Showing posts with label The Haitian American by Celucien L. Joseph. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Haitian American by Celucien L. Joseph. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Haitian American by Celucien L. Joseph

The Haitian American (Part I) by Celucien L. Joseph 
In this two-part series, we will provide a general overview of the Haitian experience in the United States. While Part I shall outline the coming and reception of Haitians in America, Part II will reflect on the integration and assimilation of Haitian Americans in the American society. Finally, considerable attention will be given to the various ways Haitian Americans have influenced the American life and created what we might term the "Haitian Way of Life" in America.

Haitian Americans

The name Haitian Americans refers to an immigrant, diasporic, and ethnic group composed of individuals who have immigrated from the country of Haiti to the United States of America, and whose children were born on the American soil. Like African Americans, Haitian Americans are a people of African ancestry and cultural heritage.  Enslaved Africans who were brought by Europeans slave traders in the Americas founded the land of Saint-Domingue-Haiti in 1804. After a 13-year of strenuous wars—commonly known as the “Haitian Revolution” (1791-1804)—against three major Western-European powers: Spain, Britain, and France—Haiti became the first postcolonial black-ruled state and second independent country succeeding the United States in the Western world. Precisely, the phrase Haitian Americans denotes individuals who have acquired US citizenship either by way of naturalization or natural birth. Arguably, the history of the Haitian immigration or diaspora  in the United States should be studied and understood from different angles—social, economic, and political factors— which had shaped the Haitian experience and  forced many native-born Haitians to escape oppression and poverty in hope to find a better life in the receiving country. The reality of the diasporic experience had played a major role as Haitians had to learn to forge a new transnational ethnic identity and culture, and new cross-cultural relationships and alliances in the land of resettlement. Haitians also had to adopt and regroup themselves relatively in large Haitian American ethnic communities across the states in search for survival, hope, opportunity, and political peace, as well as in the pursuit of the American dream. Because of the important place of revolutionary Haiti in world history and its historic contributions to slave abolition, human rights and freedom, Haitian immigrants came to the United States with a sense of dignity and racial pride of their heritage and history.


Chiefly, there are three peak periods of Haitian immigration to the United States. The earliest presence and settlement of Haitian immigrants in various US cities—such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans—occurred during the turbulent era of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) (Laguerre, pp. 2-3). The brutal period of the American occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) also drove many Haitians away from their native land to establish a diaporic enclave in Harlem, New York City, Boston, and to join family members in other Northern and Northeastern cities in the Union. Nonetheless, the mass exodus of Haitian immigrants to America occurred during the ruthless and oppressive years of the Duvalier regimes: François Duvalier (a.k.a. “Papa Doc”) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”), respectively in 1960-1971 and 1972-1986.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States received a substantial number of professional and highly skilled Haitians who either had been forced into exile or left the country voluntarily because of the Duvalier totalitarianism. Likewise, in the 1970s and 1980s, South Florida had received a significant group from the middle and lower middle class Haitian society. They settled in various communities in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and West Palm Beach. Today, the Haitian ethnic communities constitute a dynamic and visible presence in four major US cities: New York, Miami, Boston, and Chicago, contributing to the America cultural mosaic.

The plight of Haitian immigrants is widely known in the United States. It is estimated that “between 30,000 and 60,000 people were killed by state terrorism” during Papa Doc’s 14-year reign (Zephir, p.68); similarly, political corruption, state violence, extreme poverty both in urban Haiti and in the rural areas intensified under the Baby Doc despotic government or power. As a result,  undocumented  immigrants who became “The Haitian Boat People,” as they were called by the US media, in America in the second half of the twentieth-century—especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s—left their homeland for socio-economic and political reasons. During the Carter and Reagan administrations, the Haitian boat people were considered “economic refugees” and therefore were placed in various U.S. detention camps or prisons in various states to experience hardships, discrimination, isolation, and ultimately deportation. By contrast, Cuban immigrants who left their country for similar reasons were treated differently as “political refugees.” The Immigration and Naturalization Service (now known as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS]) granted political asylum relatively to all of them; Cuban immigrants also received financial assistance from the State of Florida and were given free cultural coaching and educational training on how to adopt and assimilate in the host land. Grass-root movements, human rights and humanitarian groups, and socio-political activists—such as the Congregational Black Caucus, the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops, the Executive Council of the AFLCIO, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs—had responded swiftly and criticized the US mistreatment of and racism towards Haitians and the violation of their human rights. Haitian boat people were never granted refugees status by the INS (Dash, p. 46).

In addition, in March 1983, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) accused Haitians along with homosexuals, intravenous drug abusers, and hemophiliacs as AIDS high-risk groups and for introducing and spreading the newly-discovered disease of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome; and Haitians were also labeled as disease-ridden Voodoo practitioners and illiterate immigrants (Laguerre, pp. 13-14). Haitian community leaders and activists  in New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, and Washington and other communities in the American society (both Black and White) were outraged and urged the Federal Discrimination Agency to “fight AIDS, not nationality” (Zephir, p. 81).  Like any other ethnic groups, Haitians are determined to stay in the United States and will not return to their home country; the Haitian American diaspora believes in the American promise and ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for all.