Haitians started immigrating to the United States in the early 1800s, but did not receive much attention until the 1950s and early 1960s when Haitian immigration to the U.S. began to increase visibly. For example, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that between 1931 and 1940, there were only 191 legal Haitian immigrants. In contrast, between 1961 and 1970, there were 34,499 legal Haitian immigrants (it is important to note that there are no numbers of Haitian immigrants before 1932 because Haitians were classified as Caribbean immigrants).(20) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.2% of the Miami-Dade County population was Haitian in 2000, making them the second largest immigrant group (after Cubans) in the county. (21)

Those who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s and early 1960s were professional and highly-skilled workers, the Haitian educational and economic elite, that were exiled by Duvalier. The second wave of immigration occurred in the mid 1970s. These immigrants belonged to the lower-middle class. The mass Haitian immigration to the U.S. in 1979 coincided with the Mariel boatlift in Cuba (the opening of Cuba 's ports by Fidel Castro), which allowed Cubans to freely immigrate to the U.S. Haitians joined the Cubans in their mass immigration to the U.S. These Haitians were mostly poor peasants with agricultural work experience and were from rural and urban areas, the Artibonite Valley , and the north of Haiti (especially Port-de-Paix). (22) These immigrants were known as the “Haitian Boat People.”(21) In 1986, another mass immigration to Miami from Haiti took place when the oppressive Duvalier dictatorship ended. Miami was overwhelmed by the number of Haitian immigrants and unwilling to accommodate them, so they were relocated to other towns. (22)

After President Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 1991, another wave of Haitians came to the U.S. (22) Haitians also immigrated to Miami from Canada and the Northeastern U.S., in order to escape cold weather and find a climate and lifestyle more like those of Haiti. (21) State Representative Philip Brutus explains the optimistic philosophy of Haitian immigrants: “Being from Haiti , we always believed that in America , if you work hard and play by the rules, you could accomplish anything.”(20)

Like many Latino groups of immigrants, Haitian immigrants initially intended to return to their homeland. Due to the unstable political and economic states of Haiti that have remained since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Haitian immigrants are choosing to permanently settle in the U.S. They send the money they are earning to their family members still in Haiti in order to pay for their immigration to the U.S. In addition, Haitian immigrants are beginning to embrace their identities as Haitian-Americans and exercising their rights to vote in local and national elections. For example,

"We strongly want to be part of the American political process and not make the mistakes our parents made 20 years ago," says Francois Leconte, 37, founder and president of the Minority Development and Empowerment Inc. Haitian Community Center . "They never became U.S. citizens. They never took part in the political system. They died here thinking they were going back to Haiti but never made it back. Let's face it, most of us aren't going back.”(20)

Like most groups of immigrants, those of Haitian descent achieve a wide array of socioeconomic statuses. Haitians in North Miami and Miami Shores are creating a growing middle class, while the Haitians in Little Haiti are living in one of the poorest communities in Dade County . The Haitian community faces problems such as crime, unemployment, and lack of health insurance. More positively though, as Haitians are becoming more politically involved (winning offices), they are disproving the stereotype that Haitians are uneducated, extremely poor, boat people.(20) Ossman Desir, the first Haitian-born councilman in North Miami , states:

“The perception of the Haitian-American community has evolved in the past decade. Ten years ago, the Haitian community was like the most ignored, the most left out community, not only in North Miami , but in some of the other municipalities. That changed when Haitian-Americans registered to vote, and now they have the power to make the City Council reflect the city's diversity.”(23)

Miami : History in Brief

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