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#4883: Haitian caucus makes itself visible (fwd)
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 community's profile, among both
politicians and community leaders. ``We want to be visible,'' said
Roseline Philippe, 40, of North Miami, who along with Nadia Pierre of
Miramar and Margaret Armand of Plantation complete the mini-caucus.
And on the floor of the convention here, they're hard to miss, wearing
T-shirts 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 divvying 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 neighborhoods and jobs, he said. ``I came here as an
immigrant, but our children are born here,'' the 54-year-old 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 democracy 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 the 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 has 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 first municipality
in the country to have a Haitian-American majority on its council. 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