[URBANTH-L]REV: Lawless on Pierre-Louis, Haitians in New York City (ARD)

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Sun Aug 27 23:48:53 EDT 2006

Anthropology Review Database

Pierre-Louis, François.  Haitians in New York City: Transnationalism and 
Hometown Associations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

Reviewed 13 Aug 2006 by Robert Lawless robert.lawless at wichita.edu,
Department of Anthropology, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA

Although an exact count is unavailable, "The Department of City Planning 
reported that there were approximately 95,580 foreign-born Haitians living 
in the city in 2000, service agencies and other Haitian organizations have 
estimated that more than 600,000 Haitians live in the New York metropolitan 
area today" (p. 32). According to Pierre-Louis, the main problem of Haitians 
in New York City was whether to assert themselves as a separate black ethnic 
group speaking French (or Creole) and practicing Catholicism (or Voodoo) or 
to blend in with the African-Americans. The creation of hometown 
associations reflected this choice, and Pierre-Louis concludes, "[By] the 
1990s it appeared that they were more comfortable in reinforcing their 
distinct cultural and social differences than in joining forces with other 
blacks in New York" (p. 22).

Most of the political activities of these New York City residents centered 
on the overthrow of the Duvalier regime, and, when that occurred in 1986, 
Haitian-Americans began creating "institutions that could help with the 
rebuilding of Haiti as well as with assimilation in the United States" (p. 
44). "Hometown associations have become important immigrant organizations in 
the community since 1991 when President Aristide recognized their positive 
contribution to Haiti's economy" (p. 27), and "the majority of the 
immigrants who belong to hometown associations live in Brooklyn, primarily 
in Flatbush" (p. 33). Haitian hometown associations commonly engage in 
projects "such as fencing the local cemetery yard where relatives of their 
members are buried, feeding schoolchildren, and providing generators to 
local hospitals. Others are building market places, libraries, and even 
hospitals" (p. 45).

In the course of his research Pierre-Louis "took trips to several provinces 
in Haiti to meet with the affiliates of the hometown associations in New 
York" (p. 45). He found some basic complaints, which included the facts that 
those in Haiti believe that their projects are not fully supported by those 
in New York City, while those in New York City believe that corruption and 
lack of basic skills in Haiti impede the projects (p. 60).

The relationship of the hometown associations with the Haitian government is 
rather problematic. "Leaders of the hometown associations believe that if 
the government decentralized the state apparatus, they might be in a better 
position to implement successful projects in their localities and tap into 
the resources of Haitian professionals who live abroad" (p. 76). With the 
downfall of the second Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, in February 2004, the 
Ministry of the Tenth Department, responsible for diasporic Haitians, no 
longer had a role in the government. The current administration of recently 
elected President René Préval was installed after this book was published.

Although Pierre-Louis admits, "Vodou, of course, is an essential element of 
Haitian culture, both in the homeland and abroad" (p. 106), there is nothing 
beyond this one sentence about the role of Voodoo in Haitian hometown 
politics. The lack of any reference to Karen McCarthy Brown's wonderful 1991 
book about Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn seems to me to be a 
serious omission. Haitians in New York City does contain quite a bit of 
accurate information on the history of Haiti and on Haitian-Americans, 
especially, of course, in New York City, though I would have liked to have 
seen these Ph.D. dissertations in the bibliography: Susan Huelsebusch 
Buchanan's 1980 Scattered Seeds: The Meaning of the Migration for Haitians 
in New York City; Carolle Charles's 1990 A Transnational Dialectic of Race, 
Class, and Ethnicity: Patterns of Identities and Forms of Consciousness 
among Haitian Migrants in New York City; Georges Eugene Fouron's 1985 
Patterns of Adaptation of Haitian Immigrants of the 1970s in New York City; 
Nina Barnett Glick's 1975 The Formation of a Haitian Ethnic Group; and 
Elizabeth McAlister's 1995 "Men Moun Yo"; "Here Are the People": Haitian 
Rara Festivals and Transnational Popular Culture in Haiti and New York City 
(updated in her 2002 book Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and 
Its Diaspora).

Only occasionally tightly focused, this relatively brief book is currently 
the only source for information on the significant topic of Haitian hometown 
associations. The first chapter exemplifies the peculiarity of this 
vacillation with some curious information on the hometown associations of 
Mexicans and Dominicans, pointing out, "Unlike the Mexicans and the 
Dominicans, Haitian immigrants created their hometown organizations to 
position themselves in the United States as a distinct ethnic group, to 
support the democratization process in Haiti, and to address humanitarian 
crises there" (p. 19). Neither Mexicans nor Dominicans are mentioned again.

To cite this review, the American Anthropological Association recommends the 
following style:

Lawless, Robert. 2006 Review of Haitians in New York City: Transnationalism 
and Hometown Associations. Anthropology Review Database. August 13. 
Electronic document, 
http://wings.buffalo.edu/ARD/cgi/showme.cgi?keycode=317, accessed July 27, 

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list