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17578: (Hermantin) Miami Herald-S. Florida's Haitians find success, struggle (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sun, Dec. 28, 2003

S. Florida's Haitians find success, struggle
Haitians in South Florida have achieved economic successes, but challenges
remain for many since the immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in the
late 1970s.

More photos

EARLY ARRIVAL: As a Haitian immigrant child, Beatrice Louissaint fought to
protect herself. Now she fights on behalf of minority-owned firms seeking to
do business with corporate America. CARL JUSTE/HERALD STAFF

One in a series of stories this month marking 200 years of independence for

They are among South Florida's newest immigrants, arriving in waves starting
in the late 1970s, originally stigmatized by AIDS, poverty and the political
turmoil in their homeland.

As Haiti approaches its bicentennial celebration Thursday, many of its
migrants to South Florida have evolved from being labeled ''boat people'' to
becoming business owners, professionals, even mayors. They have moved from
Little Haiti in Miami to suburbs like North Miami and Pembroke Pines.

In a little more than a quarter-century, Haitian Americans have altered the
political, social and cultural fabric of the region.

''When I consider South Florida's Haitian community, I see a story of
triumph of will and determination to succeed against all odds,'' said Gepsie
Metellus, 43, a Haitian-American community activist who relocated to Miami
from New York in 1984.

``All this in a community with a significant refugee population who did not
have the formal education, money and other tools that generally catapult
communities into the mainstream. Miami's Haitian community is unique in that

Not just unique, but also growing. According to the 2000 Census, 214,893
Haitians live in South Florida -- a number that many activists believe is
grossly underestimated. The community leads the growth among blacks in
Miami-Dade County and is second only to Jamaicans in Broward County.

To be sure, while many Haitians have succeeded and moved up the economic
ladder, thousands more remain poor. They are plagued by immigration woes,
language barriers and few job skills.

In Miami-Dade County, for example, the median household income for Haitians
lags behind that of other blacks, including Jamaicans and black Americans,
according to the 2000 Census.

Even in Broward, where the average Haitian household fared better than in
Miami-Dade, Haitians remained at the bottom.

''Although there are people who have prevailed, there are a lot of people
struggling,'' said Alex Stepick, a Florida International University
professor who has studied South Florida's Haitian community almost from its
inception. ``Still, they have come a long way.''

Yet challenges remain. ''We need to embrace a common community agenda and
continue to promote its adoption and adherence whenever possible,'' Metellus
said. ``We also need to emphasize the need for unity in our community.

``We must stress that we are a people who have to hold hands for the sake of
our community as well as our native land.''

Here are some of the experiences of those who are making it -- part of the
story of South Florida's Haitian diaspora.

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