Showing posts with label The Haitian Diaspora. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Haitian Diaspora. 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.



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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Should it Mean to be Haitian in 2014 by Pascal Robert

"The white colonialists have never forgiven Haitians for the revolution of 1804, the first successful revolt against white supremacy. “The slander and degradation against us about our poverty, alleged political incompetence, and poor educational infrastructure is tied to the persistent desire of our historical enemies to wipe our revolution from our minds and the rest of the world’s.”

My decision to destroy the authority of the blacks in Saint Domingue (Haiti) is not so much based on considerations of commerce and money, as on the need to block forever the march of the blacks in the world.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

These words by Napoleon Bonaparte prior to his embarking to crush the revolution sparked by African slaves in what he then considered his French Colony, now known as Haiti, are of significant importance for several reasons. The most telling importance is that what Napoleon is sharing, as a man who is considered to this day as one of the greatest military minds in the history of Western Civilization, is that the his ultimate motivation was purely White Supremacy. The Haitians had already decimated a huge British military expedition, killing over 10,000 British soldiers in less than two months, and repelled incursions by the Spanish Crown. Napoleon was determined to keep over 500,000 Black people in bone crushing bondage in order to keep the lie of justified White domination over the affairs of the world alive.

The importance of Haiti in choking the life out of that lie forevermore has not ceased. What Haitian people must understand is that our existence and history as a people is rooted in being a painful and uncomfortable reminder to the Western world that on January 1, 1804, White Supremacy died a humiliating death, if at least for one day.

In 2014 our identity as Haitians should be grounded in knowing that the slander and degradation against us about our poverty, alleged political incompetence, and poor educational infrastructure is tied to the persistent desire of our historical enemies to wipe our revolution from our minds and the rest of the world’s. Every Haitian child that goes unfed, woman that goes uncared for, or school that goes unbuilt results from the persistent need to delegitimize our history, undermine our sovereignty, and destabilize our governments. The loss Haiti caused to the Imperial masters of the world has not ceased their undying need to punish us for our daring to be free. We cannot believe that merely because our revolution seems so removed from history that they have forgotten.
 Western powers will always chide us and say we Haitians need to “take accountability.” Yet when have they taken accountability for the treachery and perfidy they’ve sponsored within our governments? What accountability have they taken for the countless destabilization efforts over time? The accountability we must take is for not neutralizing the cowards and traitors who have denied us our completing the job that was started in 1804.

On January 1, 1804, White Supremacy died a humiliating death, if at least for one day.”
To further humiliate us, some of our enemies may ask:  Why are you in America, France, Canada and not back in Haiti if you care for it so much? To further remind such voices that we know our worth we should tell them that the reason the greatest of these nations, The United States, exists is because our ancestors mercilessly destroyed Napoleon’s army so thoroughly that, in economic desperation, he had to sell much of the land west of the Mississippi to Thomas Jefferson for less than 10 cents an acre. That sale doubled the size of this nation and allowed its westward expansion.

To be Haitian in 2014 is to know the world will try to write our obituary as a nation every January, the month that marks both our independence and the great earthquake of 2010. However, we cannot be distracted. An earthquake in time can be forgotten, but Haiti’s independence can never be.
To further mock us, scurrilous publications written by our [7]enemies take the glorious day of our anniversary to stigmatize Haiti for the tragic consequences of the West’s global choke hold: child poverty and servitude. Such strategic attempts on their part remind us how dedicated the enemies of Haitian liberty are to blotting out our victory. Throughout the world even lions of economic development like India still have child servitude rates that eclipse our own. It is doubtful that their independence day will be used for such mockery.

One of the ironies of being Haitian in 2014 is to know that while they always start off conversations about our country by saying how poor we are, contracts for billions [8] of dollars of natural resources [9] are being signed while luxury hotels and whole Islands are being turned into multi-million dollar tourist destinations. Of course, almost none of this will go to benefit our people. Robbing the poor is still quite in fashion.

While Western media always ramble on about how horrid and destitute life is in Haiti, narcissistic do-gooder White Savior types flock to our country to live in the lap of luxury – and then publish articles about how guilty they feel. [10] We wish these same people could have lived in the time of our founder, Jean Jacques Dessalines, so they could know how he would greet them.
Therefore, our identity as Haitians in 2014 should be a continuation of what it has always been. For, in truth, to be Haitian is to be a combatant against White Supremacy. It is our birthright and obligation. We can never again abdicate that responsibility because of external oppression or collusion from within.

L’Union Fait La Force

Source:  Black Agenda Report