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The Haitian Diaspora

Migration is the movement of people from one place to another to settle temporarily (in transit migration) or permanently. The movement can be within the same country (internal migration) or from one country to another (immigation), as individuals, in family units or in large groups. There are four major forms of migration: invasion, conquest, colonization (European type)  and immigration (Haitian Migration type)In addition a person who moves from home due to forced displacement — natural disaster or civil disturbance — in the same country is an internally displaced person, and to another country as an asylum seeker. If this application is successful this person’s legal status becomes that of a refugee.

As a result of recurrent natural and fratricidal disasters, Haitian migration is predominantly the asylum seeker type, with rare exceptions.

Haitian migration overseas dates back  to 1697 when the prosperous Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was ceded to France that already had its footprints in the US — Louisiana, Georgia, the Midwest. 

In 1770, inter-commerce brought Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a settler from St Domingue, to establish a successful commodity trading post in Chicago, said to be the springboard of  today’s revered stock market. Haitian military expertise and bravery contributed to the US 1779 Siege of Savannah. Some of the soldiers overstayed in Georgia surrounding states and are credited for helping African Americans escape to the North.

 Pierre Toussaint, born in Artibonite River near Saint-Marc,  moved to New York City in 1787 with his family. Pierre apprenticed to be one of New York’s leading hairdressers. He was thereafter free from slavery. A devoted catholic, he attended daily Mass, sheltered orphans, fostered numerous boys in succession and supported them in getting an education or a trade, helped them get their first jobs through his connections in the city, then organized a credit bureau, an employment agency, and a refuge for priests and destitute travelers. Toussaint also helped raise money to build a new Roman Catholic church in New York, which became Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street. He was a benefactor of the first New York City Catholic school for Black children at St. Vincent de Paul on Canal Street. He often arranged sales of goods so they could raise money to live on. He was “renowned for crossing barricades to nurse quarantined cholera victims. He was “one of the leading black New Yorkers of his day”, but his story became lost to history. After the Holy See formal approval for Toussaint’s canonization, he was the first layman to be honored by burial in the crypt below the main altar of St Patrick’s Cathedral, reserved for bishops of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

In 1795, the US Independence war brought Biassou, a former Haitian general, to Florida to commandeer a free black militia out of Fort Matanzas in St. Augustine. 

In 1803, the side effect of the Haitian Revolution prompted France to sell Louisiana — The Louisiana Purchase — to USus. During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, wrote Carl A. Brasseaux. 

 In 1812, Jean Rabais Audubon of Les Cayes, Haiti, migrated to New York to become a noted ornithologist, naturalist, painter, and philanthropist. On April 26, 2011, Google celebrated his 226th birthday by displaying a special Google Doodle on its global homepage.

Other noted Haitian-descents include Ulises Heureaux, José Francisco Peña Gómez, Santiago Rodríguez Masagó, Pablo AlíMiguel Sanó, Alfonso Soriano, Fernando Guerrero, Juliana Deguis PierreSonia Pierre, and Leonel Fernández, who spearheaded the Dominican Republic’s Economic Revolution. 

Presently, the Haitian Diaspora is comprised of professionals from various disciplines, elected and nominated officials at local, state and federal levels — The Honorable Michaelle Jean is the former “Gouverneur Générale du Canada“, (Canada‘s Governor General); Patrick Gaspard is a former National Security Adviser to President Obama, former Executive Director of the National Democratic Party, and  now president of Open Society Foundations; Dr. Jacques Jiha is former Comptroller of the state of New York and now Comptroller of the City of New York;  Raoul Kwame is a  former State Senator and now Attorney General of the State of Illinois.  Also included are  prominent actors and singers – Jimmy Jean Louis, Garcelle Beauvais, Wyclif Jean; –  prominent sports figures  — Naomi Osaka, Samuel Dalembert, Josy Altidor — prolific writers – Danny Laferriere, Edwidge Danticat – political activists –  Karine Jean Pierre – television anchors and producers  – Lionel Moise, CBS News, Yamiche Alcindor, PBS NewsHour, Karine Jean Pierre,  CNN political contributor, Mona Scott-young , Monami  — and outstanding administrators — Henri R. Ford, M.D., dean of the University of Miami.  In that category are also  practicing lawyers, judges, students (from pre-k to post-graduate schools), blue-collar workers, taxi drivers, as well as unemployed individuals. For a more complete list of notable Haitians, kindly click here.

 It is a lot of capacity to have. The remaining challenge is the Linkage between them to confront the Haitians’ challenges in and out of Haiti.  Of Note, the Children born from the 2nd Generation would normally be of the 3rd Generation and the children born in the host nation of Generations 1 and 1.5 are known as the 2nd Generation. They are expected  to be more successful than their parents.

Noteworthy is as the Haitian American population has grown, so too has its political influence. This reality attracts the attention of authorities of all political tendencies, especially in the United of America, where most Haitians live.

Nationally, in the September 17, 2016 Miami Herald, Jacqueline Charles wrote that Donald Trump, then presidential candidate for the Republican Party, held a rally in Miami’s little Haiti to marshal Haitians’ support for his election bid: 

“I want to be your greatest champion,” Donald Trump told Haitian American voters.

And as shown below, Joe Biden, then democratic Vice president  under President  Obama,  summoned the federation’s  leadership at the Whitehouse to discuss Haitian plights.  

And locally, political leaders are also taking note:

“There are a lot of Haitian voters; the population is growing,” said Michael Barnett, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party and vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.  

And there is power in that vote,” he added.

“This community’s influence is increasing,” concluded Ronald Surin, a vice president of the Haitian American Democratic Club of Broward.

The foregoing underlines the Haitian diaspora’s vast talents and the enormous influence to be wielded in the outcome of elections.  Unfortunately, as the Haitian American population has grown, so too has its challenges — migration, integration, assimilation, relative poverty. This reality prompts questions on whether that the time has come for this diaspora to collectively make good use of all the weapons at its disposal to win the war. The foregoing experts fault Haitian collective engagement as the culprit.The Haitian Diaspora is scattered in 4 continents – Europe, Africa,  Asia, North America, and  Americas’ regions —  Central America, South America, and the West IndiesLatin America and Caribbean (LAC).

In a glance of hope, since the 1990s, Haitians in the Diaspora have created philanthropic organizations in their host countries to contribute to much needed local socio-economic development assistance.  By 2010, over 200 Haitian philanthropic organizations – The Haitian Physicians abroad,  The Haitian League, The Haitian Diaspora Federation, hometown associations, professional sector associations, Economic development agencies — have been actively involved in Haitians’ affairs. Unfortunately, due to lack of financing and expertise, most of the organizations are short-lived.  To date, there has been no effective strategy or policy that seeks to define and implement a structure that promotes and engages the Haitian Diaspora as a productive development partner in and out of Haiti.


According to Dr. Jean Marie Theodate [1], whose extensive study on Haitian migration — “Les Haïtiens dans le Monde” —  is summarised in the above graph,  Haitians are scattered in 3 continents — the Americas,  Europe, and Africa.  However, the majority of Haitians live in the two regions of the Americas — North America and Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) — and Europe and territories.  Few Haitians live in Africa and Asia.  As a result, these continents are merged with Europe.

As noted before, haitian migration follows climate,  education and employment opportunities.  As such, the United of America where most Haitians live is the ultimate destination. An example is the Haitians in transit in the Bahamas whose destination is Florida and those in transit in South America, who joined the caravan to Tijuana and then to the US.  However, in all the major areas of settlement, the Haitian Diaspora shows all the characteristics of a classic immigrant community that has come of age with basic integration, societal problems, and Migration challenges . 

Haitian Migration peaks again during the US occupation of Haiti. However, noticeable Haitian migration to the U.S. peaks in the late 1950s.  In 1960, an estimated 5,000 individuals born in Haiti lived in the U.S.  This number continued to grow over the years through family reunification, the boatpeople phenomenon and continued exodus from socio-economic and political violence and instability in Haiti. he most massive and systemic movement of Haitians abroad began in the 1970s.  With over four (4) decades of growing and consistent immigration history in North America region, the Haitian Diaspora of North America, has accumulated mostly thru its 1.5th, 2nd and 3rd generations, a legion of human resources in major professional disciplines, business as well as policy makers that together represent a wealth pool of resources for consultation and volunteering to strengthen capacity in the Motherland[1]. Since the 1990s, Haitians in the Diaspora have created philanthropic organizations in respective host countries to contribute to much needed hometown localities’ socio-economic development assistance.  By 2010, over 200 Haitian philanthropic organizations including, hometown associations, professional associations, economic development agencies were actively involved in Haiti.

What stands out within the Haitian Diaspora is the collective, steadfast and constant interest in Haiti’s affairs that transcends immediate family support [3]. Of note, Haiti maintains 25 embassies and 55 consulates and other representations throughout the world.  This underlines the presence of a significant number of Haitians in these countries. However, their support to and collaboration with the diaspora is fluid. 

[1]   Including Connecticut, and Maryland (Based on the area covered by the Haitian Consulate in New York.

[2]   Haitians are also found in noticeable quantity in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire

[3]   Linda César.  The Anatomy of the Haitian Diaspora in the U.S.  The Edge Worldwide, Inc. March 2010. 

[4]   Per Haiti’s 2012 amended constitution, Haitians are “Juis Sanguine” or Birth Right regardless of the country of birth … renouncing nationality is a voluntary act by appearing before a judge in Haiti … Election to congress and higher office implies never renouncing to his or her nationally and not having dual nationality on the date of the application.

[5]  Per the “Congrès Mondial Haïtien“, 2005, the Haitian population is estimated to be over 12 Million individuals.  Some 3 Million live in the Diaspora.  It is important to note that the Haitians of the Diaspora include the 1st comers (1st Generation), the children of the 1st comers born in Haïti, (Generation 1.5, for example, the Honorable Michaelle Jean, “Gouverneur Générale du Canada“, (Canada‘s Governor General)), the children born in the host nation of Generations 1 and 1.5 are known as the 2nd Generation, for example, Kwame Raoul, State Senator, Illinois.  The Children born from the 2nd Generation would normally be of the 3rd Generation.

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