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9677: West Indians lead black growth (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2001
West Indians lead black growth
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
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
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,''
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
``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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