Haitian Immigrants in Black America: A Sociological and Sociolinguistic Portrait

By Fiore Zéphir | Go to book overview

3
Emergence and Essence of Haitian Immigrant Ethnicity

Malere pa dezonè (To be poor is not a dishonor. Haitian proverb.)

Poverty is no sin.

In light of their unique historical past and the circumstances that transformed them from slaves into a free and independent people, Haitian immigrants cannot be considered a generic Black ethnic group. They come to the United States with an already constituted experiential baggage, which includes a strong sense of who they are and an appreciation for their cultural heritage. In addition, they know why they are here in the United States, and they have a very definite idea of what they hope to achieve in their New World. Consequently, they are totally determined to make all the necessary sacrifices to ensure the success of their journey. However, in spite of this determination, the journey will prove perilous, and they will face a great many hardships in the course of their resettlement. In the process, they will encounter serious obstacles and will have to make difficult choices. One such obstacle is their placement at the bottom of the ladder in American society.

In the United States, race is a fundamental dimension of identification, and it plays an overwhelming role in shaping the life chances of its inhabitants. Haitian immigrants at a very early stage come to realize that they have entered a society which, unlike their own, uses a classification system based on race. As Glick Schiller and Fouron ( 1990: 333) argue,

[i]n the United States, the boundedness of race, unlike that of nationality or ethnicity, is imposed through the insistence that biology -- rather than culture -- is the determinative fact of differentiation. Boundaries conceptualized in biological terms have been and continue to be the defining characteristic of race

Furthermore, the shock continues when they discover that fundamental distinctions exist between the races, and that people are treated differently because

-43-

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Haitian Immigrants in Black America: A Sociological and Sociolinguistic Portrait
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Tables and Maps vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Part I - Haitian Immigrants: Sociological Dimensions 1
  • 1 - Haitians in New York City 3
  • Notes 22
  • 2 - Premigration Experience of Haitian Immigrants 25
  • Notes 40
  • 3 - Emergence and Essence of Haitian Immigrant Ethnicity 43
  • Notes 67
  • 4 - Haitians' Responses to African Americans 69
  • Notes 96
  • Part II - Haitian Immigrants: Sociolinguistic Dimensions 97
  • 5 - Language and Ethnicity in the Haitian Immigrant Context 99
  • Notes 120
  • 6 - Patterns of Language Use of Haitian Immigrants 123
  • Notes 143
  • 7 - Haitians, American Cultural Pluralism, and Black Ethnics 145
  • Notes 160
  • Appendix - Interview Questions 161
  • Bibliography 167
  • Index 177
  • About the Author *
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