In Terms of Immigration, there is a real discrimination towards Haitians
From France Amerique
By Keren Lentschner

France-Amérique: What bonds does Haiti have to the French language?
Jean Alexandre: French has long been the only official language. Unfortunately, the masses are not exposed to this language, and use Creole as the popular and national language, which was made the official language in 1987, in place of French. As for education, all is done in French, from primary through secondary school. The dominant class speaks French and embraces the French culture as an integral part of its heritage. We are proud to be a part of the francophone world.

Therefore, an important Haitian delegation, composed by the minister of Education and the Ambassador of UNESCO, has participated in the summit at Beyrouth. In New York, we maintain very good relations with the Ambassador of France, and the Organization of the Francophonie at the United Nations. Facing the regression of French at the UN, we have discussed with the Secretary General ways to increase its usage, while decreasing the use of English in work.
Finally, in a summit on the durable development at Johannesburg, the meeting of Francophonie permitted programs to aid in the education and preservation of the French language to go into effect. Nevertheless, the priority of the government, aside from education, lies in the alphabetization of the population. Haiti counts 60 percent of alphabets as opposed to 85 percent in 1986. The objective is to reduce this rate by 10 to 20 percent by 2004, the bicentenary of our independence. These are programs based on the teaching of Creole, which is much easier than French. (In the rural regions, Creole is the spoken language, but is not read or written.)

Is the Haitian community that resides in the United States at an advantage to learn English as opposed to the language of Molière?

It is mixed. One part of the Diaspora comes from rural regions, not exposed to French. On the other hand, those who have had a classical education want to conserve French as the base language. One sees therefore that books in French are in their foyers, which permit them to continue to cultivate the French tradition and to transmit it to the next generation. Even if there is resistance sometimes on the part of the former, this is of little interest. The first generation of Haitian immigrants mixed three languages: Creole, English, and French. But it is true also that one part of them have been victim to the division that represented the language, and ignore French.

The Haitian community seems animated by generational gaps. Does it try for a homogenous community?

There are, in effect, some breaks. Immigration has begun since the 1960s, with the intelligentsia and the middle class, who fled the dictatorial regime of Duvalier. Then, in the 1980s, it became a more economically motivated immigration, from the rather rural provinces. This split persists today still. In the end, there has been a third wave of immigration – that of the boat people, fleeing the dictatorship and the army after the coup d’Etat against President Aristide in 1991. There were more or less thousands. Certain people were detained at Guantanamo, others were returned to Haiti, and others obtained political asylum.

One feels a real resentment the Haitians have towards the Americans, and the Bush administration in particular, on the subject of the boat people…

This dates back to the 1980s. At that time, the Americans integrated the Cubans into Florida with no problem. Similarly the Mexicans traversed the frontier in order to enter the United States. This was not the case with the Haitians, who were often returned or incarcerated and obtained asylum with great difficulty. One has therefore attended these camps of Haitian refugees at Guantanamo, as I just said.

There is a real discrimination in the treatment of Haitians as compared with that of the Cubans notably, who are accepted as emblems and integrated in the American society. It is a politics of “two weights, two measures,” which perhaps has a racist foundation.

Why has international aid to Haiti stopped?

One attends a sort of moratorium of economic aid. There are more than 600 million frozen dollars destined for Haiti, blocked by the World Bank, the IMF and other international organizations, which have used political criteria to justify this decision.

What is it that still makes these boat people try their luck en route to the United States?

For the Dominicans, the Haitians, or the Mexicans, it is the same thing, the economic distress in their country. They come to seek a better future for their families and try to survive.

What view do the Haitians have towards the United States?

The ditch is rather large…It is about a completely different world. There are barriers – linguistic…cultural…The Haitians who immigrated here need a lot of time to get used to it.

The elections of November 5 have confirmed a certain lacking of political maturity of the Haitian community, of which a large portion did not vote. How do you explain this?

This comes from the difficulty of adapting to the American lifestyle. In order to benefit from the advantages that the American society offers, one must organize. The Haitians have not yet understood how the system functions here, which must exercise its influence on the local and federal levels in order to have access to the leaders. The community should be able to present its ideas and its desires. But integration is necessary, and it is not there yet. However, there is the force of the ethnic group: to organize itself in order to deliver a message, defend its rights, and protect its economic and political interests.

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Translated from French by Charlotte Triggs.

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