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#4886: Haitian Caucus (fwd)
From: Carolle Charles <Carolle_Charles@baruch.cuny.edu>
Published Tuesday, August 15, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haitian caucus makes itself visible
Four delegates see small gains toward clout
BY LESLEY CLARK
LOS ANGELES -- This is Jacques Despinosse's fourth Democratic National
Convention. But it's the first at which he's talked politics in Creole.
In a sign the North Miami resident says points to increasing political clout,
Florida's 186-member delegation includes four Haitian Americans -- a fourfold
increase since 1988.
``I don't feel so lonely anymore,'' joked Despinosse, president of Miami's
Haitian-American Democratic Club. ``We're getting there, little by little.
It's like a
turtle, but we're winning respect.''
The presence of the four delegates -- two from Miami-Dade County and two from
Broward County -- is part of a concentrated effort to boost the
among both politicians and community leaders.
``We want to be visible,'' said Roseline Philippe, 40, of North Miami, who
with Nadia Pierre of Miramar and Margaret Armand of Plantation complete the
And on the floor of the convention here, they're hard to miss, wearing
emblazoned with the club logo and Haitian and American flags.
``We want those in the political arena to know we're there,'' Philippe
telling them: `Don't pass us over when you're making those decisions about
schools, about healthcare. We want the same piece of the pie that you're
Despinosse said the delegates hope to spread the word that Haitians are not a
single-issue people. U.S. immigration policies are central to the
Haitian Americans are also interested in good schools, crime-free
and jobs, he said.
``I came here as an immigrant, but our children are born here,'' the
said. ``We want the same things all Americans want.''
For the delegates, it first means electing Democrats.
``Everyone who stood behind us has been a Democrat,'' said Despinosse, a U.S.
citizen since 1979. ``President Clinton promised us he would restore
to Haiti. It's the first time a politician has made a promise to us and
Despinosse said many Haitian Americans don't trust the Republican Party.
``And Pat Buchanan,'' he said of the former Republican, now Reform Party
candidate for president, ``he is no friend to the immigrant.''
To secure Haitian-American votes, the club has held voter registration
candidate meet-and-greets. Some 290 Haitian Americans registered to vote at a
rally at the Miami Arena last week and more than 600 turned out to talk to
candidates -- despite dismal weather, Philippe said.
``To me, the numbers say it all,'' Philippe said. ``This had nothing to do
this was mainstream American politicking, but people came out.''
The positives of gaining support, though, are tempered by a desire to
change in U.S. immigration policies, which presently nearly always result in
fleeing Haitians being returned to their homeland, the delegates said. By
comparison, they said, Cubans are allowed to stay once they reach U.S. soil.
Haitians and immigrants from other countries face a tougher standard.
``The U.S. promises refuge to any person being persecuted but when it
dark skin it's like Lady Liberty turned her back, and that should not be,''
Despinosse said. ``We need one policy that speaks to all people. One
As with many new groups of immigrants, the community's political awakening
been a long time coming, Philippe said. But she noted that Haitian
In December 1999, El Portal, a village in Northeast Miami-Dade, became the
municipality in the country to have a Haitian-American majority on its
And Massachusetts state Rep. Marie P. St. Fleur is a Haitian American.
``We're only just emerging politically,'' Philippe said. ``I think people
`Yes, we live in this country, but it's not just enough to live here.
We've got to be