The Miami Herald
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.


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

  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

  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 sense.''

  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.