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Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County

Authors:
Immigration & Ethnicity
Institute
Center for Labor Research & Studies
Florida International University
Miami, Florida 33199
305 348-2371
305 348-2241 Fax
Civic Engagement of
Haitian Immigrants and Haitian
Americans
in
Miami-Dade County
Prepared for
Haitian American Foundation, Inc.
Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County
Kellogg Foundation
October 2001
Alex Stepick
Carol Dutton Stepick
Immigration & Ethnicity Institute
Florida International University
Philip Kretsedemas
Ryerson University
TABLE OF CONTENTS
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY......................................................................................................i
PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH.......................................................................................1
WHY CIVIC ENGAGEMENT?............................................................................................1
RESEARCH DESIGN..........................................................................................................3
Focus Groups ...................................................................................................................3
Intervie ws .........................................................................................................................4
WHAT IS THE HAITIAN COMMUNITY IN SOUTH FLORIDA? ........................................4
HAITIAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT ........................................................................................7
Positive Signs of Haitian Engagement...............................................................................8
Community Organizations...................................................................................................................................8
Voting......................................................................................................................................................................8
SITES FOR IMPROVING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT............................................................10
Haitian Youth.................................................................................................................10
School.............................................................................................................................12
Church...........................................................................................................................13
IMPEDIMENTS TO CIVIC ENGAGEMENT......................................................................14
Trust...............................................................................................................................15
Haitian Haitians versus Americanized Haitians..............................................................15
Social Class.....................................................................................................................16
Language........................................................................................................................16
Haitian-African American Relations ..............................................................................17
SUGGESTIONS FOR CIVIC LITERACY, SKILLS AND ATTACHMENT.......................17
Individual & Family Needs .............................................................................................18
Build Trust.....................................................................................................................18
Reinforce the Message ....................................................................................................19
Work with Churches ......................................................................................................19
Inform Parents...............................................................................................................19
Work with Schools..........................................................................................................20
Create More Activities for Youth ...................................................................................20
Link Resources Strategically ..........................................................................................21
Use Haitian Radio...........................................................................................................21
Tap Haitian Symbolic Culture ........................................................................................22
Recognize an Ambivalent Racial Identity.......................................................................22
Celebrate Hybrid National Identities..............................................................................22
Finding the Right Strategies...........................................................................................23
REFERENCES ..................................................................................................................25
APPENDIX.........................................................................................................................27
MODERATOR’S GUIDE..............................................................................................27
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
This research project has as its focus the assessment of barriers to civic participation in
Miami’s Haitian community. There is no doubt that the Haitian community would benefit if
Haitian civic engagement could be increased, if more Haitian parents attended PTA
meetings, if more Haitians participated in Homeowners’ and Neighborhood Associations, if
more Haitians started Crime Watch and neighborhood clean-up committees, if more
Haitian seniors participated in senior organizations, and if even more Haitians voted and
were elected to political office. Haitian participation in these activities would not only allow
service providers to deliver services more readily, but would also make more services
available as the broader community became aware of Haitian needs.
Our research reveals that Haitians are lacking on all three of the primary dimensions of
civic engagement: literacy, skills, and attachment. Civic literacy refers to knowledge of
community affairs and political issues. Civic skills incorporates competencies in achieving
group goals, and civic attachment includes a feeling or belief that individuals matter in
community affairs . The specific issue motivating this research, Haitians’ low levels of
involvement in local organizations, relates specifically to skills, i.e. competencies in
achieving group goals. But we believe that this particular problem also potentially relates to
the other two dimensions of civic engagement. Sometimes Haitians may not become
more involved simply because they do not know, i.e., they do not have the civic literacy;
or, they may not become involved because they are not civically attached, i.e. they do not
believe that their involvement will make a difference.
The Haitian community is not civically attached because Haitians do not constitute a
harmonious, united community. The Haitian community is divided by distrust and factions
based on friction between Haitian Haitians and Americanized Haitians, social class,
language, and ambivalent relations to the African American community. Accordingly,
many Haitians mistrust both outsiders and each other and usually believe that their
involvement in civic affairs will not make a difference.
In spite of the circumstances and forces that deter Haitian solidarity, Haitians still exhibit
the building blocks of community. For Haitians the extended family is fundamental. After
family, church provides a social network that is trusted and supportive. Information also
flows quickly through the community, both through informal, face-to-face networks of
family, fellow church-goers and friends, and especially through the Creole-language radio
broadcasts.
Moreover, Haitians have recently demonstrated considerable civic literacy skills in
electoral politics. Two municipalities in Miami-Dade County, El Portal and North Miami,
now have Haitian mayors and Haitian majorities on their city councils. They have also
demonstrated civic attachment in other areas. Unprecedented numbers cooperated with
the 2000 U.S. Census, providing a more accurate count of the numbers of Haitians and a
firmer basis for assessing their needs. Haitian service agencies have begun to cooperate
both with each other and with non-Haitian agencies.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
ii
The research identified three particular areas where we believe efforts should be focused
on improving civic attachment: youth, schools and the church. The number of Haitian
youth ensnared by gangs, drugs, teenage pregnancy or simply the lure of the streets as
opposed to school increased dramatically in the 1990s. While the vast majority of Haitian
youth are not in gangs, all Haitian youth have been Americanizing by adopting styles and
behaviors that their parents and other Haitian adults consider inappropriate. The result is
frequent and often intense parent-child conflict. Nevertheless, we discovered the youth still
value their Haitian culture and want to be civically attached. They need ways to develop
their civic skills and their parents need civic literacy concerning the processes of
Americanization.
The concern for youth indicates how important schools are and can be in the Haitian
community. Outside the family, schools are the most intensive, prolonged and
programmatically continuous social institution for adolescents, almost all of whom spend
six to seven hours a day, nine months a year in schools. The Miami-Dade County Public
Schools (MDCPS) have been trying to respond to the particular needs of the Haitian
community since the 1980s and have made significant strides. Nevertheless, the schools
can still advance further the civic literacy, skills and attachment of Haitian parents and
students.
Previous research has documented that Haitians are extraordinarily religious. Numerous
Haitians report that the one person whom they trust outside of their family is their priest or
pastor. Accordingly, Haitian churches can be a key vehicle for promoting increased Haitian
civic literacy, skills and attachment.
Although this research was not concerned with identifying needs, people often did bring
up particular needs they felt should be addressed. Nearly always these were specific
areas related to individual and family needs, such as housing, youth mentor programs,
and education. These immediate needs are the ones that should be addressed first, rather
than more abstract concerns such as the good of the Haitian community. Moreover, the
Haitian community in the U.S. does not have a history of partisan ideological politics.
Unlike African Americans, most Haitians, especially those who immigrated to the U.S. as
adults, do not necessarily view, for example, the Democratic Party as more supportive of
the needs of minorities. The politician who addresses the multiple and immediate pressing
needs of individuals and families will receive the most support.
The first and most important key to engendering greater Haitian civic attachment is to
increase trust among Haitians, a task much easier said than done. Haitians tend to be
cynical about activities that claim to be for the good of the community. Agencies must
demonstrate through their actions that they or their personnel are not the prime beneficiary
of their services or funding. Distrust will not be overcome with a single event or even one
long term program. Haitians' cynicism and suspicion is based in nearly two centuries of
history. It will take repeated reinforcement of examples of organizations actually delivering
desired services, of incorruptible politicians. Moreover, a single negative example of
incompetence or a return to corruption can more than counterbalance numerous positive
examples.
The research did not seek to construct specific strategies that would produce greater
Haitian civic engagement. Nevertheless, although not stressed but alluded to by our
informants, many of the strategies commonly used by American organizations are less
likely to work in the Haitian community. Because of their distrust, language difficulties, time
constraints, sense of discrimination, and the lack communication between youth and
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
iii
parents, Haitians do not conform to the expectations of strategies that include public
meetings, call back, public leadership or committee structures. While finding innovative
strategies is beyond the scope of this study, we do suggest:
Ø Engaging social service agencies in discussions with coalitions of religious
leaders
Ø Engaging churches in activities that would raise civic literacy
Ø Engaging youth in civic attachment activities at schools and in their churches
Ø Providing youth with programs outside of school that are sanctioned by their
churches and that will build civic engagement skills through group participation.
Ø Providing Haitians forums to talk about issues surrounding adaptation to the U.S.
Pulling small groups together for civil conversation, such as we did with focus
groups, seems to give Haitians a way to express their civic literacy and skills and
thus promote civic attachment.
Helping Haitian immigrants and their children to become more active players in the
civic arena of their adopted country will move the community in all its diverse forms
closer to providing for its own needs and contributing to greater social good.
Civic Engagement of
Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans
in
Miami-Dade County
This report is a product of an agreement between Alex Stepick and Carol Dutton Stepick
of the Immigration and Ethnicity Institute (IEI) of Florida International University and both
the Haitian American Foundation, Inc. (HAFI) represented by then Executive Director,
Leonie Hermantin, and the Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County, Inc. (HSC)
represented by Daniella Levine. The purpose of the agreement was to conduct research
on Civic Engagement of Local Communities of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans
in Miami Dade County. This document constitutes the final report referred to in the
agreement.
PURPOSE OF THE RESEARCH
This research project has as its focus the assessment of barriers to civic participation in
Miami’s Haitian community. It is not an overall assessment of the needs of Miami’s
Haitian community. The original proposal to the Kellogg Foundation conceived of a
standard needs assessment. Preliminary research, however, revealed other researchers
already performing needs’ assessments. Moreover, HAFI recognized that a prime
obstacle to meeting Haitians’ needs are the low levels of civic engagement and basic
participation of Haitians in voluntary organizations and community development projects.
Our specific focus is to discover the obstacles to Haitian participation in civic and political
arenas. We argue that higher levels of such participation are critical to obtaining service
delivery at both the community and individual levels. We warn the reader that this report is
a research report, not a plan of action. Research of this type does not necessarily translate
directly into concrete strategies and solutions, but it can offer insights and perspectives.
WHY CIVIC ENGAGEMENT?
Originally, HAFI proposed to conduct a standard Needs’ Assessment for the Haitian
community that would focus on predetermined needs such as health, housing, and
employment. After extensive discussions with Leonie Hermantin, we agreed upon a
different approach. This project does not take the standard approach for three reasons: 1.
needs in the Haitian community are either being or have been assessed to some degree
by others; 2. Haitian reluctance to become civically engaged deters the assessment of
needs since on the whole Haitians are frequently not open with researchers and are not
readily accessible to large scale surveys assessing levels of need; and 3. Increasingly,
service providers are acknowledging low levels of Haitian participation in programs
offering services that require attendance at meetings, call back, committee structures and
other cooperative or self-help activities. Not enough Haitians participate in the civic
activities that bear directly on their everyday lives. This very lack of civic engagement
thwarts efforts to address needs.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
2
Standard needs’ assessments of Miami’s Haitian community are already being conducted
by a number of researchers as are other related research projects. With funding from the
National Science Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Mellon Foundation, Spencer
Foundation, and U.S. Census Bureau, IEI has been conducting research with Haitian
youth and young adults on the subjects of academic orientation, religious involvement,
and civic engagement for the past six years.1 Presently we have a major project on
Immigration, Religion and Civic Engagement which is funded by the Pew Charitable
Trusts. We also have a small project on the impact of welfare reform, which includes a
small Haitian sample. IEI also conducted a Needs’ Assessment of the Haitian community
for the City of Miami in 1994.
The Kellogg Scholar/Practitioner Team under the direction of Dr. Marvin Dunn has been
assessing the impact of welfare reform on Miami’s Haitian Community. The National
Coalition for Haitian Rights issued a Needs’ Assessment in October 2000. Gilbert St.
Jean, a Haitian graduate student, has also recently conducted a survey to assess Haitian
health needs. Dr. Richard Beaulaurier and Dr. Mario de la Rosa of Florida International
University are directing a Haitian Juvenile Arrestees Project, which is part of the National
Demonstration Project of the Juvenile Assessment Center of Miami-Dade County. Finally,
the release of Census 2000 data has just begun, although detailed statistics on specific
groups, such as Haitians, will not be available until 2002.
While knowing the objective needs of the Haitian community is a prerequisite to
addressing them, our experience has taught us that enormous barriers remain to getting
the Haitian community actively involved in addressing those needs, whatever they are.
Haitians, as with many other immigrant communities (especially those with a large number
of undocumented individuals) are reticent to become involved in community activities such
as PTA's, neighborhood associations or more generally making their voice heard in the
public arena including assuming any sort of community leadership role. Non-involvement
is commonly attributed to cultural differences, e.g., most immigrants come from countries
that did not encourage or had no tradition of citizen involvement. There have also been
numerous cases among Miami Haitian organizations which have been accused of
malfeasance, failing to deliver services as promised or are consumed by management
turmoil . As a consequence, immigrants, and often those who fund Miami Haitian
organizations, frequently lack trust in local institutions and those who lead them. Others
attribute immigrants' alienation from local institutions to structural obstacles such as
language, insecure immigration status or lack of time because they are so busy working.
Our goal in this project has been to identify as precisely as possible what the obstacles to
involvement are for Miami Haitians. In fact we have been successful in identifying not all
but some of the major obstacles from the perspective of Haitians living in our South Florida
community.
Somewhat ironically, this report comes just after Haitians have achieved significant gains
in one area, local electoral politics where Haitians now are the elected leaders of two
municipalities within Miami-Dade County, El Portal and North Miami. While these gains
are important, community and voluntary organizations, such as PTAs, Neighborhood
Crime Watch committees and homeowners associations still struggle to achieve adequate
Haitian involvement.
1 These projects have also included African American, West Indian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and Mexican youth.
Having this comparative perspective helps us distinguish those factors that may be peculiar to Haitians from those
that are shared by other immigrant and native minority youth.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
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RESEARCH DESIGN
Although we offer some perspectives from outside the Haitian community, the
fundamental design of this project relies on a perspective from within, i.e., what Haitians
themselves see as the impediments to greater community involvement. We identified
potential participants in voluntary organizations, specifically homeowners, parents of
school-age children, church leaders and young adults as subpopulations of the Haitian
community that have potential opportunities for civic involvement but who have not yet
utilized them. The goal of this approach is to determine specifically what the obstacles to
involvement are for each of these subpopulations and what might be done to overcome
them.
For this, we proposed a combination of focus groups and individual interviewing. We
conducted a total of five focus groups of ten to 18 participants conducted with four different
subpopulations:
Ø Homeowners Association members (1 focus group)
Ø Church ministers (1 focus group)
Ø College students (1 focus group)
Ø Parents of school-age children (2 focus groups)
To complement this, we conducted intensive interviews with 15 individuals including both
representatives from these subpopulations plus others, such as service providers and
community leaders. One special subgroup was composed of young adults and
adolescents not in school.
Additionally we called on recent or ongoing research from other projects we are
conducting among the South Florida Haitian population to supplement the findings from
these focus groups and interviews.
Focus Groups
Focus Groups offer the ability to bring numerous people together for discussion
concentrating on a focused topic. They have enjoyed a surge of popularity recently in
social science research because they efficiently permit people to openly express their
opinions.
We conducted focus groups with: members of the Little Haiti Homeowners Association,
members of the Coalition of Haitian Pastors, Haitian undergraduate students at Florida
Memorial College, Haitian PTA member parents at John F. Kennedy Middle School and
Haitian parents with children attending Morningside Elementary School. All focus groups
were held at locations convenient for participants. For each focus group we developed a
moderator’s guide that addressed civic engagement issues and issues specific to that sub-
population (see Appendix for sample moderator’s guide). Dr. Terry Rey, an FIU faculty
member who lived in Haiti for a number of years and is fluent in both Haitian Creole and
French, moderated all the groups.
The focus group with Florida Memorial College students was primarily in English. All the
other focus groups were in Haitian Creole. All the focus groups were audio taped and
video taped and subsequently translated and transcribed in English. Focus group
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
4
participants were recruited by individuals working with each group.2 Each focus group
lasted approximately two hours. As can be seen in detail in the focus group moderator’s
guides in the Appendix, after an introduction that explained focus groups and our
research, each focus group addressed issues of civic engagement, but in ways particularly
relevant to that group. Thus, the focus group with Haitian pastors devoted extensive
attention to the role of religious institutions in the Haitian community, while the two focus
groups with parents of school-age children dedicated much more time to education.
Participation in all the groups was lively and the participants not only were reluctant to stop
after two hours, but asked for another focus group in the future.
Interviews
To complement the focus groups, we conducted 15 interviews with individuals who are
either connected with the organizations involved in the focus groups, young Haitian adults
who have shown some commitment to community or service providers and community
leaders. These individual interviews permitted us to include the opinions of particular
individuals whose opinions we felt were important, but who were not available for the
focus groups. We promised anonymity to whomever wanted it. Two Haitian youth chose to
remain anonymous and their names are thus not listed in the Appendix. As with the focus
groups, each interview was audio taped, transcribed and for the interviews conducted in
Haitian Creole they were also translated. The research did not have sufficient funds for a
survey, a method which is extremely difficult and therefore expensive among Haitians .
We also made use of data from related research. The Stepicks have been conducting
research in the Haitian community for over 20 years. Dr. Kretsedemas is a part of Dr.
Marvin Dunn’s Kellogg Scholar/Practitioner team and was involved with the Haitian
community when he worked for the Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County. The
Stepicks conducted a more traditional needs assessment of Miami’s Haitians in 1994 and
collected data on needs in the 1980s when they conducted the first and still only
representative sample survey of recently arrived Haitians in South Florida. Since the mid-
1990s they have been conducting a longitudinal project with Haitian youth that followed
high school freshmen through high school and beyond to their post graduation years.
Currently, they are engaged in a major research project supported by the Pew Charitable
Trusts that is examining Religion, Immigration and Civic Engagement in Miami. These
other projects also informed this particular research.
WHAT IS THE HAITIAN COMMUNITY IN SOUTH FLORIDA?
2 The Little Haiti Homeowners were recruited by Sam Diller who is a staff person at the Little Haiti Housing
Authority. The focus group with church ministers was conducted after one of the monthly meetings of the
Conference of Haitian pastors. Pastors were given the option of staying for the focus group or leaving before it
began. The college students were recruited by a fellow Haitian student at Florida Memorial College who also
subsequently transcribed the focus group. The parents of school-age children were recruited by the Haitian
outreach workers at each of the two schools. The John F. Kennedy Middle School focus group was conducted
with PTA members and the President of the PTA, Daphne Dominick, helped tremendously. Morningside
Elementary, in contrast, does not have an offic ial PTA, but the Principal, who is Haitian, and the Haitian outreach
worker have organized parent meetings every Wednesday morning. All participants were paid for their participation
and provided with food before the focus group.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
5
According to the 2000 Census, between 1990 and 2000 the number of Haitians in Florida
more than doubled to 267,689. Other sources estimate higher numbers. Officially Florida
now has more than a third of all Haitians in the U.S., outpacing New York the previous
primary concentration of Haitian settlement in the U.S. . Since the late 1950s, when much
of Haiti's educated elite fled the François Duvalier regime, New York had been considered
the nation's Haitian epicenter, economically and politically. Since the 1970s and especially
after 1980 Florida's Haitian population has been growing and has now finally surpassed
that of New York.
Nevertheless, while the Haitian presence has increased, the Haitian community has
continually struggled to be recognized, to have its voice heard and to become integrated
into South Florida. Life for Haitians in the U.S. has tended to be dominated by struggle,
struggle against a discriminatory immigration policy and struggle against ubiquitous anti-
Haitian prejudice. For a very large proportion of Haitians their focus in the U.S. is
commonly on surviving and getting ahead more than on civic involvement.
While the increase in numbers is significant, even more important is the change in
generation. Haitians have been immigrating in significant numbers to the U.S. for over 40
years. The original immigrants’ children are now adults. The presence of a second
generation of Haitians, who generally refer to themselves as Haitian Americans, is both
visible and influential. Increasingly, second generation Haitians are moving into positions
of power and influence, especially in the professions as they take advantage of
educational opportunities in the U.S.
The Haitian community is becoming more dispersed and more diverse. Haitians are no
longer concentrated almost solely in Little Haiti. As with other second generation
immigrants and many African Americans, most economically successful Haitians no
longer live in their original neighborhood. As Haitians have accumulated capital, often
through working two or more jobs, they have moved out of Little Haiti and they maintain
only tenuous ties to the area that has the largest concentration of Haitians. In fact, there
have always been Haitians outside of Little Haiti, especially those who were professionals
and middle class before emigrating from Haiti. In the last decade, however, the numbers
of professionals, middle class, and successful working class Haitians has expanded
dramatically. Many middle class Haitians are moving to South Florida from other parts of
the U.S. and to a smaller extent from Canada and Europe. They bypass Little Haiti
completely, moving directly to more affluent suburbs primarily in southwest Miami-Dade
County or western Broward County. Working class Haitians who have stable employment
are also moving out of Little Haiti into North Miami and North Miami Beach. Some feel that
Little Haiti is no longer the heart of the Haitian community. “Little Haiti no longer exists,”
said Leslie Prudent, North Miami Adult Education Center principal. “It was a dream to have
a community, a collectivity called Little Haiti. Now it is less than when they dreamed it was
here, 125th St. is the center, not 54th” .
It is often taken for granted that we know what the Haitian community is. We do know, for
example, how many people on the Census indicated they were born in Haiti or claim to be
of Haitian descent. But Haitians well know, and it has been demonstrated by previous
research, that the "Haitian community" is amorphous and seldom unified. Haitians have
not always had, and some would argue have never had, a sense of solidarity. In their
homeland, they did not suffer the apartheid nor the consequent struggle for civil rights
familiar to African Americans in the U.S. In the U.S. class divisions imported from Haiti
have generally mitigated against a unified Haitian community. Few of the middle and
professional class Haitians have felt sympathy toward let alone joined the fight of the
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
6
majority of Haitians who have fought for immigration rights. Throughout the 1980s and
1990s, most successful Haitians did not actively express support for the Haitian “boat
people,” the relatively poor, recent arrivals who were struggling for entrance to the U.S.
and the same treatment that was commonly accorded refugees from Cuba. There were,
of course, middle class and professional Haitians who sought to help the broader Haitian
community. Haitian community and activist organizations are generally led by such
people. But, in contrast to Miami’s Cuban community, there are many “invisible” Haitians
whose involvement in the “Haitian community” is limited to family and close friends. In fact,
the only time that all Haitians united was in 1988 when the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) refused to accept blood donations from any one of Haitian descent. The upper and
middle class Haitians on this occasion could not distance themselves from other Haitian
immigrants. The FDA banned everyone’s blood, not just those who were poor or came by
boat. Haitians from all social classes mobilized quickly and effectively to convince the FDA
that the ban was both unscientific and discriminatory . Moreover, although the majority of
Haitians in south Florida have great economic difficulties, they are still doing better than
the majority of the population back in Haiti. Thus, those who do feel inclined to help the
Haitian community, often feel they can make more of a difference in Haiti than here.
While most people we interviewed simply presumed the existence of the Haitian
community, the young people we interviewed in particular often did not have a well
developed sense of their community being specifically a Haitian community. When asked
what community meant, Sawa, a young Haitian woman, explained, “Community is [people
with] different types of background coming together and living in a place, raising kids. A
place with different kinds of people. That's a community. People interact with each other.”
Edner indicated community is, “Another part of your home,” meaning “Family, friends. I
know community is a big part in how you gonna’ turn out in the future. If you grew up in a
bad neighborhood, most likely you're going to be used to stuff like that. Like the stuff you
being around. In the future you might want to do stuff like that. But, if you grew up in a
quiet, good neighborhood, when you see bad stuff you won't be tempted doing that. You
know, you're not used to that.” These Haitian youth have only a loose sense of and even
weaker identification with their community. They speak in abstract terms of potential
impact, not in the concrete specifics of what the Haitian community means to them.
In spite of the circumstances and forces that deter Haitian solidarity, Haitians still exhibit
the building blocks of community. For Haitians family is fundamental. Haitians put family
first and they define family as the large extended family, including distant cousins and
occasionally people who are not actually related by kinship. After family, church provides a
social network that is trusted and supportive. Individuals often have leadership roles in
their churches that are invisible to outsiders. Information also flows quickly through the
community, both through informal, face-to-face networks of family, fellow church-goers
and friends, and especially through the Creole-language radio broadcasts.
In short, the Haitian community is not a solidarity. It is not a unified force, except when
confronted by extreme, pervasive prejudice such as when the FDA refused to accept
blood donations from anyone of Haitian descent. Accordingly, many Haitians mistrust both
outsiders and each other, such as those from different political factions or even from
different churches. Yet, there remains the possibility of a broad Haitian community, even if
it arises primarily in response to discrimination. More immediately, segments of the Haitian
community, such as extended family networks and fellow church-goers, do cooperate and
identify with one another.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
7
HAITIAN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
The particular issue that motivated this research was the difficulty in getting Haitians to
become involved in local voluntary organizations, such as PTAs or community
development projects. This type of involvement generally falls under the label of civic
engagement. Concerns have arisen recently whether civic engagement is declining for
everyone in the U.S. Most notably Robert Putnam has argued that the U.S. faces a civic
crisis today in terms of all young people’s civic disengagement. Others have countered
that civic engagement has not declined but has simply changed in nature . For example,
while people are less likely to read newspapers (one of Putnam’s indicators of decline),
many instead get news from other sources such as TV and now the internet . Youth voting
is low but volunteerism is at an all-time high . The debate has spurred new research.
Numerous private foundations have launched initiatives aimed at youth civic engagement
including the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, Pew
Charitable Trusts, and William T. Grant Foundations. And, there have appeared two
special issues of journals devoted to the topic .
This recent research concerning civic engagement in the U.S. in general reveals the many
dimensions of civic engagement. It is not only voting in elections or knowing who your
elected officials are. It includes civic literacy, skills, and attachment. Civic literacy refers to
knowledge of community affairs and political issues. Civic skills incorporates competencies
in achieving group goals, and civic attachment includes a feeling or belief that individuals
matter in community affairs . The specific issue motivating this research, Haitians’ low
levels of involvement in local organizations, relates specifically to skills, i.e. competencies
in achieving group goals. But we believe that this particular problem also potentially relates
to the other two dimensions of civic engagement. Sometimes Haitians may not become
more involved simply because they do not know, i.e., they do not have the civic literacy;
or, they may not become involved because they are not civically attached, i.e. they do not
believe that their involvement will make a difference. This last characteristic is particularly
relevant to Haitian history.
Coming from one of the least democratic heritages in the New World, Haitians have little
experience with civic involvement. The demise of the Duvalier regime in 1986 infused
great hopes in Haiti for both democracy and development. The instability and seeming
anarchy that have periodically engulfed Haiti ever since have reinforced a cynicism and
distrust of politicians specifically and civic action more generally.
In Miami, rather than being welcomed as Cubans have been, Haitians have encountered
rejection at every turn. Cubans have never had to struggle to obtain a legal immigration
status. The U.S. automatically extends permanent resident status to any Cuban who has
been in the U.S. for one year, regardless of whether they entered legally or illegally. In the
1960s and 1970s, the U.S. government even paid the airfare for Cubans emigrating to the
U.S. In contrast, the U.S. government has consistently worked to bar Haitians from
entering the country irregularly. The interdiction by boat of immigrants attempting to enter
the U.S. was created specifically for Haitians. The policy of imprisoning undocumented
immigrants in special detention centers was spurred by anti-Haitian fears. The U.S. has
spent more per capita on Cuban refugees than any other group, including African
Americans, has ever received. Miami-Dade County schools, the County hospital and local
law enforcement agencies received millions of dollars to assist in the resettlement of
Cuban refugees. Only a particular group of Haitians who arrived in 1980 at the same time
as the Mariel boatlift have ever received benefits comparable to those available to
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
8
Cubans. The recertification of Cuban professionals, from doctors and lawyers to
accountants and nurses, was subsidized by the U.S. government. Haitians have received
no comparable financial aid, except for a small program at Miami-Dade Community
College for local high school graduates who lack a legal immigration status. Cubans have
been hailed as model minorities, while Haitians have been inaccurately stigmatized as
carriers of AIDS. The experiences of racism urge identification with African Americans. At
the same time, prejudice specifically against Haitians, some of it on the part of African
Americans, isolates them further. Haitians thus have confronted tremendous
discrimination. While both Cubans and Haitians have fled poor countries and oppressive
regimes, the U.S. government has welcomed the Cubans (as it has other refugees fleeing
from communism such as Vietnamese) and rejected the Haitians .
Under these circumstances, Haitians have ample reason to avoid civic engagement. We
might even expect Haitians to be an invisible minority that attempts to avoid all contact
with the broader society and specifically be fearful of civic engagement. Haitians, however,
are decidedly interested in civic issues. Haitian radio programs are filled with talk shows
that address both issues in Haiti and those in the U.S. Everyone we interviewed,
nevertheless, argued that Haitians must become more civically engaged; that they need to
move beyond talk to action; and that they should strive to emulate the political successes
of Miami’s Cuban community.
Positive Signs of Haitian Engagement
While Haitians certainly do not have power comparable to Miami Cubans, there are also
indicators of Haitians’ willingness and desire to combat prejudice and discrimination and to
make their voices heard within and beyond Miami’s Haitian community.
Community Organizations
In 2000, a mental health task force was formed that included HAFI, Haitian Support Inc,
FANM, Department of Children and Family, and the Health Department to target, among
others, at-risk girls. Haitian agencies also got together recently with Hispanic and other
non-Haitian agencies to form a task force dealing with problems of elderly Haitian
immigrants. Participating groups included The Little Haiti Housing Task Force, Miami-
Jewish Home and Hospital Channeling program, Alzheimer’s Association - Greater Miami
Chapter, HAFI, the Florida Department of Children and Families, the Center of Information
and Orientation and the Haitian Organization of Women. Haitians are also increasingly
obtaining important appointed positions in local government and the school district. There
are more than a dozen local Haitian-American professional groups, from nurses to
engineers. The Haitian American Medical Association now holds annual meetings. And
young, bright and talented Haitian-Americans are speaking out and organizing through the
Society of Haitian-American Professionals.
Voting The most notable civic engagement achievements have been the election of Haitian
officials. The City Council in the small village of El Portal was the first to elect Haitians.
More recently, this has been complemented by the election of Philip Brutus to the State of
Florida House of Representatives and the election of a Haitian majority city council and
Haitian mayor in the city of North Miami.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
9
In all these elections, ethnicity was a key factor in voting. In the late 1990s, Haitian activists
combed the Miami-Dade County voter roles to find the State legislative districts with the
highest concentration of Haitian-like names. While the candidates failed the first time
around, by the year 2000 they achieved success. They have formed the Haitian
Association of Elected Officials which counts ten members.
The candidates emphasized their Haitian origins. Joe Celestin, the Mayor of North Miami,
was quoted in the Miami Herald during his campaign as claiming that "North Miami
belongs to the Haitians." He now disavows the quote, declaring that what he really said
was " that if Haitians are going to continue moving into North Miami at the same rate they
are moving now, based on the question I was asked by the reporter, in 10 years North
Miami could be for Haitians what Hialeah is for Hispanics." 3
While the Haitian adults in our projects are proud of their newly elected officials, the
Haitian youth expressed high levels of cynicism and disillusionment toward politicians in
the U.S. In our focus groups, Haitian youth seized upon the One Florida Initiative, a
movement within the State of Florida to repeal affirmative action in education, as an
example of political discrimination and hypocrisy. Will expressed the feelings several other
participants held toward the current Governor of Florida and ostensible author of the One
Florida Initiative, “That’s why Black people need to stick together as one. I don’t like Jeb
Bush. That’s the way I feel about that. He lied. He’s a liar. He lied to get in office. Let me
tell you what these governor people do to get in office. They lie. They tell you they gonna
do this and that, but they’re not going to do it. Then when they get in office they forget
about what they said.”4
The Haitian youth we have studied generally agreed that their one vote could not make
any difference. For example, Nadege said, “I mean, I think y’all’s vote don’t change
anything. The decision already made. It’s just like a game you know.” Erica attributed the
reason she doesn’t vote to her mistrust of politicians, “I ain’t fixin’ to vote for somebody and
then when they get in office they be messing up, you know. I’ll be mad. I’d be saying,
‘dang, if I wouldn’t have vote they wouldn’t have won.’ Well, probably they would’ve won
anyways. But still, they be lying and I don’t know why should I vote for them. So, I be like
forget about it. So, I just don’t vote.”
The election of Haitian officials reflects a dramatic increase in Haitian civic engagement,
an increase that parallels the experiences of earlier and other contemporary immigrants to
the U.S. who politically vote as solid ethnic blocks. Irish in Boston and Jews in New York
City came to power 100 years ago through ethnic block voting as have Cubans more
recently in the Miami area . At the same time, the continued alienation of Haitian youth
parallels American youth who generally are disengaged from politics in their teens and late
twenties, but who become more engaged as they finish their education, obtain steady
employment and form families .
The advance in Haitian civic engagement in electoral politics was foreshadowed in 2000
when many more Haitians cooperated with the Census than had occurred in 1990. The
U.S. Census Bureau in cooperation with local governments undertook unprecedented
3 Hialeah was the first municipality in Miami-Dade County to elect a majority Cuban city council and mayor. It is
generally viewed as the quintessential Cuban immigrant city.
4 The One Florida Initiative to eliminate Affirmative Action in the state's universities was one of Governor Jeb
Bush's first initiatives after being elected. It generated a tremendous backlash among the state's Black population,
both African Americans and immigrant Blacks.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
10
efforts to encourage new immigrants to cooperate with the Census. Many cities spent
thousands of dollars on notices enclosed with utility bills, giveaways at block parties, and
advertisements on radio in Haitian Creole and other languages . The Census Bureau also
hired local Haitians to assist with outreach. The general message was that the Census
was critical in determining the distribution of federal funds and thus central to aiding the
Haitian community. The results were impressive as cooperation rates were much higher
than in 1990 implying that many Haitians believed they might be helping their community
by cooperating.
These positive signs are encouraging. The continued cynicism of Haitian youth, however,
cautions us not to be overly optimistic. Because the youth appear to be cynical, and
because they represent the future of the Haitian community, we want to pause on the
issue of Haitian youth.
SITES FOR IMPROVING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Haitian Youth
In 1994, when we last conducted a Needs' Assessment of Miami's Haitian Community,
concern for Haitian youth emerged as the overwhelming top priority. For this reason and
because Haitian youth represent the future, our report pays special attention to them. In
previous work throughout the 1980s, immigration status and jobs had always been the
most pressing concerns of members of the Haitian community as revealed by research.
Through the 1980s, Haitian adults and others, such as teachers and the police,
considered Haitian youth to be excellent students, always trying their hardest, and more
likely to be the victims than perpetrators of harassment and crime. But gradually a change
occurred.
First, in response to ubiquitous, unrelenting anti-Haitian prejudice and discrimination,
many Haitian youth became ashamed to be Haitian. They even covered-up, denied that
they were Haitian, trying to pass as Bahamian or African American. As a result, they often
come into conflict with their parents who want them to look, act and talk like Haitian
Haitians. As Richard a Haitian college student explained, "Your parents want you to go to
school with church clothes on. Those things don’t mix and so it’s hard to compromise
without cutting something off."
Even if they did become "cover-ups", many, even most, Haitian youth were still working
hard in school and staying out of trouble, but by the early 1990’s increasing numbers were
skipping school, dropping out, using drugs, and becoming involved in gangs. Haitian
youths initially formed gangs to protect themselves from harm and reaffirm their identity.
But some of these gangs evolved from a relatively benign beginning into violent and
criminal operations, according to Louis Herns Marcellin who is leading a study on Haitian
gang activity in South Florida. Little Haiti's crime rate has grown rapidly and the most
violent youth gangs in the 90s were Haitian. There are over twenty gangs in Little Haiti of
which five are engaged in violent criminal activities .
While the vast majority of Haitian youth are not in gangs, they still are a cause for concern,
especially to their parents. As Haitian youth acculturate to America, they adopt styles and
behaviors that their parents and other Haitian adults consider inappropriate. The boys
frequently wear the extremely baggy clothes, corn rows, and gold teeth of hip hop culture.
The girls dress more provocatively than would be acceptable in Haiti.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
11
Throughout our research in both focus groups and interviews, Haitian adults repeatedly
emphasized how their greatest concern remains the Haitian youth. As Pastor Vilot noted,
"While the parents are working hard to adapt to the American lifestyle, the kids are quickly
getting the American education by themselves. Therefore the pressure is now for the
parents to adjust to the kids as well, since they are being left behind educationally and
socially."
Haitian youth also come to understand American freedom and independence as meaning
the freedom to disobey one's parents. Corporal punishment has become a particular
flashpoint as many Haitian youth threaten to report their parents to the authorities if their
parents strike them. The parents often feel caught in a bind. For example, Marie, the
mother of a teenage Haitian boy who has been misbehaving, explains:
I feel caught up between two forces. On the one hand, I have to prevent the
police from coming to my doorstep, which means that I need to help my son
so that he does not engage in criminal activities. On the other hand, I have to
prevent HRS (Human and Rehabilitative Services, now called the
Department of Children and Families) from coming to my doorstep. This is a
really difficult situation for me.
The youth themselves, however, clarify that their behavior does not mean a rejection
either of their parents or of Haitian culture. Yves, who has adopted a thoroughly hip-hop
style with extra baggy pants, corn rows, gold teeth, and a bandana on his head, stated:
That (dressing hip hop) doesn’t mean you any less of a Haitian than the next
person that wear a tie and shoes like my father does. It's your pride and
knowing where you came from, where you going and how you have help(ed)
others, and by speaking Creole, by doing certain things, that’s how you know
a Haitian.
The key is whether parents and children can communicate. Louis, a recently arrived
Haitian student, who deplores the permissiveness of American culture adds,
(But) Haitian parents don't talk to their children. Children don't feel
comfortable with their parents. When they have a problem, they can't talk
about it with their parents. There is no respect for children. In the parents'
view, children never say something good.
Alan, who has been in the U.S. for two years, concurs, “Haitian parents are not friends
with their children. That can lead the children to do bad things.”
Suzanne, felt her mother treated her "like a little child too much." When asked if her
mother was behaving like a Haitian or an American regarding parental control, she replied,
Like a Haitian. She thinks like a Haitian in the old days. To her, a girl should start
dating at 21. This creates a lot of conflict between me and her. I am 18. She doesn't
think I should be dating. We argue. When boys call me at home, she doesn't like that.
But Suzanne herself is caught between two cultural models that define the adolescent
years quite differently, childhood in Haiti and emergent adulthood in America. Suzanne
sees it this way:
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
12
Children have too much freedom in the American culture. Way too much.
They take advantage of it. In the Haitian culture, I think children have too little
freedom. You can't do nothing. Like in the Haitian culture, they have been
living in school and church. They don't let you go out with your friends.
Some Haitian adolescent children actually perceive their parents' child-rearing practices as
potentially leading to downward segmentary assimilation. Marcelene, born in the U.S. of
Haitian parents, asserts, “Their authoritarian way drives you away from them. You can't
talk to them. This can lead you to do bad stuff.”
Children of immigrants may be in conflict with their parents, but they still feel that family is
important. They are caught in a contradiction. They want to advance their traditional value
of assuming responsibility for their family as they mature and move out of being
dependent. At the same time, they are absorbing the common American notion that
adolescence is a period in which individuals move from dependence to independence and
responsibility primarily for themselves. The conflict they embody does not reflect a
diminution of one’s feelings for family, but an intensification of negative ways of relating.
Children such as those quoted above all experience high conflict with their parents. Yet,
they all still care very much about their parents and they all recognize how important family
is to them.
In sum, the “problem” with Haitian youth is both cultural and generational. Haitian parents
believe their Haitian children are abandoning their Haitian heritage as they dress
differently, speak English, and are not as obedient. Haitian youth are indeed more familiar
with American culture than their first generation immigrant parents. To integrate and
succeed in the U.S., Haitian youth feel compelled to look, act and talk like Americans. But,
according to the Haitian youth, this Americanization does not diminish their feelings
toward their parents or Haitian heritage. Haitian youth seek to exploit American
“freedoms,” but they are not forsaking their Haitian heritage. In spite of the way they dress
and talk, in their hearts and minds they still love and respect both their parents and their
Haitian roots.
School
The concern for youth indicates how important schools are and can be in the Haitian
community. Outside the family, schools are the most intensive, prolonged and
programmatically continuous social institution for adolescents, almost all of whom spend
six to seven hours a day, nine months a year in schools. Schools not only provide formal
learning, but for many adolescents what they encounter during the school day structures
their peer relations, leisure activities and extracurricular learning .
In the early 1980s, there were constant calls for the schools to address the peculiar needs
of recently arrived Haitians. Some teenagers, for example, had never attended school
before arriving in Miami, although they were of high school age. There were few certified
teachers who spoke Haitian Creole and virtually no materials on Haiti or in Haitian Creole.
In general, there were few people working in the schools who understood Haitian
students. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) have been trying to respond
to the particular needs of the Haitian community since then and have made significant
strides. Each year there are more teachers and other personnel who speak Creole. In
schools with large Haitian populations, there are Creole-speaking personnel who are
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
13
charged with reaching out to Haitian parents. There is a special program for teenagers
who have not previously attended school. And, there are special workshops to inform and
sensitize teachers to the needs of the Haitian community. Haitian parents, for example,
applauded the special activities that some schools have for Haitian flag day. They all also
praised the Creole-speaking outreach workers in the schools.
Nevertheless, there still remains a significant gap between the needs of Haitian parents
and students and the available resources. Haitian parents, for example, emphasized to us
the importance of always having a Creole translator available for meetings. Marilene, the
mother of a middle school Haitian student, admitted, "The problem that you just mentioned
about not hearing English is so true. Sometimes I get invited to some meetings, I usually
do not attend because it’s going to be held in English, and I do not understand English, so
I just stay home."
Church
There is a major philosophy that I learned in Haiti, “God, Country and Work.”
Michelle, a nurse with three children
"Pastors represent the last big hope for the Haitians in Dade County." Herve, a Haitian
pastor.
Previous research has documented that Haitians are extraordinarily religious. Nearly 75
percent of recent Haitian immigrants in south Florida reported in 1985 that they attended
church at least weekly . About 40 percent of recent Haitian immigrants in South Florida are
protestants and storefront Protestant churches abound in Little Haiti. A few have had
explosive growth. “On almost every street corner in Little Haiti one can find a church
there are approximately twice as many today as there were ten years ago,” estimates
Rev. Jonas Georges. “If there is a storefront for rent, a church is the first to make an offer.”
One Baptist church has converted a huge, former textile plant in Little Haiti into an
impressive church. Several Catholic parish churches have very high Haitian attendance,
and the Haitian Catholic Center is still the most visible and important single religious
institution in the Haitian community.
Many of our respondents construct an important community in their church and
accordingly focus their activities there. For many, particularly the elderly, the church, is
their sole social extra-familial contact. But the church remains important for most Haitian
youth, too. Keisha, a Haitian, indicated that in his life, “To be honest with you, I care about
my church and my education.” Another Haitian adolescent, Evan, indicated that his most
important social interaction was that he “helps other kids study the Bible.” Similarly, the
church is where he finds out about activities in the broader world. “I hear from other
people. I talk to people about it, especially people in my church; my Sunday school
teacher." In general, Haitians trust their religious leaders more than anyone else outside of
their family.
Traditionally, Haitian Protestant churches have been more concerned with their followers'
spiritual than material lives. But recently, Haitian pastors banded together to form the
Conference of Haitian Pastors, which now has more than 80 pastors signed up. They
have begun a series of activities directly related to civic engagement. As one of the
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
14
founders of the Conference stated, "My philosophy is I cannot tell you to get saved or I
cannot tell you about Jesus Christ if you hungry. You cannot concentrate to hear that! If
you don’t have a place to sleepthat’s your primary problem." "For instance, it is
common in the church that if someone has HIV, they automatically ostracize that person
as if the person had to be involved in promiscuity to be in that situation. My philosophy is,
HIV does not limit who you are. It does not discriminate whether you come to church or
not. Whether you are in promiscuity or not ‘cause we have a lot of people…the wife may
be savedthe husband may not be. The husband messing around, brings it home."
Some pastors have local Creole-language radio and television programs in which they
argue that Haitian Christians should be involved in local affairs. As one pastor who has a
radio program related, “You hear me say a lot, ’Tell your pastors…this is for the
community. This is going to be good for your church.’ They also make the same argument
from their pulpits.”
Yet, we caution that Haitian churches should not be viewed as the perfect and only vehicle
for effecting civic engagement. While the recent organization of the Conference of Haitian
Pastors promises to civically engage more Haitians, they have a long way to go. Churches
remain overwhelmingly focused on their congregants' spiritual needs. Pastors can be
jealous of “sharing” their parishioners with other groups and are often very pessimistic
about community organizing.
Factionalism also exists among Haitian churches. The Protestant-Catholic divide may not
be as violent as in Northern Ireland, but many Haitians on both sides of this divide do not
trust people on the other side. While ecumenicalism is visible and probably increasing,
there remain many church leaders who view people who attend churches other than their
own as misguided or worse. The factionalism among Haitian churches is only one
example of the impediments to civic engagement that confront the Haitian community.
IMPEDIMENTS TO CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
The most frequently mentioned reason for why Haitian adults are not more civically
engaged was lack of time. Adults are too busy working, often both parents working two
jobs each and raising their families, to have time to go to meetings and participate in
events. Surprising numbers of adults are seeking further education, particularly English-
language skills. As with most immigrants and working class people, these time
commitments to work and family deter becoming involved civically. Yet, an overwhelming
proportion of Haitians somehow still find time to go to church.
Time is short for Haitians, but other factors determine why they spend the free time they
do have with family and at church instead of going to PTA meetings and participating in
other forms of civic engagement. The interviews and focus groups revealed five
impediments to civic engagement: 1. trust, 2. a split between first and second generation
immigrants, 3. social class divisions among Haitians, 4. English versus Creole language
as the appropriate language for young versus older Haitians, and 5. Haitian African
American relations.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
15
Trust
Numerous individuals commented on Haitians' cultural attitudes towards civic
engagement, specifically that Haiti does not have a history of individuals involved in civic
activities. The focus of social life is the extended family and the church. There is little
history, until very recently, of voluntary or social service activities. The government is
considered inherently corrupt. Miami's own history of prejudice against Haitians further
mitigates against developing a notion of civic engagement. In a basic sense, Haitians do
not become civically engaged because they do not trust others. In our research for the
1990 U.S. Census and for an earlier survey we conducted, we discovered that lack of trust
was the most important reason that Haitians did not cooperate. Following one of the
Haitians we interviewed, we titled our report to the Census Bureau, “What’s in it for you?
What’s in it for me?” Haitians relationships with people outside their family and church are
often governed by this narrow view of immediate instrumentality and self-interest. They
commonly do not trust that civic interaction can benefit the broader community. They
commonly presume that those who claim to act in the name of the broader community
really are advancing only their narrow self-interest.
Fortunately, there are examples of being able to overcome this distrust and convince
Haitians to participate. The Haitian staff in schools, particularly some of the outreach
workers, have succeeded in getting more Haitian parents to be involved in their childrens’
schools. The U.S. Census outreach achieved dramatic gains in Haitian cooperation. In our
own survey work, we accomplished the first ever random sample survey of a largely
undocumented immigrant population.
Haitian Haitians versus Americanized Haitians
"We are facing a unity issue in the Haitian community. The problem comes from our
leaders, those that were here before." A Haitian pastor.
Repeatedly we heard of a generational difference in leadership. The "old leaders," the
Haitian Haitians, were regarded with distrust, especially by those who are more
Americanized because they were either born in or primarily grew up in the U.S. The
Haitian Haitians tend to be individuals whose primary cultural ties are perceived to be to
Haiti. They are perceived to fulfill the stereotypes that generate the distrust described in
the previous section. They are presumed to be interested in leadership primarily as a
means to personal enrichment, both monetarily and in terms of ego. They are assuredly
perceived as not to be trusted and many feel programs advanced by first generation
immigrant Haitians are unlikely to be serious, unlikely to produce results and not worth the
effort and time involved in cooperating with them .
In contrast, we heard of a new generation of leaders, the Americanizes Haitians, who have
been more influenced by American values of community involvement. Sometimes the
division was referred to as Haitians versus Haitian Americans. Tending to be younger,
Haitian Americans have grown up in the U.S. and most importantly are considered more
likely to run an honest organization.
In a study of this kind, it is impossible to know whether this new generation of leaders is
indeed more honest and better at running organizations. Given the extensive discussion of
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
16
the issue, however, there is no doubt that a transition and struggle is occurring as younger
leaders are emerging to challenge the control of organizations by an earlier generation.
Social Class
"We can use the USA as an example and clearly see the way things are done. On the
other hand we can see that there is division among us Haitians. My brothers, there is
a lot of room for improvement. There is a lot we can do. Let’s work together and
abolish division." A Haitian Pastor.
Outsiders frequently presume that all Haitians are alike, that since Haiti is such a poor
country that everyone within it must be poor. Class differences within Haiti, however, are
fundamental. Unlike in the U.S. where racial and ethnic differences are often noted, in
Haiti everyone is aware of class. Referring to the bourgeoisie is common and its
implications are understood by everyone. Class differences have always riven Haitian
society and those divisions are carried with Haitians to the U.S. They are seen among
Haitians who insist that church services must be in French, not Creole. Similarly, some
people claim not even to speak Creole, but only French. They exhibit as much disdain for
the "boat people" as the Immigration and Naturalization Service that tries to bar their entry
to the U.S. They claim they have never been to Little Haiti and have no interest in going
there. They are as unlikely to engage in civic activities to benefit Haitians in Little Haiti as a
xenophobic American.
At the same time, many other individuals from this "bourgeoisie" class are leaders in the
Haitian community. They are the ones with the education and skills to run organizations.
Many of them have a genuine commitment to helping the Haitian working class, but
because of the history of class divisions they are still frequently not trusted. Indeed, when
leaders are attacked on Haitian radio, "bourgeoisie" is often one of the epithets that
supposedly implies that they cannot genuinely represent the interests of common Haitian
folk.
The one time when all Haitians in the U.S. were united was the incident already discussed
when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned blood donations from anyone of
Haitian descent. Both bourgeoisie and working class Haitians felt attacked and rallied to
protest and successfully engaged the American political system and bureaucracy to
reverse the decision. After that, however, most middle class and professional Haitians
retreated to concerns of their family and church and engaged little in the problems of the
majority of Haitians in Miami. It has proven very difficult to engage them in civic activities
that affect the broader Haitian community in Miami.
Language
The language of Haiti is Creole, a language that until recently was unwritten and without
standard spelling. While many upper class Haitians prefer and even claim to speak only
French, the language of informal, everyday speech for everyone born in Haiti, is Haitian
Creole. Haitian radio in the U.S. is almost exclusively in Creole. The vast majority of Adult
Haitian immigrants prefer Creole. Miami Dade County Schools and local government have
made great efforts and strides in providing materials in Creole, but few people are actually
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
17
literate in Creole. Fortunately, local government also tries to provide translators.
Nevertheless, many Haitian parents stated that one of the reasons they do not attend PTA
meetings is their inability to adequately understand English and the absence of translation.
In contrast, Haitian youth understand and usually prefer to communicate in English. Their
problem is the reverse of their parents. They become frustrated, particularly in church,
when everything is in Creole. In our focus groups, all the Haitian pastors agreed that one
of their most difficult issues is finding an appropriate language of service. A few are fluently
bilingual in Creole and English and can deliver sermons that meld the two languages. But
most are not sufficiently bilingual and they struggle to meet the different language needs of
both the Haitian adults and their children.
Haitian-African American Relations
Haitians have long had ambivalent relations with African Americans. African American
churches were the first to help the Haitian refugees to South Florida in the 1970s. African
American organizations, such as the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, and the
Urban League, led the struggle through the 1980s for equal rights for Haitian immigrants.
At the same time, some Haitians sadly maintain the same negative stereotypes of African
Americans held by white racists, that African Americans do not appreciate the
opportunities that exist in the U.S. and are therefore lazy. For their part, African American
youth in Little Haiti's schools demean their Haitian peers claiming they are dirty, ignorant,
and disease-ridden. Slightly more sophisticated ones, feel that recently arrived Haitians do
not understand the struggles that African Americans undertook and still undertake to be
treated with dignity and have equal rights. African Americans feel Haitians need to earn
their place in the U.S., as they did. They believe that Haitians, as people of African
descent, should join them and their organizations in the struggle rather than seek their
own political voice. In the recent mayor's race in North Miami, an African American and
Haitian opposed each other. The African American accused the Haitian of dividing the
community, while the Haitian claimed Haitians deserved their own representation.
Nevertheless, Haitians increasingly are becoming aware and appreciative of both the
significance of race in the U.S. and of African Americans' role in forging a place for Blacks
in the political arena. As one Haitian leader noted," Well I think, too, we as Haitian
Americans must be grateful to the African Americans because they have paved the way
for us. Without the NAACP, without many of the black organizations no black Haitian like
me would ever be in this position. It is our time now to embrace the African American
community, and to dislodge the perception that we are just here for ours and to work
closely with others to show we are one."
SUGGESTIONS FOR CIVIC LITERACY, SKILLS AND ATTACHMENT
There is no doubt that the Haitian community would benefit if Haitian civic engagement
could be increased, if more Haitian parents attended PTA meetings, if more Haitians
participated in Homeowners’ and Neighborhood Associations, if more Haitians started
Crime Watch and neighborhood clean-up committees, if more Haitian seniors participated
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
18
in senior organizations, and if even more Haitians voted and were elected to political
office. Haitian participation in these activities would not only allow service providers to
deliver services more readily, but would also make more services available as the broader
community became aware of Haitian needs.
We have seen grounds for both optimism and pessimism concerning future Haitian civic
engagement. At times, Haitians have engaged civically to influence and even reverse U.S.
policies, such as the banning of the donation of Haitian blood. Moreover, recently Haitians
have made dramatic gains in electoral politics. Nevertheless, many Haitians remain
cynical about politics, distrusting all forms of civic engagement. Haitians are also divided
by class, experience in the U.S., ability to speak English or Creole, religious affiliation and
ambivalent relations with African Americans, their most reliable allies in politics.
Our research has suggested some particular means and areas to address the
ambivalence and increase Haitian civic engagement.
Individual & Family Needs
As with any primarily low income, immigrant group, a significant sector of the Haitian
community has a broad range of issues that need to be addressed, including immigration
status, housing, health, education, and access to social services. Although this research
was not concerned with identifying needs, people often did bring up particular needs they
felt should be addressed. Nearly always these were specific areas related to individual
and family needs, such as housing, youth mentor programs, and education. These
immediate needs are the ones that should be addressed first, rather than more abstract
concerns such as the good of the Haitian community. Moreover, the Haitian community
does not have a history of partisan ideological politics as in the U.S. Unlike African
Americans, most Haitians, especially those who immigrated to the U.S. as adults, do not
necessarily view, for example, the Democratic Party as more supportive of the needs of
minorities. They are more likely to support a candidate who addresses their specific
needs. The election of Republican Joe Celestin as Mayor of North Miami demonstrates
that they are also more likely to support a Haitian than a non-Haitian. While the
Democratic party may be more sympathetic to many of the issues in the Haitian
community, the Haitian community itself is unlikely to respond to partisan appeals.
Whoever addresses the multiple and immediate pressing needs of individuals and families
will receive the most support.
Build Trust
The first and most important key to engendering greater Haitian civic engagement is to
increase trust among Haitians, a task much easier said than done. Haitians tend to be
cynical about activities that claim to be for the good of the community. When we did some
research for the Census Bureau on the causes of the undercount of Haitians, following
what one of our respondents demanded of us, we titled it, "What's in it for me? What's in it
for you?" They were not willing to believe that either our research or more generally the
U.S. Census Bureau simply wanted to help the Haitian community. Haitians sometimes
did not cooperate until our survey workers exasperatedly proclaimed, “I’m doing this to
work my way through college and I need you to cooperate!”
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
19
The Conference of Haitian Pastors has taken the approach of encouraging civic
participation by offering free services, particularly health fairs. As Pastor Vieux explained,
"First we try and let them see, 'Look, we are not trying to get your money, not trying to get
anything from you.' What we try to do is, we try to make you see…look we have a
community out there looking at us, who need help. It is our duty to begin with to do it by
joining with us, we do all the foot work. We’ll do all the paperwork."
If free services are to be offered, they must be something the community wants and
needs. Haitians will be distrustful of anything free, but will take advantage if they feel they
really can use it.
Reinforce the Message
Distrust will not be overcome with a single event or even one long term program. Haitians'
cynicism and suspicion is based in nearly two centuries of corrupt, undemocratic
government in Haiti. It will take repeated reinforcement of examples of organizations
actually delivering desired services, of incorruptible politicians. Moreover, a single negative
example of incompetence or a return to corruption can more than counterbalance
numerous positive examples.
Work with Churches
Religious leaders are probably the most trusted and therefore effective leaders in the
Haitian community. As one pastor announced, "If the pastor says something, Haitians
automatically believe it because he’s a man of God!" Leaders of the Conference of Haitian
pastors use their legitimacy to advance their civic engagement agenda. As one related,
"for example when I am on the radio, you hear me say a lot, ‘Tell your pastors…this is for
the community. This is going to be good for your church.’ So people go back and ask,
‘Pastor did you know such and such is going on? Do you know this is how they are looking
at it? Do you know this is what I heard them say?’ So they are working for us, too, to get
them to change.”
Inform Parents
There are others who also play key roles. Parents are, of course, the most important
influences on their children. Parent-child conflict has two sides as not only are the youth
frequently trying to escape parental authority, but also parents commonly do not know
what is appropriate or even permitted in American culture. Parents will always be a
resource for their children, but they can be much more effective if they are better informed
about American culture.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
20
Work with Schools
School personnel are another important resource. As indicated above, students spend
more time in schools than probably any place else, except perhaps home. Repeatedly, we
heard from Haitian students how particular teachers had a large impact on them,
sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Similarly, Haitian parents reported that the
Haitian staff in schools, particularly the outreach workers, were a tremendous asset.
In the 1980s and through most of the 1990s, the school system had great difficulty
reaching Haitian parents. It still has difficulties, but it is encountering more success. Hiring
Haitian personnel has been critical. Combining that with the use of Haitian radio can
greatly extend the outreach. Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) has a daily 10
minute program on the otherwise English-language local NPR station, WLRN. While this
resource is free to MDCPS, which owns the station, commercial Haitian radio has a much
larger audience.
Create More Activities for Youth
Since the early 1990s, the future of Haitian youth has been a primary concern
reverberating among Haitian adults. Our research reveals that they are not as alienated
from or as ashamed of their Haitian culture and community as many feared. They do want
to become more involved, but not necessarily in a typical or traditional way. As with nearly
all youth, they are especially unlikely to be involved in what might be called traditional civic
engagement areas, such as formal organizations and political activities. The one
exception, at least for college students, is Haitian student organizations. The University of
Miami, Florida International University, and Florida Memorial College each have a Haitian
student organization. The college students with whom we spoke would like to form a
Haitian umbrella student organization.
Other Haitian adolescents have more diverse ideas. One, a recent graduate of Harvard
who was scheduled to begin medical school in the Fall, took a year off to work with Vista in
an effort to help his community. Nearly all are involved with their church. Many of them
resent the "forced volunteerism" they need to do in order to receive their high school
diploma from Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Many would like the opportunity to do
more, but they do not know how to do it.
Some of the youth pointed out a resource that we would not have identified -- Haitian
gangs. They explained then when Haitians are picked on, especially by non-Haitians,
Haitian gangs jump to their protection. There have been programs in other parts of the
U.S. that have attempted to harness the energy and solidarity of youth gangs to productive
purposes. More immediately, the youth's reliance upon Haitian gangs to support them
reflects a problem with bullying and violence in Haitian neighborhoods.
The youth also recognize the negative impacts of gangs. Tai, a dropout himself, indicated,
“Like when I see them in the streets, when I see that they don't go to school, I say, ‘Hey,
how come you didn't go to school today?’ You know, I talk to them about that. I say,
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
21
‘Look, I don't want you to end up being like me. Now that I'm out of school, I can't go to
college. I want you to stay in school and focus on school’.”
Most Haitian youth did express a concern for and willingness to help their community, but
they wanted to help on their own terms, of their own volition. Following a national trend ,5
Miami Dade County Public Schools has a community service requirement for high school
graduation. The requirement affected all of our respondents and with few exceptions all of
them resented the coercion entailed. Consistent with the general proclivity of American
youth to prefer individual freedom, they want to decide, not be told, what civic engagement
activities to engage in. Much of their activity revolved around their co-immigrant
community, such as helping non-English speakers or helping migrants or senior citizens in
their neighborhood. About one-fourth had helped their peers through either peer
counseling or tutoring. At the same time, they admit that they are ignorant both about what
opportunities there are and how to take advantage of those opportunities.
Link Resources Strategically
Community organizations always have fewer resources than they need. To be able to
offer desired services effectively, they need to develop strategic links. The recent efforts to
bring together Haitian and non-Haitian agencies are a step in the right direction. These
should be strengthened. Consideration should also be given to ties with businesses that
have an interest in the Haitian community. Typically, commercial firms that have an
interest in the Haitian market are the most likely sponsors. These firms must be chosen
carefully, for if they are unscrupulous or have a tie to the organization, they will undermine
the reputation of the organization, too. If an organization conducts a public event, such as
a health fair.
Use Haitian Radio
There is no doubt that Haitian radio is the best way to reach the Haitian audience. Haitian
television does exist on cable, but only for a few hours a day. Haitian radio is around the
clock. Talk radio call-in programs are particularly effective for outreach. If anything, the
difficulty with Haitian radio is that there is too much of it. One must choose among
programs and stations, looking for hosts who are receptive and programs that have a wide
audience.
5These authors report that, “In 1984, 27 percent of high schools offered community service opportunities to their
students, and by 1999, over 80 percent of public high schools nationwide were doing so F. M. Newman and R.A.
Rutter, "A Profile of High School Community Service Programs," Educational Leadership, no. December/January
(1986). B. Skinner and C. Chapman, "Service-Learning and Community Service in K -12 Public Schools,"
(Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Educations, National Center for Education Statistics, 1999)..” However, a
much smaller proportion of schools requires community service. In 1999, only 21 percent of public schools for
grades 6-12 actually required it.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
22
Tap Haitian Symbolic Culture
Adult Haitians have always been proud of their roots. While many, perhaps even most,
young Haitians in South Florida were ashamed of being Haitian through the 1980s and
much of the 1990s, they now are becoming proud of their Haitian heritage, too. The
commercial success of the Fugees and Wycliffe Jean in mainstream American culture
permitted Haitian youth to express their pride. As a Haitian pastor stated, "For years kids
before Wyclef Jean were not so proud to hang a Haitian flag. After Wyclef Jean came out
with a flag on his back, all the kids start with flags." This has been reinforced and
supplemented by the schools, which have promoted Haitian culture, particularly Haitian
flag day, along with the emergence of local Haitian elected officials.
National flags are always emotive symbols that evoke pride in those who identify with
them. The difference is that now Haitian youth, along with adults, are willing to identify with
that symbol.
There are also other aspects of Haitian culture that carry symbolic significance and can
evoke a sense of community. Ethnic food also always evokes special sentiments. One of
the adults we spoke with maintained that he moved to Miami just so he could get good
Haitian food.
Finally, Haitian Creole has a special place in Haitian culture. Many people, including youth,
referred to speaking Creole as a sure sign of being committed to the Haitian community.
Programs for Creole literacy seek to promote literacy efficiently, but also they surely have
the consequence of reinforcing a sense of Haitian identity.
Recognize an Ambivalent Racial Identity
Complementing this national Haitian identity and sense of community are other,
overlapping communities that can also be emphasized. While Haitians do not come to the
U.S. assuming a commonality with African Americans, once here they learn the
importance of racial identity in the U.S. With experience and education, they learn of the
trailblazing struggle of African Americans and civil rights. As long as racial prejudice and
discrimination exist in the U.S., and they certainly continue presently in Miami, alliances
with African Americans will be important.
Celebrate Hybrid National Identities
Haitians are also increasingly adopting an identity as not simply Haitian, but also Haitian-
American. Increasing numbers of adults are identifying with America as they become
frustrated with change in Haiti. One of the Haitian elected officials explained, "Prior to
1986 most Haitians me personally we came over here with the intention of going back
home. After 1986, the Duvalier regime, the coup d'etat, all the political problems, the non-
stop violence, the change of government back and forth and due to changes in
immigration laws, around 1992 most of the Haitians decided to file for citizenship." As
one pastor proclaimed," We can use the USA as an example and clearly see the way
things are done." "There's one difference, though," says a Haitian boy, "in Haiti, Haiti
doesn't have a democracy...here you have a democracy, here you have representatives."
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
23
In our recent work with Haitian high school students more youth of Haitian descent
claimed to be Haitian-American than anything else. They embody multiculturalism as they
identify with being Haitian, Black, and American all at once, emphasizing different aspects
of their identity in different contexts.
All of these, being Haitian, Haitian American, Black or simply American, can be used to
bring the Haitian community together. The most effective symbols are likely to be the ones
based on Haitian national identity, the Haitian flag, music, food, and (for some people)
Creole. All of these evoke generally positive emotions and help create what Benedict
Anderson called the "imagined community" that constitutes a national identity. Although
not all Haitians know each other face-to-face (as is true for any national or ethnic group),
symbols of a common culture encourage them to feel a unity, a unity on which some forms
of civic engagement can be based. The identities of being Black and an American can
also be used. Our research among high school students revealed that a Black identity was
evoked in issues of racism and discrimination. Haitian youth and adults are likely to identify
with being American when contrasting the corruption and underdevelopment in Haiti with
American democracy and development.
Finding the Right Strategies
Service providers find their usual strategies for accessing populations have not been
working for Haitians. They have encountered difficulty getting Haitians to attend meetings,
call back, serve on committees, or participate in leadership training and other similar
activities. This research has attempted to understand the basic impediments to greater
civic participation by Haitian immigrants. The research indicated that three key areas for
improving Haitian civic attachment are in churches, in schools, and with the youth.
The research did not seek to construct specific strategies that would produce greater
Haitian civic engagement. Nevertheless, although not stressed, but alluded to in passing
many of the strategies commonly used by American organizations are less likely to work in
the Haitian community because of their distrust, language difficulties, time constraints,
sense of discrimination, and the lack of communication between youth and parents. While
finding innovative strategies is beyond the scope of this study, we do suggest:
Ø Engaging social service agencies in discussions with coalitions of religious
leaders
Ø Engaging churches in activities that would raise civic literacy
Ø Engaging youth in civic attachment activities at schools and in their churches
Ø Providing youth with programs outside of school that are sanctioned by their
churches and that will build civic engagement skills through group participation.
Ø Providing Haitians forums to talk about issues surrounding adaptation to the U.S.
Pulling small groups together for civil conversation, such as we did with focus
groups, seems to give Haitians a way to express their civic literacy and skills and
thus promote civic attachment.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
24
Helping Haitian immigrants and their children to become more active players in the civic
arena of their adopted country will move the community in all its diverse forms closer to
providing for its own needs and contributing to the greater social good.
REFERENCES
Casimir, Leslie. "Doors Locked at Little Haiti Discount Store." Miami Herald, October
23 1994, 10.
———. "Little Haiti Looking for Leadership Community Unsure About Its Direction."
Miami Herald, March 3 1997, 1B.
Crowley, Melinda. "Generation X Speaks out on Censuses, Surveys and Civic
Engagement: An Ethnographic Approach." Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census,
Center for Survey Methods Research, 2000.
Elliott, Andrea. "South Florida's Caribbean Population Has Almost Doubled." Miami
Herald, August 6 2001.
Flanagan, Constance, and N. Faaison. "Youth Civic Development: Implications of
Research for Social Policy and Programs." Social Policy Reports 1 (2001).
Flanagan, Constance, and Lonnie Sherrod. "Political Development: Youth Growing up
in a Global Community." Journal of Social Issues 54, no. 3 (1998).
Friess, Steve. "Florida Improves Census Response Rate over 1990, but Still Falls
Short of Goal." Sun-Sentinel, September 19 2000.
Gehrke, Donna. "Haitian Leader Reaps Rewards, Rancor." Miami Herald, August 6
1989, 1B.
Kleiner, Brian, and Chris Chapman. "Youth Service-Learning and Community Service
among 6th through 12-Grade Students in the United States: 1996 and 1999." Washington,
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Lennox, Malissia. "Refugees, Racism, and Reparations: A Critique of the United
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724.
Loescher, Gilbert, and John Scanlan. "Human Rights, U.S. Foreign Policy and Haitian
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McCleod, J. "Media and Civic Socialization of Youth." Journal of Adolescent Health 27
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Miller, Jake C. The Plight of Haitian Refugees. New York: Praeger, 1984.
Moreno, Dario, and Christopher L. Warren. "The Conservative Enclave: Cubans in
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National Coalition for Haitian Rights. "Taking Stock: Inside the Haitian Community in
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October 2001
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APPENDIX
MODERATOR=S GUIDE
Haitian College Youth
Civic Engagement
INTRODUCTION
Explain what focus groups are: who, what, why, etc. Explain that audio taping is for
report-writing purposes only. Entire discussion is strictly confidentialCno last names
needed. No right or wrong answers. It is important that everyone speak their mind. The
only ground rules are that we are polite and let a person have their say. It is perfectly
alright to respectfully disagree because there can be no right or wrong answers. In fact
the focus group is about hearing the full range of opinions represented by all of you.
Topic Introduction:
We have been asked to help figure out how Haitians can get more involved in their
community. We have been conducting research among Haitians in Miami for some time.
And, one of the aspects we have focused on is Haitian youth. Now, we have been asked
to apply our knowledge, to come up with suggestions on how to get Haitians more
involved in the Haitian community. But frankly, we don’t think we can do this without your
help.
Often statements are made by one group of people about another group of people
without really knowing either who they are or why they do what they do. Frequently, you
are never asked how you feel about things, but others assume to know. Today you have
the opportunity to make your feelings known. In fact, in many respects, you are like an
Advisory Board to us. We are here to find out what each of you really thinks about the
issues of community and society, so that we can write about it and tell the larger world.
I want to reinforce again that everything said here today is strictly confidential. There are
no right or wrong answers. We really want to hear what you have to say about your
community and society.
Introductions: Go around table and have participants introduce themselves (first
names only), tell what high school they attended, where they were born, how long they
have lived in Miami or Dade County and what year they are in college
Warm-Up Question
one sentence of what the phrase “Haitian community” means to them.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
28
The Most Important Problem in the Haitian Community:
Now let’s talk about the Haitian community and you. I think you were all invited here
because you do identify as Haitian in some way. So, what I’d like to know from you is what
you think the most important problem is in the Haitian community.
Probes:
Do you think that your parents have the same view of the most important
problems:
Make sure they talk about the “problem” of Haitian youth “going bad.”
Try to get some sense of awareness of issues/problems that they feel merit
involvement.
What Can Be Done
What do you think can be done about the problem(s)
In our previous research, we’ve learned how important churches are for Haitians.
What role do you think the church might have in addressing community problems?
Obligation & Responsibility
Do you feel obligated or responsible in any way to somehow get involved to try
to make things better in your community? Or, for the larger society?
Constraints
What kinds of things keep you from doing more of these things that you feel are
important
The goal here is to probe for structural constraints, such as time or of
alienation based on sense of discrimination.
FINAL QUESTIONS
Now that you have heard everyone discuss issues of government and community
involvement and responsibility, answer the following two questions. This is our final
question and we will not be discussing your answers with the rest of today=s groupCso
please tell us how you personally feel about these questions.
Civic Engagement of Haitian Immigrants and Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County
October 2001
29
1. Please take these sheets that we are handing out and please write the two community
activities that are most important to you or that you consider to be the most important.
Please be as specific as possible and list the most important thing first.
2. Now, write below what two changes you would most like to see in government.
Again, please be as specific as possible and list the most important thing first.
3. Finally, if you could write a few things about yourself:
a. Sex
b. Age
c. What organizations either in the community or college do you belong to?
I want to thank-you very much for helping us out. As I said, you are like an Advisory
Group to us so that we can understand and communicate to others what is important
and how you feel about the world. I hope you gained something from this discussion
and I wish you the best of luck in whatever you=re doing now that you are out of high
school.
... Indeed, while there is some cross-island identification among the English speaking Caribbean people living abroad, those from other islands such as Aruba or Haiti tend to go their own way. For example, the relationship between the large Haitian community and the many Jamaicans living in Miami tends to be cordial but distant (Stepick, Stepick, & Kretsedemas, 2001). ...
... The biggest hindrance to empowerment and integration into the American community is the lack of trust, based on two centuries of corruption and broken promises. Building trust in these individuals requires close attention to meeting their basic needs and ensuring a lack of self serving, corrupt actions which can undermine their budding but tenuous faith in the system (Stepick, Stepick, & Kretsedemas, 2001). ...
... This may particularly be the case for Caribbean populations, especially if the individual's status is questionable or the natural mistrust of the "system'' frequently found in the immigrant population has not yet abated. Stepick et al. (2001) identified a lack of connection to the larger community resulting from a lack of information about resources, as well as past disappointments which reaffirmed the distrust of government brought from their island nation. Moreover, there may be a hesitancy to seek external assistance born of shame and avoidance to reveal the extent of the subjugation and vulnerability experienced in the country of origin to an ethnic stranger (Perez Foster, 2001). ...
Book
Crises do not occur in cultural vacuums, but help often does. Good intentions are not enough. Lack of cultural understanding, sensitivity, and competencies can hamper and even harm the professional response to disasters. To help and heal, one must know and understand the cultural background of disaster victims. Ethnocultural Perspectives on Disaster and Trauma offers readers substantive knowledge in these three vital areas of disaster response. In this pioneering volume, experts on individual and collective trauma experience, posttraumatic stress and related syndromes, and emergency and crisis intervention – share knowledge and insights on the cultural context of working with ethnic and racial minority communities during disasters. In each chapter, emotional, psychological, and social needs as well as communal strengths and coping skills that arise in disasters are documented for major minority groups in the United States including specific chapters on African Americans, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Indians, Chinese Americans, Caribbean Americans, Latin Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Vietnamese Americans. Each chapter features information on: • Demographics, major historical events, and core values of each population • Important cultural insights, including communication styles, culture-specific disorders, and valid assessment instruments • Therapeutic and healing traditions versus conventional medicine and therapy • Perspectives specific to the population’s experience with disaster and trauma • Authors’ recommendations for improving services to the population • Practical appendices for readers new to the field This unique volume is a cultural competency compendium that will increase to the effectiveness of all who respond to disasters. It will also be of interest and value to scholars, policy makers, and health professionals working in the areas of disaster management, crisis intervention, and trauma. Ethnocultural Perspectives on Disaster and Trauma points readers to what the editors call the path "beyond simple assistance to healing and the restoration of hope and meaning."
... The ethnographic literature on Haitian Americans is centered around the themes of immigration, identity, citizenship and transnationalism (DeWees 1995, Glick-Schiler and Fouron 2001, Glick-Schiller and Fouron 1990, Laguerre 1998, Schiller et al. 1987, health and ethnomedicine (DeSantis 1989a, DeSantis 1993, Laguerre 1981, Laguerre 1987a, social and spiritual functions and meaning of Vodou in transnational context (McCarthy Brown 1991), music in the Diaspora (Gage 1998), sociopolitical context of immigration, illegal residence and refugee status (Stepick andPortes 1986, Stepick andStepick 1990), acculturation and racism (Stepick 1998), civic engagement (Stepick, Stepick, and Kretsedemas 2001), language, social class and linguistic capital (Zéphir 1997), material culture, language, class consciousness and identity (Oswald 1999), and gender, work and informal economy (Chaffee 1994). A contextualization of Haitian immigration history is important, because the immigration patterns and settlements set the stage for the topics and issues covered by later ethnographic work among the people who settled in the U.S. In the context of immigration, it is also important to understand that legal immigrants, illegal immigrants and non-immigrants (i.e., students, temporary workers, (1915)(1916)(1917)(1918)(1919)(1920)(1921)(1922)(1923)(1924)(1925)(1926)(1927)(1928)(1929)(1930)(1931)(1932)(1933)(1934) of Haiti (Zéphir 2004). ...
... The categories that stratify (e.g., class, race, gender) may be the same in name from home to host country; however, the meanings, distinctions and definitions of these categories almost always change in different sociocultural and national contexts (Duany 1998 to studies of informal economy in Miami (Stepick 1991), situations of Haitian refugees (Stepick and Portes 1986), and acculturation, identity and civic engagement of Haitian immigrants (Stepick, Stepick, and Kretsedemas 2001). ...
Article
Cervical cancer is the primary cause of cancer deaths among Haitian women; however, the social context of cervical cancer among Haitian immigrant women has not been systematically examined. The ways in which women assign meaning to this disease, understand its causality and situate it within the broader context of gynecological health are poorly understood. Further, Haitian immigrant women's perceptions of disease risk, including knowledge and understanding about Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the primary etiologic factor in cervical cancer, have not been explored. Few studies have assessed health behaviors, including culturally mediated feminine hygiene practices, among Haitian immigrant women, which may negatively impact gynecological health. This exploratory study examines these dimensions of gynecological health using ethnographic methods including participant observation, observation, informal and semistructured interviewing and surveys. Ethnographic data contextualize this disease in larger cultural and historical contexts. In addition, these data informed the construction of a 92-item survey, ensuring content validity of the personal questions women were asked about feminine hygiene practices and the agents they use. This survey, administered to 246 women in Little Haiti, Miami, represents an application of medical anthropology to epidemiologic research. Each survey respondent also was evaluated for cytology and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HPV, using a self-sampling medical device. Quantitative analysis of survey data indicates that prevalent STIs (Chlamydia) are significantly associated with feminine hygiene practices; however, HPV infection and cervical cancer are not associated with the practices. The practices are likely underreported in the survey sample. Qualitative analysis reveals that women's constructions of gynecological health are inseparable from cultural beliefs that emphasize feminine hygiene. Beliefs guide behaviors, which include vaginal douching and intravaginal washing, using plant-based therapies, imported commercial products and chemical compounds. These practices serve the purpose of not only cleaning, but also drying and tightening the vaginal environment for increased sexual pleasure of male partners. Attempts to preserve relationships, and reduce the chance that partners will take mistresses, occur through maintaining intimate hygiene and, in some cases, by other ethnomedical means.
... The idea to meet the individual patient at his location appears to be ground for addressing the underserved needs (Vonarx, 2011). It will be prudent for any researcher to have an emic perspective, defined as a culture's internal view (Avruch, 2002; NORC at the University of Chicago, 2020; Stepick et al., 2006b;Val, 2015;Vonarx, 2011) from the minority cluster of Little Haiti to better understand how complementary/integrative health be accepted and implemented. Furthermore, there are various modalities from the MBM interventional realm that some Haitians in Miami-Dade County have already incorporated within their culture, and religious practices attesting healing as an intervention outcome or treatment. ...
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The concepts of Mind-body medicine (MBM), and non-mind body complementary medicine practices among Haitians in Little Haiti, Florida are unexplored. This article investigated five non-habituated MBM modalities and practices within the Haitian culture. An additional objective of this article was to determine whether a relationship could exist among the mbm and non-mbm modalities in the indigenous culture in Miami-Dade County, Florida, looking at the cultural and traditional medicine practices. A literature survey shows adherence through cultural health beliefs and spiritual conduits of the indigenous culture. The result shows that MBM modalities are salient within this group, and awareness or exposure to MBM and non-MBM modalities can be essential in cultural health beliefs formation, and practices. In a COVOD-19 era these modalities can help alleviate the ill-consequences. Knowledge and embrace of the modalities are paramount while maintaining traditional medicine and cultural traditions. Further research is needed.
... We focus on immigrant organizations because although some mainstream organizations serve disadvantaged immigrants, their services often have inadequate language services or do not provide assistance especially germane to immigrant residents, such as translation services, culturally appropriate human services, or immigrant-related legal services. As others have argued, and our field work shows, immigrant organizations are overwhelmingly community-based organizations that specialize in serving low-income and limited-English proficient residents (Cordero-Guzman 2005;de Graauw 2008de Graauw , 2012Martin 2012;Stepick, Stepick, and Kretsedemas 2001;Zhou 2008). Immigrant organizations thus fill a niche in service delivery, and many go beyond services to build immigrants' civic skills and leadership potential and to advocate for their rights with local policymakers (Bloemraad 2006;de Graauw 2008de Graauw , 2012Gleeson 2008), activities in line with the community empowerment models that animated early public-private partnerships under the War on Poverty. ...
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The authors argue that taken-for-granted notions of deservingness and legitimacy among local government officials affect funding allocations for organizations serving disadvantaged immigrants, even in politically progressive places. Analysis of Community Development Block Grant data in the San Francisco Bay Area reveals significant inequality in grants making to immigrant organizations across central cities and suburbs. With data from 142 interviews and documentary evidence, the authors elaborate how a history of continuous migration builds norms of inclusion and civic capacity for public-private partnerships. They also identify the phenomenon of suburban free riding to explain how and why suburban officials rely on central city resources to serve immigrants, but do not build and fund partnerships with immigrant organizations in their own jurisdictions. The analysis affirms the importance of distinguishing between types of immigrant destinations, but argues that scholars need to do so using a regional lens.
... Ethnographic research indicates that this stigma softened over time, as flows of Haitian refugees and immigrants reduced in size, and as segments of the Haitian population began to establish footholds in the local political system (Portes and Stepick, 1993;Stepick, 1998;Stepick et al., 2001). There is also evidence that Haitian parents have become more critical of the Americanization of their children; fearing that the desire to emulate (black) American cultural norms is partly responsible for the increasing number of Haitian youth incarcerated in the south Florida prison and juvenile system. ...
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This article explores the changing form of white and black racial categories in North America. It argues that this transformation is being shaped by several, relatively distinct tendencies; including anti-immigrant sentiments, anti-black racism and the identity politics of racialized populations. The discussion focuses on two aspects of this transformation. First, the identity politics of Afro-Caribbean populations is used to illustrate how immigrant experiences contest and complicate the process of black racialization; second, the racialization of Latino populations is used to illustrate how normative definitions of whiteness are being redefined. The conclusion uses these examples to discuss the need for explanations of racial stratification that can account for multiple nodes of inclusion and exclusion.
... In their examination of how Haitian immigrants used the mass media to gain information to facilitate their adaptation process, Stepick et al. (2001) found that information-seeking immigrants who used both English-language and ethnic media had higher communication competence in the new society. Huang (1993) found that media use does affect the subjects' acculturation, but more media use does not necessarily lead to high acculturation. ...
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Thesis (M.Comm. Studies)--Nanyang Technological University, School of Communication and Information, 2004.
... The National Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Forum reports that at least 50% of Haitians living in the United States are undocumented (Respect Action Collaborative, 1999). Undocumented women must contend with disintegration of extended family networks, lack of English-speaking ability, illiteracy, isolation, economic insecurity, legal vulnerability, and lack of knowledge about services (Governor's Commission on Domestic Violence, 1998; Jang et al., 1990; Raj & Silverman, 2002a; Respect Action Coalition, 1999; Stepick et al., 2001; Yoshihama, 2001). To date, virtually no research exists on the nature of domestic violence or culturally appropriate domestic violence services among Haitian immigrants. ...
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This qualitative study explored how the cultural context of intimate partner violence affected accessibility to mainstream services for one immigrant group: Haitian women. Analysis of the data revealed two major themes. First, the nature and context of intimate partner violence in the Haitian immigrant community contribute to Haitian women's reluctance to seek services as well as their overall vulnerability to intimate partner violence. Second, mainstream services are largely inaccessible to Haitian women. The authors conclude with suggestions for overcoming cultural barriers through education, increasing cultural competency of mainstream services, and creating alternative community-based services.
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Self-concept is critical in the social and emotional development of children, although little research has examined its relationship to ethnicity. The self-concept of 214 fourth- and fifth-grade students (White, Black/Haitian American, and Hispanic) revealed differences among groups on the Behavior and Total Self-Concept subscales of the Piers-Harris Children's Self-Concept Scale. Findings revealed that Black students had the lowest scores on the Behavior domain and Blacks scored significantly lower than Hispanics on Total Self-Concept. Counseling implications are discussed.
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This paper investigates Internet-usage patterns of immigrants, and seeks to identify the correlation between Internet use and intercultural adaptation. The study focuses on mainland Chinese immigrants in Singapore, and was conducted via a nationwide telephone survey. The results show that immigrants tend to change their preferences on Internet use to reflect their residence in the host country. In particular, the longer an immigrant resides in the host country, the less likely they would be to surf their original country's websites and the more likely they would be to communicate with local people via the Internet. More importantly, differences in Internet usage are found to have a significant impact on immigrants' intercultural adaptation. In an online environment, the social communication in the host country is a critical component that can facilitate or impede immigrants' successful adaptation to the host country, whereas ethnic social communication also plays a role at the initial stage of transition.
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Presents the results from a 1984 national survey of high school community service programs. Findings include: 27 percent of high schools offer some kind of community service programs, enrollments vary greatly, females outnumber males, more than half of the programs have no hispanics, and 36 percent have no black students. Includes tables, references, and five school profiles. (MD)
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Taking the position that there is a developmental process in the formation of citizenship, the authors reviewed studies that reported a link between youth's participation in organized activities and civic behaviors 15 or more years later in adulthood. Data uniformly showed that students who participated in high school government or community service projects, meant in the broad sense, are more likely to vote and to join community organizations than are adults who were nonparticipants during high school. Results support the authors' view that participation during the youth era can be seminal in the construction of civic identity that includes a sense of agency and social responsibility in sustaining the community's well-being.
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This chapter discusses the great importance of cultural dissonance between Haitian youth and Haitian adults, between Haitian youth and school personnel, and between Haitian youth and other southern Florida youth, to Haitian students. Haitian students consider the cultural dissonance as more important than their grades, test scores, and, for some, even going on to college. The chapter explains that Haitians, along with West Indians, perceived discrimination far more than other CILS students. They were more likely to claim they did not know their native language, although ethnographic data indicate they did indeed understand and speak Haitian Creole. Haitian youth in southern Florida are undergoing powerful transformations. They move toward adopting less-assimilated labels, their behavior reflects more Americanization, particularly African American styles. The educational achievements of Haitian youth indicate that a few of them are likely to remain aware of their Haitian heritage.
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The results of this study show that cohort replacement (increasing numbers of younger people who read less frequently versus decreasing numbers of older people who read more frequently) has contributed substantially to the decline in newspaper readership in both Germany and the United States. The implication is that this process will bring about further declines in the future.
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This paper focuses on the methodology for a series of three random sample surveys of Haitian immigrants who arrived in south Florida during or after 1980 and whose legal status in the U.S. is mostly uncertain. It is the first known random sample survey of a largely underground immigrant population. The particular methodological problems discussed include access and representativeness, meaning, staffing, and tracing of the sample for a follow-up interview. The primary conclusion is that sample survey research among an immigrant population, especially a distrusting, largely underground one, can only by accomplished upon a firm foundation of anthropological methods. The paper closes by offering examples suggesting that the considerable effort required to obtain representative sample survey data is worthwhile having both theoretical and practical implications.
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Haitians have been migrating to the United States in significant numbers since the rise to power of Francois Duvalier over a quarter century ago. A few who have been able to meet the strict eligibility criteria of U. S. immigration law have entered as legal immigrants. Perhaps as many as 300,000 others have entered illegally, or have overstayed the terms of their temporary visas. A diverse population composed of professionals and businessmen, students and shopkeepers, journalists, small land holders, and illiterate peasants, it is impossible to capture their individual reasons for leaving Haiti and coming to the United States in a single all-inclusive phrase. Haiti is the poorest country in this hemisphere. Nearly all who leave to come to the United States are aware that they are trading malnutrition, negligible educational opportunities, and a subsistence standard of living for the greater opportunities afforded by life in America.