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8620: Haitian Oasis (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

>      By Madeline Baró Diaz Miami Bureau
>      Little Haiti might look like just another South Florida neighborhood.
>      Look closely, however, and you'll see a transplanted version of the
>      Haiti many Miami immigrants once called home. Hand-painted signs on
>      stores, in Creole and English, illustrate what's inside: drawings of
>      carrots, bananas and apples promise a variety of produce in a food
>      market, a pair of scissors signals a barber shop and hand-drawn
>      Florida Lotto signs point the way to the lottery machine.
>      The colorful houses -- in pink and other bright colors -- are painted
>      that way on purpose, a reminder of homes back in Haiti. Chickens
>      occasionally run through the neighborhood and the yards might look
>      untamed and overgrown, but they're actually lush gardens with banana
>      trees and other tropical plants from home.
>      It's an oasis of Haitian life that some Haitian-Americans are afraid
>      will disappear as the area is developed. Although some Little Haiti
>      leaders also want to attract money to the area and rid it of crime,
>      unemployment and poverty, they want to make sure that Little Haiti
>      remains Haitian at its core.
>      "We are striving very hard to preserve our heritage," said Jan Mapou,
>      owner of Libreri Mapou, a Little Haiti bookstore that is also home to
>      Mapou Cultural Center. "Whatever they are planning to do they have to
>      keep the Caribbean flavor. This is our identity."
>      Little Haiti is actually one of Miami's oldest areas, which got its
>      nickname as Haitian immigrants made it their home. Unlike the Little
>      Havana section of Miami and its famous Calle Ocho, however, Little
>      Haiti is not well known outside of South Florida.
>      Local leaders are trying to change that by coming up with ideas for
>      marketing Little Haiti's cultural appeal. The city is considering
>      granting special cultural status to the community, which could bring
>      with it the financial boost the community has long sought.
>      For 20 years, Haitian community activist Viter Juste has been
>      advocating a tourist corridor through Northeast Second Avenue, which
>      runs through the heart of Little Haiti. The tourist corridor would be
>      a place to showcase Haitian paintings, arts and crafts, food, and
>      other pieces of Haitian culture for sale.
>      "When somebody visits as a tourist, they always want to bring back a
>      little souvenir," Juste says. "They would like to taste the Haitian
>      food, listen to the music."
>      Meanwhile, the Haitian American Foundation is planning the Creole
>      Market, an open-air market on 79th Street, another of Little Haiti's
>      main thoroughfares.
>      Vendors there will sell fruits, vegetables, handcrafts, embroidery 
>      other Caribbean-themed goods.
>      "Anything you would find in a Caribbean-type market," said Leonie
>      Hermantin, executive director of the Haitian American Foundation.
>      The market was open briefly last year, but plans to reopen the market
>      this year hit a snag when the project failed to secure city funds for
>      construction. The foundation is looking for other sources of funding.
>      "If it's done well, it would continue to promote this idea, this
>      concept, of Little Haiti being a destination, maintaining the
>      Caribbean flavor of this community," Hermantin said.
>      A previous effort in Little Haiti, the Caribbean Market, opened in 
>      1990s but closed down because of financial problems. Hermantin does
>      not think that whether the Creole Market survives or not will affect
>      other efforts to market Little Haiti's culture.
>      "This is not the end-all," she said. "If it doesn't happen, it 
>      mean Little Haiti won't be a destination. This is not going to make 
>      break that concept."
>      The city of Miami says it, too, is interested in preserving the local
>      culture of Little Haiti.
>      "If you look at Miami, we always talk about its diversity or its
>      culture, and that's one of the areas we have to celebrate," said
>      Gregory Gay, an urban community planner for Miami.
>      Like Little Havana, which has been designated a "Latin Quarter"
>      district, Little Haiti can also get a specialty designation, Gay 
>      The designation is basically a marketing tool. It allows the city to
>      customize zoning and set design standards to showcase the cultural
>      aspects of an area and attract tourists.
>      "It's more or less to highlight the cultural diversity in the areas 
>      which they have settled over the years," he said.
>      Gay said the city is gathering ideas from Little Haiti residents on
>      how to implement a cultural designation. Those ideas would have to be
>      approved by the community and then the city council, he said.
>      In recent years there has been a rise in cultural tourism -- people
>      who travel to soak up local flavor, Gay said. Miami is in a unique
>      position to take advantage of that because it has residents from so
>      many different parts of the world.
>      "It's almost like Epcot, essentially," Gay said, referring to the
>      world pavilions at the Disney theme park.
>      Little Haiti is the perfect spot for cultural tourists, Juste says. 
>      hopes a tourist corridor, if it ever becomes a reality, would be a
>      popular spot for millions of tourists visiting South Florida.
>      "Since they are reluctant to visit Haiti, we say let us bring Haiti 
>      them," he said.
>      Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at mbaro@sun-sentinel.com or
>      305-810-5007.

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