasn't really interested in contests or anything. But I know the importance of the Miss Universe pageant. And I believe that it's a big promotion and it's the best way have publicity for the country, and my country needs it.
I do not know why they did the Miss Haiti exactly this year, but I thank the person that does it because it's an opportunity that they are giving to my country. And as the Miss Haiti representation, I'm going to do my best to use this opportunity to bring help to my country, to make people be interested in Haiti so they don't forget about us. And, of course, we thank all the international community for their help. But things are cooling down and people are forgetting that Haiti still needs a lot of help and we're still not recovered yet, you know?
KEYES: Yeah. I know that you've heard this before, but I have to ask it: You're a multilingual lawyer, you're 24 years old, you are so not the typical beauty pageant person. What made you decide: I want to be Miss Universe?
Ms. BERTIN: Yeah. You know, the reason I'm here in the contest, as I was telling you, is because I believe that this is a way to promote my country. I want to work for Haiti. Even if I have the opportunity to be Miss University, I mean that would be great and I know it would open a lot more doors for me and I could find help for my country.
I could be a bigger ambassador of my country. But even if I don't win the crown, I'm going to still do the same thing. I'll just have to work harder. And the reason is that I believe that this is one step forward for Haiti. I want Haitians to participate in the international competition as important as this one. It can be beauty competition, it can be artistic competition, intellectual competition.
But I want people to look at my country and see that we have talent, see that we have beautiful things and not only remember us for poverty or for crisis or for problems.
KEYES: Ms. Bertin, I know that people have given you a little bit of drama for representing Haiti in this contest. I mean you didn't grow up poor as some of the Haitians did. There are some people that have an issue with you having grown up in the Dominican Republic. And there are even some people that have actually implied that, because you are a lighter skinned woman, that you don't represent what they think the rest of Haiti looks like. I mean, how do you feel about this? Is it hurtful to hear?
Ms. BERTIN: No. You know, it doesn't hurt me because I know I'm doing a good job. I know I'm doing something for my country. And even those people that are saying that, if they're Haitian, I represent them also because I am Miss Haiti. And there will always have issues, there always are people that will like you or they will not, but you just have to do your job and make them feel proud.
I believe that being lighter skinned or not shouldn't be an issue, not these days. And of course they say that I'm not poor or I had a great childhood. Yes, my father worked a lot to give me good things. It is true. But who said that Miss Haiti has to be poor? Who said she has to be dark skinned? I mean I'm just doing my job. This is my title. I want it because I did my best to arrive to a name and I did it. So people should just look what I'm doing. They cannot just come and criticize me because they believe that it should be different.
KEYES: What happens after tonight's competition, win or lose, what are you going to do to help your country?
Ms. BERTIN: If I win the Miss Universe contest, I will have a bigger opportunity to promote the country. I will have bigger opportunity to find help for my country. If I don't win the Miss Universe pageant, I'm going to still work for Haiti. I'm going back to Haiti. I'm going to develop some projects, because there's a lot of people since I won that have asking me how can they help my country. Well, I want to give them the opportunity to really help my country and I'm going to do my best so they can do it all for my people.
KEYES: All right. Sarodj Bertin is Miss Haiti and will compete in the Miss Universe pageant. The competition airs tonight on NBC and she was kind enough to join us from Las Vegas. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
Ms. BERTIN: Thank you. Have a good day.
KEYES: You too.
Ms. BERTIN: Bye.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.