Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Second-Generation Haitian Youth in Quebec. between the "Real" Community and the "Represented" Community. (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Second-Generation Haitian Youth in Quebec. between the "Real" Community and the "Represented" Community. (1)

Article excerpt

I - Introduction

This article explores the way in which the experience of racism feeds historical memory and collective action among some "second-generation" Haitian youths, (2) depicted more often in their "anomy" or in the shadow of the associative action of their parents than in any capacity to act as social agents. (3) My study of several groups of youths aged fifteen to twenty-nine, reveals an activity that clashes with the image often conveyed by the media and studies of "second generations." It also indicates that their social experience is circumscribed both by a system of representation and diasporic influences, (4) and by a subjective and objective experience of racism that acts sociologically as an interpretation of the social and cultural crisis in Quebec.

Studies of second generations-in France and in Quebec-are still dominated by culturalist and functionalist currents. They refer to anomy, delinquency and deviance (Malewska and Gachon, 1988), to educational problems (Pierre-Jacques, 1982, 1986), to an identity crisis linked to a cultural crisis (Malewska-Peyre, 1985; Yahyaoui, 1989; Camilleri, 1990), and to a "dual belonging" to disjointed and supposedly opposed value systems (Dinello, 1985; Pierre-Jacques, 1985; Beauchesne, 1989), a situation which would explain the encountered problems of maladjustment. More specifically, youths of Haitian descent in Quebec are depicted through pathological social forms rather than through the construction of collective activity, no doubt because massive mobilization is not the predominant characteristic of their action or, above all, because the community and political organization of Haitians in Quebec is still dominated by first-generation immigrants (Labelle and Levy, 1995). The conflictual nature of their social exper ience is often dismissed, and a standardized "Haitian culture" only receives expression through the voice of a community elite recognized by the ministry subsidizing it.

To my knowledge, there have been no studies in Quebec of the new spaces of solidarity and collective action circumscribing the experience of young Haitians. This absence of analysis is astounding for two reasons. Firstly, these youths, who are in close cultural "proximity" to other Quebec youths inasmuch as they are caught up in the same process of individuation characteristic of modernity and experience the same influence of mass, urban and democratic culture, are brutally confronted with an already entrenched dynamic of domination and subordination of Blacks in Canada (Walker, 1980: 13). Have they not been the focus of all the attention in recent years in their embodiment of a new "second-generation problem," even though we know that this phenomenon is neither unprecedented nor specific to Haitian youths? Secondly, the intellectual currents and the events of the past few years involving these youths require that they be examined as moments of collective action and "sites" of contestation. Consider, for exa mple, the so-called St. Hubert Street riots in 1992, the compelling attraction of the symbols of the American Black movement and the battle mythology youths revive, the rapprochement with young Black anglophones in Montreal in response to incidents of police brutality (the Griffin and Francois affairs), the creation of protest, religious (Islamic in particular) or cultural organizations, of businesses and media outlets (Images, L'EQOH du futur, etc.), and the representational crisis of first-generation organizations among the young.

Are these isolated responses to racist behaviour or, rather, a desire, indeed a capacity, for action which upsets the image of cultural alienation and stigmatization? What are the inherited or reinterpreted forms of belonging which young people of Haitian descent appropriate for themselves? And what types of social and political participation do they engender? Should this "work" be seen as containing the seeds of new conflicts and agents, carriers of change (Touraine, [1978]1993), as the signs of a "social counter-movement" (Wieviorka, 1988, 1991), (5) a carrier of schisms, essentialism, and even "tribalisms," or even the amalgamation of identificatory and democratic desires? …

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