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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


 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
community's profile,
 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
said. ``We're
 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
 up.' ''


 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
community, but
 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
kept it.''

 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
drives and
 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
with Haiti,
 this was mainstream American politicking, but people came out.''

 The positives of gaining support, though, are tempered by a desire to
secure a
 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
comes to
 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
policy that
 is fair.''

 As with many new groups of immigrants, the community's political awakening
 been a long time coming, Philippe said. But she noted that Haitian
Americans are
 making strides.

 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
are realizing,
 `Yes, we live in this country, but it's not just enough to live here.
We've got to be
 involved.' ''