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7969: Haitian culture and influence change the face of North Miami (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian culture and influence change the face of North Miami
Immigrants brought rapid change and now taste political power.

For the more than 60 years that it was known as a blue-collar and retirement 
haven, North Miami was a place where newcomers were rare enough for 
residents to take notice.

But in the last dozen years, rapid change has become commonplace. Thousands 
of hard-working, ambitious immigrants from Haiti seeking to live the 
American dream have transformed the city of 59,880 people into one of 
Miami-Dade County's most racially and culturally diverse communities.

The Haitian impact can be seen in the French or Creole names of stores and 
restaurants -- La Patisserie, C'Est Si Bon, Planet Kreyol, Le Griot and Le 
Roseau -- or in commercial centers like the whitewashed Seventh Avenue Flea 
Market building, where dozens of Haitian beauticians attend to both Haitian 
and African-American clients.

Last week, the city celebrated Haitian Flag Day -- commemorating Haiti's 
expulsion of its French colonial masters. At North Miami Senior High, where 
Principal Charles Hankerson said 83 percent of the 3,400 students are of 
Haitian descent, Friday was the day to wear the red and blue colors of that 
nation's flag.

Confirmation of the change comes Tuesday when Josaphat ``Joe'' Celestin, 44, 
is sworn in as the first Haitian-American mayor of a large Miami-Dade city. 
Recent elections also gave Haitians a majority for the first time on the 
City Council -- the result of a determined push for political power by North 
Miami's newly dominant black majority.

``This is it. We have arrived,'' said Marc Lambert, 33, whose father sold 
the family clothing business in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince five 
years ago. ``We have put down roots in this city, just like a big, big 

The most recent census figures do not specifically identify Haitian 
Americans, including them in the black category. The census found 32,867 
black residents. There were 20,842 whites -- in past decades the dominant 
racial group in terms of numbers and political clout. The census also 
counted 13,869 Hispanics and 1,152 Asians.
Some arrive for family reasons;
others seek affordable housing

Some Haitians choose North Miami to be close to Little Haiti and other 
family members who already live in the city. They are looking for 
established neighborhoods with nice homes, transportation and an 
infrastructure that benefits them, they say.

Many middle-class Haitians choose North Miami because they find both buying 
and renting a home affordable. Real estate consultant Michael Y. Cannon says 
home prices range from $75,000 to $150,000 on average, although there are 
more expensive neighborhoods like Keystone Point.

In contrast, Cannon's latest statistics show that in Miami-Dade, the average 
price of a new home was $188,728. The average price of a used or resale home 
in Dade: $163,196.

Haitians also like the city because they can dine on Haitian food, go to 
churches with Creole-speaking priests and pastors, and even consult with 
Creole-speaking tax return counselors at H&R Block.

``[People] wonder, how could Haitians working for $5, $6 an hour purchase a 
$130,000 home?'' said Jean Monestime, a North Miami real estate agent whose 
clientele consists primarily of Haitian immigrants seeking to buy homes in 
that city. ``Not only are these folks working two, three jobs, but also they 
get together as family members to find the down payment and closing costs.

``They do work collectively and save money collectively in order to make 
these purchases. I know it's hard to understand, but they do it.''

The Haitian influx, like the arrival of new immigrant groups elsewhere, has 
been greeted with mixed feelings by white and African-American residents.

Kim Batkin, who is white and who teaches 10th-grade math at North Miami 
High, said: ``I see it as having a very positive impact because the Haitian 
culture is very beautiful. Parents are very interested in education, and the 
kids take a lot of pride in being Haitian.''

Judy Brown, an African-American history teacher at Miami Edison Senior High 
and a 28-year resident of the city, lives in the mostly black western 
section of North Miami.

``Change is constant,'' she said. ``That's life. There is nothing wrong with 

``I wanted a home. Other people who come here also want this. That is the 
American dream: You work hard and save your money and you buy your home. So 
what if the demographics change?''
`How did they get here?
`How did they get the money?'

Francis Cianflone, an Italian-American art gallery owner, is highly critical 
of his new neighbors, however. He is not only upset that a Haitian is going 
to be mayor -- ``Is he even a citizen?'' he demands -- but he is convinced 
that the government gives Haitians money to buy homes.

``Where I live on 129th Street,'' Cianflone said, ``house by house, the 
Haitians moved in. I moved here in 1992, and by 1998 all my neighbors were 

``How did they get here? How did they get the money? I think the federal 
government is giving them largess. I have never seen people come to this 
country with nothing and suddenly they have everything, including City Hall. 
. . .

``Can I go to Haiti and be mayor of one of their cities? I don't think so.''

Glenn O'Hearn, a longtime white resident who is vice president of the 
Greater North Miami Historical Society, does not have those suspicions.

But he laments the fact, he said, that many Haitian newcomers do not credit 
the city's African-American citizens ``for making it possible through the 
civil rights struggle for people like the Haitians to succeed.

``It baffles me,'' he said, ``that when I talk with my very intelligent 
Haitian neighbors working two jobs to pay for a home and I mention what 
African Americans went through, they don't understand it. In fact, they 
disagree with me. . . . They see no reason why they should not dominate the 
power structure, rather than sharing it.''
Haitians use new opportunities
to learn English, become citizens

Haitian Americans say it is inevitable that they have emerged as a political 
force. ``We are not afraid of politics,''said Patrice Jean, 26, a taxi 

In recent years, Haitian activists, realizing the city's sweeping change, 
have painted North Miami as the place where Haitians can become politically 
empowered. They have in some ways served as an ``unofficial'' billboard for 
the city.

``Many have told me in the past, especially those that are somewhat more 
educated, they are moving here because of the social-political apparatus in 
place here,'' Monestime said.

Committed to being part of the American political process, Haitian adults 
are learning English and becoming American citizens.

Principal Hankerson, for example, says that most of the 6,000 adults 
attending night classes at North Miami High are Haitians. On any given 
night, he said, 3,000 adults take vocational and English instruction.

``My first objective is to learn English,'' said Patrice Jean. ``You speak 
English. You get a better job. You save money and buy a home. This is the 
way Americans do it. I don't see anything stopping me.''

James Joseph, 16, who has been in the United States for five years and is 
enrolled at North Miami High, says he shares this determination.

``I want an education,'' he said. ``I want to become a lawyer. I want to be 
someone, and to be somebody.''

Herald database editor Tim Henderson contributed to this report.

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