Premigration Experience of Haitian Immigrants
Yon sèl dwèt pa manje kalalou (Kalalou cannot be eaten with one finger. Haitian proverb.)
United we stand, divided we fall.
Haitian immigrants have not come to the United States as a tabula rasa. They have brought with them a baggage of "things past" ( Charles 1990; Foner 1987a). The baggage of the past includes their values, culture, aspirations, conceptions, and beliefs about who they are and where they are going as a people. All of these are shaped by a series of historical events that led to the creation of their country as an independent nation in 1804, and have had an impact on its development henceforth. History in many ways has molded the character of the Haitian people, landscape, and society. Three significant periods characterize this history: colonization, independence, and post-independence. While all these periods have witnessed a different social structure and hierarchy, one thing has remained constant: The majority of the population is exploited and does not enjoy the benefits of its labor. Under colonization, this majority comprised the slaves working for the rich plantation owners; at the time of independence, it was again the former slaves, under the flag of freedom, who were forced to return to the plantations and try to restore the economy that many years of revolution had ruined for the benefits of the leaders (Blacks and Mulattoes) who had claimed ownership of the land; during the post-independence period up to the present day, the same people have remained in poverty and are still at the bottom of the economic totem pole. Contradictions, conflicts, clashes of interests, and political instability have characterized all three periods. Ironically, the Haitians have always been searching for a better life: As slaves, they yearned for their freedom, fought and died for it; as free men, they aspired to become autonomous farmers and cultivate their own parcels of land and sought to establish themselves as a "reconstituted peasantry" ( Mintz 1974: 132; Ans 1987: 178); as Haitians, they