Haitians - History and Cultural Relations

Haiti is unique in a number of ways: it is the second oldest independent nation in the New World; it is the only nation in history to achieve independence through a slave revolt; it is the poorest nation in the hemisphere; and its culture is the most strongly African culture in the New World. Migration to North America went through four stages. During the period of French colonization in the 1700s some French and their slaves migrated to the southern colonies and settlements. The period of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) brought some 50,000 Whites and Blacks to North America, with most settling in cities in the East and the South. From 1915 to 1934 Haiti was occupied by the United States and thousands of middle-class Haitians immigrated to the United States. Most settled in cities, establishing businesses or obtaining professional employment, and eventually assimilated into mainstream society. From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers, first François "Papa Doc" and then his son, Jean-Claude. The Duvaliers' repressive rule drove thousands of middle-class Haitians north from 1957 to 1971.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Haitian "boat people" began arriving in Florida. Unlike most of the earlier Immigrants, they were mainly rural, poor, uneducated, and male. After 1977 the number of these immigrants increased dramatically, making them highly visible and leading to often repressive government action including deportation or internment in detention camps. Although the courts put an end to most of these abuses, the public stereotyped Haitians as poor, illiterate, illegal aliens. Haitians were then identified as an at-risk group for contracting the AIDS virus, a classification that was later rescinded by the government. Not surpisingly, Haitians who have arrived since the 1970s and constitute the majority of those in North America, are subject to various forms of racial and cultural discrimination. Because of linguistic and cultural differences, they usually do not affiliate with the African-American community or with Black West Indians. The children born in the United States, however, adopt English as their primary language and associate with African-Americans.

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