New York City’s ‘Little Haiti’ Makes a Big Impression

The Wall Street Journal, by By Anne Kadet, July 31, 2018

Little Haiti Makes Big Impression

Soon after New York City officially designated a section of Brooklyn “Little Haiti,” I set off on my bicycle to explore the new attraction. I pedaled and pedaled, and searched and searched. But I couldn’t find it.

The problem? Little Haiti feels as big as Haiti itself. Roughly bound by Prospect Park to the north and Brooklyn College to the south, it’s 320 square blocks—compared with one-block Koreatown in Manhattan.

The intersection of Newkirk Avenue and Nostrand Avenue, also known as Toussaint L'overture, in Flatbush.Then there’s the fact that while this stretch of Flatbush has plenty of Haitians, it’s actually home to immigrants from all over the West Indies. I spotted Nio’s Trinidad Roti Shop, J&L Dominican Barbershop and the Caribbean Vision Center, but nothing referring to Haiti.

The real issue, of course, was that I didn’t know what to look for. Finally, after I asked around, state Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, one of several community leaders behind the June 28th designation, offered a mini tour of Little Haiti.

We started at her office on Flatbush Avenue, which looks like a gallery, featuring paintings by local Haitians. I asked why Little Haiti is so huge.

“I say, it should have been bigger!” said Ms. Bichotte, a 45-year-old Democrat whose parents moved to Brooklyn from Haiti in the 1960s. “We were conservative.”Grace A Toi Seigneuer Dress Shop/Variety Store in Flatbush.

“Some people said, ‘Why does Haiti need to have its own thing?’ ” she continued. “The thing is, everybody can have their own thing.”

(Photo:  Grace A Toi Seigneuer Dress Shop/Variety Store in Flatbush. PHOTO: SANGSUK SYLVIA KANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

But in her view, Haitians especially need to stake a claim because even in Brooklyn, they’re isolated. While most Caribbeans hail from English- or Spanish-speaking countries, she says, Haitians speak French-based Haitian Creole.

“When you hear on CNN that we’re the poorest of the poor and all we do is Voodoo, no one wants to associate with you,” she added.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are about 160,000 Haitian immigrants living in the New York metropolitan area. They’ve been migrating in a steady stream since the late 1950s, often to escape political oppression and economic hardship.

Out on Flatbush Avenue, Ms. Bichotte pointed out Haitian passersby, including a woman wearing what she deemed a typical outfit—a long, stiff denim skirt, white button-front blouse and sensible black loafers.Servers cater to guests at Exit Creole Restaurant on 1805 Nostrand Ave in Flatbush.

Haitians dress conservatively, she said. “But when we have weddings, we’re decked out.”

(Photo:  Servers cater to guests at Exit Creole Restaurant on 1805 Nostrand Ave in Flatbush. PHOTO: SANGSUK SYLVIA KANG FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

We stopped in a restaurant serving fried dishes known as fritays and bouyon, a popular soup.

“They make it with goat head,” Ms. Bichotte said.

At L’Eternel Est Gran, a fabric store, bolts of cloth leaned against the walls. A man on a folding chair in the middle of the room said in Creole that he knew nothing about the business—he was filling in for his wife.

Next door, at the Grace A Toi Seigneur Variety Store, owner Flavie Josaphat was selling bibles and DVDs along with a riot of gowns wrapped in plastic. Also speaking Creole, Ms. Josaphat said the dresses, priced from $20 to $100, are suitable for weddings, church services and funerals.

Now that I knew what to look for, I set off on my own. But it was rough going. Little Haiti might be in the middle of Brooklyn, but it’s off the grid. Most businesses have no website or Yelp reviews. Inside, many stores had no posted prices or English-speaking clerks.

Some places were friendly. At Exit Creole, a cafeteria-style restaurant, owner Hubert Mars couldn’t find a menu but was happy to explain the cuisine.

To read the entire article (click here). 

Categories Haiti News | Tags: | Posted on August 2, 2018

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