- Framing Haitians and Cubans in The New York Times:Enduring Imprints of Political History
Thus far, the twentieth-first century has brought about three critical developments: the explosion of media technologies, heated debates about immigration, and an economic crisis. While the confluence of these developments is not historically unique, today the US population has savvy media consumers who are engaged in a globalized world. An economic crisis in one nation has global implications. Market instabilities create waves of people fleeing their homes for political and economic reasons. As some people in the United States—particularly residents of Arizona, Alabama, and Florida—made a case for limiting access to US borders through legislation, others responded against these measures. Both sides plead their case to the public through various media outlets. This essay suggests that through its depictions of members of immigrant groups and their countries of origin, media exceeds its mandate to report on immigration legislation and actively participates in the national debate.
Cubans and Haitians constitute two of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the United States. In 2009, an estimated 830,000 people of Haitian ancestry were living in the United States, with two thirds of that population concentrated in Florida and New York.1 By 2010, the Cuban population grew to 1.8 million.2 The changing demographics of the US population remain a topic of conversation and at times of heated debate in the media, making the study of representations of immigrants necessary. Now, more than ever, in the aftermath of the Arizona Immigration Law SB1070, the visible anti-immigration fervor, and the rapid and ongoing changes in demographics, it is important to understand the different groups that make up the United States.
Studying media representations of Cubans and Haitians is an opportunity to analyze their struggle for scarce resources. Of the non-tangible resources, the most noticeable are space, permission to be in the United States, and favorable public opinion in the discourses around immigration. During an October 2002 protest of the immigration policy [End Page 66] toward Haitians, an unidentified man proclaimed differential policies from the US government toward the two groups:
In 1992, a Haitian boat came in and rescued some Cubans who were drowning. INS came in and took the Cubans and said, “thank you for the Cubans,” and took the Haitians back to Haiti.3
While this statement is an oversimplification of a complex issue, it signals the need to further interrogate the stratification that often characterizes representations, and perhaps actual differential treatment, of Haitian and Cuban immigration to the United States.
This incident reignited the debate over differing treatment of immigrants from Haiti versus those from Cuba (HH). The protest came the day after US Border Patrol picked up twenty people, including a pregnant woman, as approximately 200 Haitians swam ashore after traveling more than 700 miles on the open ocean (HH):
Under US policy, most illegal immigrants are detained on arrival, but a small number can avoid detention as they seek asylum based on the judgment of immigration officials. For the most part, immigrants from Cuba are not held in custody, and qualify for special provisions in immigration law. And most Cuban immigrants eventually receive asylum in the US; most Haitians do not.(HH)
Journalist Kwame Holman’s story highlights the struggle for resources within many immigrant communities; specifically, his is a salient account of two highly visible immigrant groups’ struggle in the United States. Cuba’s and Haiti’s physical locations put them within the US sphere of influence. Both are countries of origin of a significant number of immigrants to the United States. Thus, the US government has substantial interest in the political governance of each country. Additionally, Haiti and Cuba have complex and interwoven histories with the United States, with contemporary iterations of these relationships reflected in the US media, notably, the US responses to the resignation of Fidel Castro (2011) and catastrophic earthquake in Haiti (2010). For decades Haitians have embodied the importance of citizenship to both define and control those who have access to it. The ways in which Haiti is represented is inextricably tied to its history and relationship with other countries...