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Haitian refugees cluster with old neighbors, relatives in S. Florida


Haitian refugees cluster with old neighbors, relatives in S. Florida

By Alva James-Johnson
Staff Writer

February 19, 2004

After Belony Cherubin arrived undetected with 35 other Haitian refugees by boat in 1995, they wandered the streets of Miami hoping to find other Haitians.

Cherubin said he ended up at a restaurant, where a taxi driver offered to take him to a Haitian neighborhood. He was dropped off at First Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

"The driver said that's where all the Haitians live, and I got out," said Cherubin, a native of Port-de-Paix. "I saw a woman who looked like my family, and it was my cousin."

Throughout South Florida, Haitian neighborhoods are often filled with people from the same towns, drawn together by social and family ties.

"If they say they come from Artibonite, we go to Boynton and drop them there, and they'll find somebody," said Daniella Henry, director of the Haitian-American Community Council in Delray Beach. "If they're from the northern part of Haiti, I drop them in Pompano by the railroad track. If they come from Port-de-Paix, in the northwest of Haiti, I drop them right in southeast Delray Beach."

Cleomie Lambert, a case manager and Creole translator at Broward County's Family Success Administration and Refugee Services Division, said she has been working with Haitian refugees since 1980. She said it's not a hard-and-fast rule that people are concentrated according to where they lived in Haiti, but it's generally the trend.

Alex Stepick, director of Florida International University's Immigration and Ethnicity Institute and author of Pride Against Prejudice: Haitians in the United States, said the "chain migration" happens among most groups that come to America.

"A group of people get someplace first, for whatever reason, and then spread the word and bring their friends and relatives to that place so it becomes a reinforcing trend," he said. "They pretty much rely upon the network of people they know, and these people most likely help them find a job, a place to live and a church to attend."

He said the only exceptions are professionals, who tend to live where the jobs are, such as Coral Springs, Miramar and Pembroke Pines.

Such migration patterns mean that the current political unrest may have a greater impact on some Haitian neighborhoods than others. Those living in Boynton Beach and Lake Worth, for example, are mainly from GonaĀves and St. Marc, two cities in Artibonite, where rebels have taken control.

On Wednesday in a northwest Boynton Beach neighborhood, several people from St. Marc said they were concerned about family there.

Frantz Louinord, 22, said his mother arrived as a boat refugee in 1984, and he came legally two years ago. He has a sister and grandfather in St. Marc and another sister in Port-au-Prince. The family hasn't been able to reach them by telephone in recent days because of the turmoil in the country.

"I worry a little bit because they could be hit by stray bullets," he said.

Henry said an influx of new refugees to areas such as Boynton Beach and Lake Worth could overwhelm Haitian communities that will have to bear much of the economic burden.

"My concern is that most of the people who will flee Artibonite, about 80 to 90 percent of them, will come right here," Henry said. "We have no affordable housing here, and the houses are already filled to capacity. People already have families living with them now, and it's going to be a strain."

She said the influx of boat refugees to South Florida began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some stayed in Miami, and others migrated north to rural areas like Belle Glade and cities such as Delray Beach. In 1991, another influx migrated after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government was overthrown.

Henry said she was an employee at the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Delray Beach and helped to settle many refugees who came from the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they were held by the U.S. government. Some also arrived undetected along the shores of South Florida.

"In the morning you would see a bunch of refugees sitting in front of the office," she said. "And we would go on the radio and say, 'We have people here from Haiti,' and ask people to take them in."

She continued her work with the refugees when she opened the neighborhood center in 1992.

Berenie, a woman who wouldn't give her last name, said she arrived as a boat refugee in 1980 and settled in southeast Pompano Beach, where there's a large concentration of people from her hometown of Port-de-Paix. She said a year later 19 people shared her two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. They were mostly boat refugees from Port-de-Paix, who knocked on her door because they knew she was from the area.

"You can't say 'no;' you have to help them," she said. "Sometimes you don't have enough food, so you put beans, bananas and flour together, and you just cook it to feed everybody. At nighttime we just put a sheet on the carpet, and me and my husband slept in a bedroom with eight other people."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at or 954-356-4523.

Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Credits for the graphic: IMMIGRATION PATTERNS Haitian neighborhoods in South Florida are often composed of immigrants from the same regions or cities in Haiti. (SOURCES: Daniella Henry, director of the Haitian-American Community Council in Delray Beach; Cleomie Lambert, of Broward County's Family Success Administration and Refugee Services Division)

Copyright © 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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