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8419: The Broward Haitian Community (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

>Published: Sunday, June 17, 2001
>Page: 5G
>Interview by Editorial Writer Deborah Ramirez
>Q. North Miami has elected its first Haitian mayor. Fort Lauderdale has 
>its first Creole-speaking police officer. Voters have sent the first
>Haitian-American to the Florida Legislature. All this year. What's going 
>A. Let's start with some background. The first group of Haitians came to 
>country to escape the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1960s. They went to
>school, learned the language, got a job, but never became part of the
>mainstream. They dreamed of going back. Most never did.We don't want to 
>the same mistake.Haitians understand now that to be successful at some 
>you have to get involved in the political process. You have to let your 
>be heard.If you do not have political power in this country, you sort of do
>not exist.I don't care if Haitians become Democrats or Republicans. As long
>as they vote, that's what matters.
>Q. How are Haitian leaders encouraging political involvement and activism?
>A. Haitian groups from Broward, Palm Beach and [Miami-]Dade have been 
>informally. Our goal is full political involvement. As a community, we want
>to set an agenda. We want to hold citizenship drives in all three counties 
>a regular basis.We also need to build coalitions with different groups of
>people, and to get all political parties involved.
>Q. What does your agency do?
>A. We are a community-based not-for-profit organization in existence for
>about five years. We provide a number of culturally sensitive programs for
>Haitians and other minorities in Broward County. Our services include case
>management for HIV/AIDS, afterschool activities, job training and 
>We have 19 different community programs.
>Q. Why have Haitians been reaching out to the Fort Lauderdale Police
>Department and the Broward Sheriff's Office?
>A. As we move toward the mainstream, we're also asking mainstream America 
>be sensitive toward Haitians. It's a two-way process. We did cultural
>training for BSO last year. At the same time, we realized Fort Lauderdale
>police had no Haitians on staff. It now has a Creole-speaking officer and a
>Haitian liaison person. We've also dealt with issues about police
>mistreatment of Haitians.
>Q. What mistreatment?
>A. There were a number of incidents. For instance, if a Haitian and a
>non-Haitian got into a traffic accident, the police wouldn't ask the 
>any questions but would automatically give that person a ticket. When 
>like that happen, Haitians see it as subtle discrimination.
>Q. Has that ever happened to you?
>A. Yes. I once forgot where I had parked my car after buying a Mother's Day
>gift at a mall in Pembroke Pines. I spent about five minutes wandering 
>the parking lot. All the while a police officer was watching me, but he
>didn't reach out to help me. Finally, I found my car and as I was driving
>away, he stopped me. He was trying to make sure it was my car. But I still
>believe this officer should have tried to help me in the first place.These
>kind of incidents are small. But when they happen over and over again, they
>build mistrust between the community and the police.
>Q. Are these relations improving?
>A. At least in Fort Lauderdale, there is a willingness to work with the
>Haitian community. We've had about five town hall meetings with the Police
>Department in the past year, and we have kept the dialogue open.We've
>received calls from other police departments that want to work with us
>because our approach is different. We don't just say "this is the problem."
>We say "let's sit down and see how we can solve it together."
>Q. What are some other Haitian concerns?
>A. The issues are the same around the nation. They are immigration, jobs,
>access to services and family-related issues.
>Q. Let's take immigration. What are the problems there?
>A. If you go back to the Carter administration, Cubans and Haitians were
>coming around the same time, almost for the same reasons. The Cubans were
>admitted as refugees. We had to fight to be accepted. This has been our
>struggle up to now.The Haitian Fairness Act was passed in the Clinton
>adminstration, to allow 50,000 Haitians to become legal residents. I 
>that few people were able to apply [partly because eligibility rules were
>issued late].Illegal immigrants can't work [legally] or pay taxes. But if
>they get sick, we have to provide for them. Giving people the possibility 
>becoming documented residents gives them access to education, job training
>and other things that benefit society.
>Q. The counterargument is that once you do that, you invite more people to
>come here illegally. How do you respond?
>A. Look at how many undocumented people we already have in this country.
>Millions. They are not going back to where they came from, and I'm not sure
>we can catch every single one of them. They are people who could be paying
>taxes, which the government would collect and return in services. It's a
>win-win situation. Not the lose-lose one we now have.
>Q. What is the profile of Haitian migration to South Florida?
>A. We have different groups of people. We have Haitians who came from up
>North. They settled in the New York area in the 1960s. Many were
>professionals fleeing the Duvalier regime. They wanted to return to Haiti,
>but for one reason or another, chose to move down to South Florida. Many 
>in Miramar, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood area.In the '70s and '80s, most
>people were leaving for economic reasons. That's when we got all kind of
>Haitians, many people who came from the countryside. They first settled in
>Miami, but many have moved to Broward since Hurricane Andrew. I consider 
>area near this office [470 NE 13 St.] Fort Lauderdale's Little Haiti.
>Q. Why did you leave Haiti?
>A. As a young Haitian, I never thought about leaving my country. But when I
>saw the military seize power in 1989, I did not see my future in Haiti. 
>people who I went to school with also left. And I ran into some of my
>teachers in New York.
>Q. Let's switch to Haiti. Do you see any hope of President Jean-Bertrand
>Aristide and the opposition working together to get the country back on 
>A. I think something can be done if both parties are willing to take risks
>and make decisions that may not be popular within their groups.
>Q. There is growing disenchantment in this country with Aristide, even 
>Democrats such as Rep. Alcee Hastings, who supported the Haitian president.
>What are your feelings?
>A. Personally, I'm disappointed in Aristide. When he first ran, I called my
>family in Haiti and asked them to vote for him. But the country is not
>Aristide. Aristide will come and go -- but the country will always be 
>Q. Do you see any hope for Haiti?
>A.We have plenty of hope for Haiti because we are here. There are instances
>where we can work with the U.S. government, if we have good organizations.
>Some time, the U.S. government may need to go through us to make sure 
>are done properly in Haiti. We can find ways to influence the country and
>address the problems of poverty, illiteracy, AIDS and unemployment. If 
>is an opportunity to share what we have learned in this country, we should 
>Q. Some say Haiti has been in conflict with the West ever since its slaves
>revolted and created the world's first black republic. Can Haiti overcome 
>A. Haiti was a threat to Europe and the United States in the same way Cuba
>became a threat in 1959. In the 19th century, these countries imposed a 
>embargo that hurt our economic growth.But we can't blame the West 100
>percent. We have our share of the blame. It's time to take 
>there is someone to blame, I will blame myself. Then I will say, "Let's 
>the country forward.
>Interview by Editorial Writer Deborah Ramirez
>Copyright 2001, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL Unauthorized reproduction

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