2006 Haitians in New York City: Transnationalism and Hometown Associations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Notes: viii, 157 p. ; 24 cm. ISBN: 0813029368
Reviewed 13 Aug 2006 by:
Robert Lawless <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Department of Anthropology, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA
Medium: Written Literature Subject
Haitian Americans - New York (State) - New York - Social conditions
Haitian Americans - New York (State) - New York - Politics and government
Haitian Americans - Cultural assimilation - New York (State) - New York
Immigrants - New York (State) - New York - Social conditions
Transnationalism - Social aspects - New York (State) - New York
New York (N.Y.) - Social conditions
ABSTRACT: Concentrating on the economic, political, and social consequences of Haitian hometown associations in New York City, this book looks at the history and contemporary situation of Haitian-Americans and their ties to Haiti.
Although an exact count is unavailable, "The Department of City Planning reported that there were approximately 95,580 foreign-born Haitians living in the city in 2000, service agencies and other Haitian organizations have estimated that more than 600,000 Haitians live in the New York metropolitan area today" (p. 32). According to Pierre-Louis, the main problem of Haitians in New York City was whether to assert themselves as a separate black ethnic group speaking French (or Creole) and practicing Catholicism (or Voodoo) or to blend in with the African-Americans. The creation of hometown associations reflected this choice, and Pierre-Louis concludes, "[By] the 1990s it appeared that they were more comfortable in reinforcing their distinct cultural and social differences than in joining forces with other blacks in New York" (p. 22).
Most of the political activities of these New York City residents centered on the overthrow of the Duvalier regime, and, when that occurred in 1986, Haitian-Americans began creating "institutions that could help with the rebuilding of Haiti as well as with assimilation in the United States" (p. 44). "Hometown associations have become important immigrant organizations in the community since 1991 when President Aristide recognized their positive contribution to Haiti’s economy" (p. 27), and "the majority of the immigrants who belong to hometown associations live in Brooklyn, primarily in Flatbush" (p. 33). Haitian hometown associations commonly engage in projects "such as fencing the local cemetery yard where relatives of their members are buried, feeding schoolchildren, and providing generators to local hospitals. Others are building market places, libraries, and even hospitals" (p. 45).
In the course of his research Pierre-Louis "took trips to several provinces in Haiti to meet with the affiliates of the hometown associations in New York" (p. 45). He found some basic complaints, which included the facts that those in Haiti believe that their projects are not fully supported by those in New York City, while those in New York City believe that corruption and lack of basic skills in Haiti impede the projects (p. 60).
The relationship of the hometown associations with the Haitian government is rather problematic. "Leaders of the hometown associations believe that if the government decentralized the state apparatus, they might be in a better position to implement successful projects in their localities and tap into the resources of Haitian professionals who live abroad" (p. 76). With the downfall of the second Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, in February 2004, the Ministry of the Tenth Department, responsible for diasporic Haitians, no longer had a role in the government. The current administration of recently elected President René Préval was installed after this book was published.
Although Pierre-Louis admits, "Vodou, of course, is an essential element of Haitian culture, both in the homeland and abroad" (p. 106), there is nothing beyond this one sentence about the role of Voodoo in Haitian hometown politics. The lack of any reference to Karen McCarthy Brown’s wonderful 1991 book about Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn seems to me to be a serious omission. Haitians in New York City does contain quite a bit of accurate information on the history of Haiti and on Haitian-Americans, especially, of course, in New York City, though I would have liked to have seen these Ph.D. dissertations in the bibliography: Susan Huelsebusch Buchanan’s 1980 Scattered Seeds: The Meaning of the Migration for Haitians in New York City; Carolle Charles’s 1990 A Transnational Dialectic of Race, Class, and Ethnicity: Patterns of Identities and Forms of Consciousness among Haitian Migrants in New York City; Georges Eugene Fouron’s 1985 Patterns of Adaptation of Haitian Immigrants of the 1970s in New York City; Nina Barnett Glick’s 1975 The Formation of a Haitian Ethnic Group; and Elizabeth McAlister’s 1995 "Men Moun Yo"; "Here Are the People": Haitian Rara Festivals and Transnational Popular Culture in Haiti and New York City (updated in her 2002 book Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora).
Only occasionally tightly focused, this relatively brief book is currently the only source for information on the significant topic of Haitian hometown associations. The first chapter exemplifies the peculiarity of this vacillation with some curious information on the hometown associations of Mexicans and Dominicans, pointing out, "Unlike the Mexicans and the Dominicans, Haitian immigrants created their hometown organizations to position themselves in the United States as a distinct ethnic group, to support the democratization process in Haiti, and to address humanitarian crises there" (p. 19). Neither Mexicans nor Dominicans are mentioned again.