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7183: Haitians and the Boston Census (fwd)
Haitian Reporter Archives
Counting Boston's Haitians
Boston's Haitian Community and The United States Census of 2000
By Steve Desrosiers
In May of 1999, I had the unique experience of coordinating outreach to
greater Boston's Haitian community in support of the Federal Census of 2000.
I was part of a team of coordinators from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were
selected to encourage the participation of our respective ethnic communities
to respond to their Census forms.
I was given license to explore and address all segments of Boston's Haitian
community wherever they were to be found. In the course of my work I
befriended priests, politicians, business owners, advocates, and local media
representatives. I addressed Haitians in ESL classes from Somerville to
Randolph. I spoke in churches, radio stations and local television outlets. I
saw the communities that Haitians had made for themselves and the many modest
but vibrant institutions which promulgated their presence in and around
Boston and was proud to be Haitian-American.
However, the question which intrigued me as I canvassed the Haitian community
then is one which I continue to ponder in anticipation of the release of
Census demographic information for Boston: How many Haitians are there in
Many members of the Haitian community believe there are about 80,000 Haitians
in Boston. The only problems with the estimate are that it is silent about
the composition of that number and it is not definitively proven.
It is the absence of this documentation, which makes the Census of 2000 so
important for the Haitian community. How many children are there? How many
senior citizens? How many working age adults? How many Haitians are citizens,
legal non-citizens or establishing legal status? All of this information can
soon be available to us if the community at large responded to all the
information requested on their Census forms.
I am particularly hopeful that those in the Haitian community who received
long forms filled them out and returned them to the Census Bureau. One of
every sixth household received a long form and it is that Census form which
will allow us to evaluate the probability that there may be 80,000 Haitians
in greater Boston.
In the absence of information from the Census Bureau, there is some reliable
information about Massachusettsís Haitian community.
Research conducted by the Office of Refugees and Immigrants in 1998
established that there are from 40-45,000 Haitians in the Boston area and
70-75,000 statewide. It established also that most Haitians reside in
Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury. The study traced significant Haitian
communities in Cambridge, Somerville, Randolph , Watertown, Worcester and
Springfield, Waltham, and Brockton among other places.
Research conducted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) reveals that
Haitian French and Creole are among the top five foreign languages spoken in
the city of Boston. The study relates that Boston's largest foreign-born
population in 1990 was Haitian, accounting for about 9% of Boston's 20% total
immigrant population. In 1997 Haitians were also among the top five immigrant
groups establishing themselves in the city.
The Massachusetts Department of Education recognizes 10.7% of its 35% foreign
language-speaking students as speakers of Haitian French or Creole. Much of
the available research seems to support a statewide Haitian population close
to the suspected number of 80,000 or more.
The Federal Census Bureau plans to release its vast body of newly collected
demographic information on a flow basis from June 2001 through September
2003. From March to April 1, 2001 Census numbers for local legislative
redistricting will be made available to all States. By June through September
2001 local demographic profiles will be available along with revised
population totals. Population counts for 63 race categories will be made
available during this time period. It is this information which should help
us come close to an idea of the size of Massachusetts and Bostonís Haitian
population. The Bureau plans to make much of this information available
through its internet based data retrieval system known as The American
FactFinder available through the Census Bureau's web site:
The information that has been released from the Census Bureau so far is
interesting on a national and local level. According to the Bureau, 67% of
the population responded to the Census of 2000 reversing a downward response
rate for the past three decades.
The current estimate for the total population of the United States is
283,693,194 from 248, 709,873 ten years ago. The total U.S. foreign-born
population is 28.4 million, or 1 in 10 U.S. residents. The city of Boston has
574,283 residents. The Black population is 146,945 persons, the White
population is 360,875 persons and the Hispanic population is 61,955 persons.
The city's Asian population is 30,388 persons. All of these numbers are
subject to some revision once new information is released by the Census
Bureau this summer.
The information to be released by the Census Bureau in the future should help
the Haitian community better understand and enrich itself. Information
gathered by the Census Bureau is important if we are to advocate effectively
for culturally sound services for Haitian senior citizens, youths, and
newcomers who need access to the their share of the State' s resources. The
information should give non-profit agencies serving Haitians the specific
information needed for seeking grants, qualifying for Federal and State aid
and for strategic community building discourse with local decision makers.
The data should be useful to entrepreneurs seeking to understand areas where
Haitians are not receiving service tailored to their tastes and their needs.
Local elected officials like Marie St. Fleur, Dianne Wilkerson, Gloria Fox,
Chuck Turner, Thomas M. Menino and Thomas Finneran will depend on this
detailed data to influence public policy for Haitians and other immigrants
represented in Boston's neighborhoods. The community as a whole should come
closer to understanding the size and composition of Haitian presence in
I would like to end this article by thanking a few notable early supporters
without whom I would have been totally ineffective in spreading the Census
message throughout the Haitian community. In Boston I thank Nouvelle Creation
Caterers who provided free food to some of my most important meetings.
Journalist Oswald Neptune who was key in helping me gain access to Boston's
local Haitian media. Radio Nouveaute for its tireless support. Max Nicholas,
owner of Canal Tropical for his support.
I extend thanks to attorneys Elda S. James and Ernst Guerrier. Organizations
such as HALT in St. Angela's, HAPHI, the Haitian Multi-Service Center,
Caribbean U-Turn, which were receptive to sharing their constituencies with
me. In Cambridge, I thank Jean Jeune Coordinator of Haitian Services. In
Somerville, Franklin Dalembert, Director of the Somerville Haitian Coalition.
In Brockton, I extend thanks to Fred Fontaine, Jacques Borges, and Beausejour
Antoine. Last but not least, I extend thanks to all the Haitian churches that
allowed me to address their congregations. I know that my list is not
complete and extend heartfelt and sincere thanks to all who served any part
in helping me involve the Haitian community in the Census of 2000.
(Steve Desrosiers is a regular contributor the Boston Haitian Reporter)
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