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