Can ‘Little Haiti’ Thrive?

Central intersection in Little Haiti. (Photo by Garry Pierre-Pierre via The Haitian Times)

An area of Central Brooklyn has been officially designated the Little Haiti Cultural and Business District after approval by the City Council on June 28. In a story that appeared in Brooklyn Paper, Alexandra Simon writes that the Council’s support will give leaders like Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who started the campaign for the district, the go-ahead…

“…to get to work on projects that can help bring more tourism dollars and other investments to the area — which covers parts of Ditmas Park, Flatbush, East Flatbush, and Midwood, and is generally bounded by E. 16th Street, Parkside Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, and Avenue H, and also includes Church Avenue between Brooklyn and Albany avenues.”

In a Haitian Times story published ahead of the City Council vote, Aisha Powell examines whether Little Haiti can survive given not just threats of gentrification but also changes in federal immigration policies. Donna Gabaccia, a history professor at the University of Toronto–Scarborough, pointed out that “Little Italy [was] starting to fade away not when it was gentrified, but because the country cut off immigration from Italy.”

Haiti is seemingly following the same path. Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allowed more than 50,000 Haitian immigrants to enter the United States, is set to terminate in July 2019 leaving thousands facing deportation.

Gabaccia says there’s a direct correlation between immigration policy and the future of minority groups in America.

Today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows spouses, children and parents (over the age of 21) to petition for relatives in other countries to receive a legal status in America – but that could also potentially change she says.

“If there is a cut back in immigration, if TPS results in large amounts of Haitians leaving and if immigration from Haiti is further suppressed by law or policing,” she said. “It won’t be long before those wealthier people in Brooklyn will change the character [in Little Haiti].”

Powell looks at other ethnic enclaves and how they managed to survive. In Little Caribbean and Little Guyana, businesses worked with residents and local organizations that allowed the districts to thrive. Meanwhile in Chinatown, an area nonprofit, Asian Americans for Equality, helped bring affordable housing and small business loans to residents.

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