Haitians - Orientation

Identification. Haitians are Blacks from the island of Haiti, which occupies one-third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea. The other two-thirds of Hispaniola is occupied by the Dominican Republic. Contemporary Haitians are descendants of African slaves imported by the French colonists to work on the sugar plantations in the eighteenth Century. Haiti has been an independent nation since 1804 when a slave revolt overthrew the French government. Haitians in Haiti are a homogeneous group, with the major distinctions based on social class and urban-rural residence. Ninety percent of the population is rural, and the other 10 percent is mostly mulatto and forms the elite. In the United States, the Haitian population is composed of naturalized U.S. citizens, legal immigrants, legal nonimmigrants (students, government workers), children born in the United States, and undocumented aliens and refugees. The large number of Haitians who have come to North America since the mid-1970s has made the group highly visible and has resulted in their being the victims of economic, political, and residential racial discrimination. Haitians see themselves as distinctively Haitian, with the identities of West Indian or Black being of Secondary importance.

Location. In the United States, Haitians live primarily in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami. Perhaps as many as one-half live in New York City. In Canada, Haitians live mainly in Montreal.

Demography. Estimates place the Haitian population in the United States at about 800,000 with perhaps as many as one-half that number classified as undocumented aliens or refugees. About a quarter are children born in the United States. In Canada, Haitians number about 25,000. In both countries, most Haitians have arrived in the last thirty years.

Linguistic Affiliation. Haitians speak Haitian Creole, which is a distinct language, not a dialect of French. About 8 percent, most of whom are the elite, also speak French. Because of regular contact with the United States, the use of English, especially in cities, is increasing. In North America, most recent immigrants speak Haitian Creole, while those who came earlier and their American-born children speak English.

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