- Haitians in New York City: Transnationalism and Hometown Associations
Haitians in New York City is an admirable effort to reveal dimensions of the Haitian immigrant experience in the United States that have yet to receive full scholarly attention. Building upon the pioneering work of Basch, Glick Schiller, and Blanc (1994), Chierici (1991), Laguerre (1984), Miller (1984), Glick Schiller and Fouron (2001), Stepick (1998), and Stepick and Portes (1994)—works on the immigrant experience that highlight the challenges Haitians have faced to find political and economic security, and recognition as rights bearing subjects deserving of asylum in the U.S.—Pierre-Louis reveals the way that segments of a more established Haitian community have achieved a transnational lifestyle and identity that transcends the so-called boundaries of the state. The Haitian communities in the U.S., and in particular in New York, are gaining ground as viable political forces whose influence is growing both at "home" in Haiti, and at "home" (4) in the United States. Integral to Pierre-Louis's analysis are questions about the state itself as a political entity and the challenge that individuals' transnationalism poses to the power of either the sending or receiving state.
It is crucial to note that Pierre-Louis is writing from the discipline of political science rather than anthropology. He also writes from his own experience as a [End Page 289] Haitian immigrant to the United States who has successfully forged the path of transnational "citizenship." Although his study does employ both qualitative and quantitative methods, it is not for the most part ethnography in the traditional sense that would employ life histories or extended exposés of individuals, or that would provide extended processual analyses of historic events (with the exception of the concluding chapter). Nor is it exactly a history. While the entity of study through which Pierre-Louis discusses these issues is the hometown association, what is presented is a meditation on Haitian history, politics, and the transformation of its diasporic citizenry from the late twentieth to early twenty-first centuries. Pierre-Louis's history of activism with the Haitian refugee population in the U.S. and his insider position as a member of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first cabinet certainly provide much of the source material for the book's statements about the Haitian experience and the political and economic upheavals that Haiti continues to experience.
Chapter one gives a short overview of how Mexican, Dominican, and Haitian immigrant associations flourish to different degrees according to the politics of their reception by the United States, as well as the extent to which immigrants are focused upon integration with their "host" country or to politics in the sending state. Indeed, sending states also vary in their capacity to support or partner with hometown associations. According to Pierre-Louis this difference correlates with the level of democracy and effective bureaucratization the sending state has achieved. He makes the crucial point in this chapter that not only do hometown associations act as political forces in the sending state, strengthening links between nongovernmental associations in Haiti and in the U.S., they are also crucial tools for maintaining and reinforcing the distinctiveness of the ethnic group. In the Haitian case asserting linguistic and cultural difference from other groups of African descent is a strategy to shield the community from the racial oppression historically targeted towards African Americans, a point to which Pierre-Louis returns throughout the book. They have increased from ten associations in the 1970s to forty plus organizations in the year 2000, an increase that may indicate as much about the Haitian community's need for support in New York City as it does about the increased possibility to act transnationally in Haiti.
Chapter two discusses how hometown associations are evidence of democratic trends within Haitian civil society. Haitian leaders exiled during the repressive Duvalier regime formed many of these organizations to enable Haitians abroad to associate without an expressly political (anti-Duvalierist) agenda. They proliferated after the election of...