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9677: West Indians lead black growth (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2001

West Indians lead black growth

Led by an increasing number of Haitians and Jamaicans, West Indian 
immigration is driving the growth in South Florida's black communities.

According to a new U.S. Census survey of 1,203 counties nationwide, the 
number of people living in Miami-Dade and Broward counties who describe 
their primary ancestry as West Indian is an estimated 313,540.

Haitians, included by the Census Bureau in the West Indian category, are the 
largest such group in Miami-Dade, with 97,793, and Jamaicans are the biggest 
in Broward, with 67,945, the survey estimates.

The Census Bureau cautions against direct comparisons between the survey and 
1990 Census numbers, but it appears the non-Hispanic Caribbean population 
has roughly doubled in the last decade.

Many community activists say even that is an undercount.

In Broward, the West Indian population seems to account for more than 
two-thirds of the estimated increase of about 140,000 in total black 
population between 1990 and 2000. In Miami-Dade, West Indians made up about 
90 percent of the black population increase.

Their presence can be seen from Sunday worship services in Little Haiti to 
reggae bashes in Miami to ``gourmet'' West Indian dining in Hollywood to 
storefronts in Lauderhill, now affectionately called ``Jamaica Hill.''

Flexing their political muscles, Haitians have won political office in the 
Florida Legislature, and in the cities of El Portal and North Miami, where 
Joe Celestin this year became the first Haitian-American elected mayor of a 
large city.

Meanwhile Jamaicans, taking political activism to new heights in Broward, 
sit on the Miramar, Southwest Ranches and Lauderdale Lakes city commissions, 
as well as in the mayor's office in Lauderdale Lakes.


The population's increasing size and influence in a place defined and 
divided by ethnicity has created some tensions between African Americans and 
West Indians, most of whom are black, observers in both groups say.

The tension also exists among West Indians from different countries.


Among some recent examples:

Scuffling and name-calling between Haitian and African-American students at 
Sunrise Middle in Fort Lauderdale on April 28 when Haitian students were 
allowed to wear Haitian flags, colors and shirts, but African-American 
students were told that if they wore red and white they would be suspended 
for 10 days.

Ongoing disputes between Haitian, Jamaican and African-American students at 
schools such as Dillard and Fort Lauderdale High in Broward.

Accusations by African Americans that Haitians are playing ``ethnic 
politics'' and diluting the ``black agenda'' by demanding separate 
recognition on census forms.
``The animosity and competition remains very high,'' said Haitian community 
activist Marvin Dejean, summarizing relations between Haitians and African 
Americans in Broward, where the West Indian population appears to have 
nearly tripled in the past decade.

``There is not a whole deal of cooperation going on.''

Janice Boursiquot, a Broward schools social worker and Fort Lauderdale NAACP 
education chairwoman, said many West Indians do not understand or respect 
the struggles of African Americans.

``There is not a recognition from any of these West Indian people of the 
contributions black Americans made to make their lives better,'' said 
Boursiquot, who is African American. ``They want to take advantage of all of 
these spoils without acknowledging the sacrifices made.''


Hazelle Rogers, a Jamaican and Lauderdale Lakes city commissioner, said 
there are some West Indians who are ``arrogant and don't understand some of 
the things they take for granted were things government felt they needed to 
do for certain segments of society.''

But African Americans also need to understand that Caribbean people have 
also contributed to the development of the country, she said.

``The fight should not be between African Americans and people of the 
Caribbean region,'' Rogers said.

``Both groups were exploited and need to understand their contributions,'' 
she said.

Some efforts are underway to address the tensions. Last week, Broward School 
Superintendent Frank Till met with parents at Northside Elementary in Fort 
Lauderdale, which has a predominately Haitian enrollment, to discuss 
concerns about the plight of Haitian students in the county's public 

The Fort Lauderdale NAACP plans to sponsor an Interethnic Summit in 
February. It was organized by Bousiquot, who says black people need to 
coalesce around a single racial identity.

Among the people helping to plan the event: Rogers and others representing 
the Haitian, Jamaican, African-American and African communities.

Such dialogue is also needed in Dade, leaders say.

``I don't think much is being done to engage,'' said Dade attorney Marlon 
Hill, a Jamaican and president of the Caribbean Bar Association. ``Dade is 
in a very unusual silence.''

That silence, some say, feeds a misperception that tensions have subsided 
and all is well.

``I am not sure if it will ever subside,'' said Bishop Victor Curry, former 
president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP. ``I am optimistic that a 
lot of it has.''


Some of that can be credited to greater cooperation in recent years between 
African-American and Haitian leaders on issues such as U.S. immigration 

Despite those coalitions, however, the misconceptions, stereotypes and 
distrust persist.

``The problem seems to be part ignorance and people reacting to stereotypes 
and perceptions that the Haitians come here and want to take over and take 
our jobs and vice versa,'' said Marleine Bastien, executive director of 
Haitian Women of Miami. ``And the perceptions from Haitians about African 
Americans. The negative perception goes both ways. It's really 

Ivelaw Griffith, a Florida International University political science 
professor originally from Guyana, blamed the complications on unhealthy 
competition over scarce economic resources and political power, and 
bickering over self-definition.

``It's a limited pie and when you have competition for limited resources, it 
generates animosity, conflict, apprehension and all sorts of 
misunderstanding,'' Griffith said.

How West Indians define themselves can add to the friction. Among many 
Caribbean people, skin-color ranks second to nationality.

``The Caribbean person says, `I am going to accentuate my nation. I am not 
going to talk about being black.' The African American then responds, `But 
how can you not talk about being black?'' Griffith said.

``Many black West Indians, as a defensive mechanism, as a way of coping with 
the American definition of race, don't accentuate their race. They 
accentuate their nationality.''

Nationalism, Bastien said, is not a denial of one's blackness, but rather an 
affirmation of one's self.


Still, it leads to misunderstanding.

``We take these differences and allow them to divide us. We take these 
differences and put them on a pedestal as if they are something to be 
celebrated,'' Boursiquot said.

Both African Americans and West Indians say it is in their interests to find 
a way to put their differences aside and move forward as a bloc.

``At least on issues we see affecting all of us,'' Dejean said.

``It behooves us to at least understand each other and at least move in a 
common interest way, a respectful way. `I may not always understand what 
being Jamaican or Haitian is all about, but we know our communities suffer 
the same fate.' ''

Herald staff writer Jason Grotto contributed to this report.

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