Showing posts with label Haitian Refugees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Haitian Refugees. Show all posts

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Haitian American: The Haitian Experience in the Diaspora (Part II) by Celucien L. Joseph

The Haitian American: The Haitian Experience in the Diaspora (Part II)


The Haitian Way of Life in America


Haitian Americans are a resilient people and attest to their ability to survive into mainstream America; as one writer has put it, “they have the ability to live through the best of times and the worst of times” (Zephir, p. 141). It is estimated that the population of the Haitian American diaspora is one million residents; it is commonly viewed as Haiti’s “tenth department,” as country itself is divided into nine governmental or organizational departments.  Michel S. Laguerre argues that the immigrant life of Haitian Americans is marked both by continuity rather than disruption, and rerootedness rather than uprootedness (p. 4). Haitian American ethnic communities are “a heterogeneous group, reflecting the various strata of Haitian society” (Zephir, p. 90). For example, poor Haitian Americans settle in areas of New York that are distinct from districts settled by the upper classes. Language is also important in establishing class distinction, color discrimination, and social segregation or alienation among Haitian American compatriots. Because of the social stigma attached to the Creole language, upper-class and light-skinned Haitian Americans insist on using the French language as a vehicle of achieving social mobility in the United States and isolate themselves from the predominantly lower class Haitians (Dash, p. 45).


The Haitian American diaspora actively engages itself in transnational ethnic practices and border-crossing cultural performances. For example, Little Haiti in Miami, an extension of the homeland, “represents the rerootedness of a large spectrum of the population of Haiti and constitutes one visible point of insertion of the diaspora in American society”—where different forms and manifestations of transnational practices and cultural traditions are more noticeable (Laguerre, pp.3-4). Religion and the Creole language are central to the Haitian American ethnic identity and cultural practice in America. Haitian Creole serves distinctively as a cultural marker, as Haitian Americans are the largest Creole-spoken immigrant group. As it is customary in the homeland, Haitian American religious services in both Protestant and Catholic Churches are conducted almost exclusively in Creole and French. Haitian Vodou temples can be found in various diasporic locations in Miami, Boston, Louisiana, and New York. In her anthropological fieldwork, Haitian scholar Flore Zephir observes that adherents to the Vodou faith attend services regularly; Vodou priests (ougans) and priestesses (mambos) conduct their routines privately in their homes, and they are known to the community where word of mouth (teledyol) is always a good source of information (p. 100). Vodou ministers provide healing to the faithful, comfort them in time of distress, and serve as cultural and spiritual advisors to various Haitian American communities. 


Haitian Americans form a vibrant cultural symbol and have a dynamic presence in the American life. They intermingle with white Americans and other ethnic groups such as African Americans and other Caribbean immigrants. In highly-concentrated Haitian populations such as New York, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, Haitian Americans have established their own businesses, clubs, music shops, money transfer companies, restaurants, community and cultural centers, etc. They also created Haitian media outlets— Tele Kreyol, Tele Diaspora, Tele Energie, Obri Blag, Piman Bouk, Radio Lakay, Radyo Pa Nou, Radio l’Union, etc.—and political and human rights organizations such as the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, the Haitian-Americans United, Inc. (HAU), the Haitian American Community Association of Dade (HACAD), the Haitian American Foundation, Inc. (HAFI), Haitian Women of Miami (FANM). They have their own multilingual newspapers—the Haitian Times, the Boston Haitian Reporter, Creole Connection, Haiti Observateur, Haiti en Marche, Haiti Progres—and scholarly journals and organizations—the Journal of Haitian Studies, KOSANBA, Haitian Studies Association, Le Club Haitien de St. Louis, the Association for Haitian American Development (AHAD), Haitian-American Professionals and Entrepreneurs (SHAPE)—which publish in Creole, French, and English.


Integration and Assimilation, and Impact on American Life


The ethos of the Haitian American life is full of complexity and paradoxes. Zephir has grouped second-generation Haitian Americans in three broad categories: (1) “those who display a strong form of Haitianess; (2) those who display a weaker form of Haitianess; and (3) those who have absolutely nothing to do with Haiti, the undercovers” (p.130). While the first Haitian immigrants—those who had immigrated to the states in their adolescence—to some degrees have managed to isolate themselves from the greater American society, second-generation Haitian Americans—those who were born in the US and had come here at an early age, before adolescence—are fully integrated and assimilated in the American culture. Second-generation Haitian Americans are more heterogeneous in their thinking, cultural practices, and lifestyle than the first generation; while they possess a native command of the English language and American culture, they are not fluent in Creole and well-versed in the cultural traditions of their parents’ homeland.  They are more comfortable in the American culture than in the traditional Haitian way of life. Those who have called themselves “African Americans” and not Haitian Americans do not exhibit a thick form of Haitianness and do not champion their heritage or history as their parents do. 


One can find a large segment of the second-generation Haitian American population who has committed itself to the Haitian community and cultural heritage as well as to the American cultural value-system and life, respectively. Haitian Americans had helped made this country a better place for all people. The Haitian American impact on the American society is substantial, and Haitians Americans have become “a significant component of the fabric of contemporary American society (Zephir, p.141). As any other ethnic groups in America, Haitian Americans have also achieved the American Dream. Among the well-known Haitian Americans are the Hip-hop artist and song composer Wyclef Jean, professional tennis player Victoria Duval, former center of the Utah Jazz Olden Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks center Samuel Dalembert, offensive tackle for the New York Jets Vladimir Ducasse, running back for the New Orleans Saints Pierre Thomas, soccer player for Sunderland Jozy Altidore, novelist Edwidge Danticat, artist and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, actress and model Garcelle Bauvais, politician and the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, Ludmya Bourdeau Love, former journalist and 1991 Miss America Marjorie Judith, the CEO to the label G-Unit Philly and rapper Marvin Bernard (a.k.a. “Tony Yayo”), former Massachusetts State House Representative Marie St. Fleur, municipal court judge in East Orange, New Jersey Sybil Elias, the well-known leading specialist in women’s cancer Rodrigue Mortel, the chairman and chief executive officer of Siméus Foods International, Inc. (SFI) Dumarsais Siméus, etc.  Furthermore, many Haitian Americans are currently serving in the American political life including Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, Florida House of Representative Ronald Brise, New York City councilman Mathieu Eugene, Kwame Raoul, Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul, etc. In various degrees and different ways, the Haitian American diaspora has made recognizable contributions in the American society.


Haitian Americans continue to contribute to the advancement of the American civilization and American democratic experiment—from Haitians fighting for American freedom in the American War of Independence in Savannah, Georgia, former Haitian slaves inspiring the American Civil War against slavery, to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, the “Founder of Chicago.”  On the other hand, the Haitian population in America continues to experience on-going challenges in the 21st century America. Haitian Americans in Miami, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia struggle to find employment, secure suitable housing, and support their children through school. The poverty line in the Haitian community especially in South Florida and New York surpasses any other ethnic group in the United States. The population does not have adequate educational preparation and training to meet the high demands of today’s technological age nor does it have the financial resources to afford adequate medical services and competent mental health that are culturally and linguistically sensitive. In addition, the American anti-immigrant political climate affects Haitian refugees and their families more than any other ethnic group in South Florida; subsequently, Haitian refugees continue to be subject to an indefinite detention policy. These areas are real challenges as we take into account in providing human services to and fulfilling the unmet needs of the Haitian American population in the 21st century.

 * The Haitian American (Part I) by Celucien L. Joseph

Further References

Dash, J. Michael. Culture and Customs of Haiti. Westport: Greenwood, 2001.

Flore, Zephir. The New Americans: The Haitian Americans. Greenwood Press: Westport, 2004.

Laguerre, Michel S. Diasporic Citizenship: Haitian Americans in Transnational America.

            New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

---        . American Odyssey: Haitians in New York City. Ithaca: Cornell University

            Press, 1984.