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  • Spatial Strategies of Haitian Businesses in the Diaspora:The Case of Metropolitan Miami (2001-2009)

The spatial dispersion of Haitians in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe in the twentieth century has had an increasing impact on Haiti’s demography and on the transnationalization of its economy and social networks. Haitians abroad now constitute the equivalent of 20 percent of Haiti’s population and families left behind are increasingly dependent on the social and economic strategies of their siblings living in foreign countries (e.g., social networks and remittances, family reunification). This trend has been reinforced in the aftermath of the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Migration flows and transnational ties are stronger than ever. In the United States, the development of Haitian communities–mainly in the Northeast and Florida–has been accompanied by the settlement of ethnic businesses that have provided goods and services, in response to the cultural needs of immigrants as well as the need to maintain symbolic ties with the homeland.

Moreover, the presence of ethnic businesses has played a key role in the social, geographic and identity structuring of immigrant neighborhoods. At the same time, its contribution to the social and cultural transformation of US cities with a strong Haitian presence has been remarkable. In the context of the significant impact of contemporary immigration on demographics, culture and urban change in the United States, it seems relevant to focus on the relation between ethnicity, residential patterns and the emergence of immigrant business communities.

The Haitian business community of Miami is probably the most visible and diverse one in the Haitian diaspora. It has experienced a remarkable transformation since its emergence in the 1970s, from a small enclave to a diversified transnational business community. Once confined to the ethnic neighborhood of Little Haiti, Haitian businesses have followed the northward residential movement of immigrants to the suburbs.1 In this study, I focus on the evolution of Haitian businesses’ spatial patterns and their activities over the last decade (2001-2009) in the Miami metropolitan [End Page 217] area. This focus stems from a curiosity about how Haitian businesses have responded to the specific needs of immigrants and, consequently, how immigrants’ social and residential patterns have impacted the dynamics of ethnic businesses.

As an outline for this general reflection, I begin by presenting the theoretical framework and methodology on which the analysis is grounded. Then, preliminary considerations on Haitian residential and social patterns in the United States and on the Haitian diasporic market will provide a contextual understanding of the general features of Haitian businesses in Miami. The evolution of the size and the nature of the business community between 2001 and 2009 will then be analyzed on the basis of two exhaustive surveys conducted in the Miami-Dade’s Haitian enclaves of Little Haiti and North Miami-Biscayne Park in May 2001 and June 2009. Both places were homes to some 485 Haitian businesses in May 2001 and 471 of them in June 2009.

Theoretical Framework and Methodology: Ethnicity, Residential Patterns and the Haitian Ethnic Market

Recent US history has shown a connection between ethno-racial categorization, residential geography and the settlement strategy of small businesses owned by immigrants. The residential concentration of many immigrant groups has provided a market for the creation of localized ethnic business communities throughout the country: New York’s South Bronx, New York’s and California’s Chinatowns and Miami’s Little Havana among others. The ethnic and racial lines along which immigrants have been integrated play a key role in their visibility as territorialized groups in large urban areas.

Three theories have relied on the significance of race and ethnicity in US residential patterns: spatial assimilation, place stratification, and the ethnic residential niche model. The spatial assimilation model has attempted to demonstrate that immigrants and their descendants are increasingly likely to live in places occupied by the non-Hispanic white majority as they move upward in the socio-economic hierarchy and as they incorporate into the social and cultural mainstream. Upward mobility and acculturation of immigrants and their children translate themselves into a residential move from the original enclave to more upscale suburbs.2 The place stratification model views...

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