Latino and Caribbean Migration and Immigration

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Latino and Caribbean Migration and Immigration

O ne of the fastest growing populations at the end of the twentieth century was Latino and Caribbean Americans. Three major groups have traditionally dominated among U.S. Hispanics. Mexican Americans numbered 20.6 million in the 2000 Census and comprised about 58.5 percent of the Hispanic population of the United States. (For more information about Mexican Americans, see Chapter 21.) Puerto Ricans numbered 3.4 million in the United States and 3.8 million in Puerto Rico and comprised about 9.6 percent of the population. (Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States. Those who have migrated from Puerto Rico to the mainland should not be considered immigrants.) Cuban Americans numbered 1.2 million and made up about 3.5 percent of the Hispanic population. In 2000 other Hispanic and Caribbean groups were rapidly catching up to the top three and some were, in fact, growing at a faster rate. The Dominicans were the fourth largest Hispanic group, at 765,000 people, followed closely by the Salvadorans. Central Americans numbered 1.7 million and South Americans numbered 1.4 million.

Other, non-Hispanic Caribbean countries are beginning to have significant populations in the United States, particularly Jamaica and Haiti. These countries are not considered Hispanic because other European powers introduced different languages and customs after Spain's initial explorations and settlement. According to a 2003 report from the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, the number of U.S. residents with origins in the Caribbean increased by over 60 percent from 1990 to 2000. This report asserts that the data from the 2000 Census shows that Afro-Caribbeans in the United States number over 1.5 million (Afro-Caribbeans are defined as people who report their ancestry and/or country of birth in the predominantly black islands of the Caribbean.) A large portion of these Afro-Caribbean Americans are from Haiti. Most observers feel that the U.S. Census does not clearly reflect Haitian ancestry. A U.S. Census Bureau report released in 1998 recorded 280,874 Haitian Americans for 1990, while an estimate compiled by Haitian Americans for Economic Development (HAED) estimated that there were approximately 1.1 million Haitian Americans in 1990.

Latino and Caribbean Americans tend to reside in different parts of the United States. The majority of Mexican-origin people live in the five southwestern states of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California. Puerto Ricans tend to live in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, whereas the majority of Cubans reside in Florida. Dominicans and Haitians tend to live in New York and southern Florida, and South and Central Americans tend to live in New York City and Los Angeles, California.

U.S. Residents of Latino Descent, 2000 Census

Mexican: 20.6 million

Puerto Rican (residing U.S. mainland): 3.4 million

Puerto Rican (living in Puerto Rico): 3.8 million

Central American: 1.7 million

South American: 1.4 million

Cuban: 1.2 million

Dominican: 765,000

Spaniard: 100,000

Other: 10 million

Florida's Miami-Dade County was home in 2000 to more than half the Cuban population in the United States, and for many years its population has been shaped by the waves of incoming Cubans. The 2000 Census, however, revealed that southern Florida no longer has a Cuban majority. Non-Cuban Hispanic and Caribbean Americans—Dominicans, Colombians, Hondurans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and others—in Miami-Dade County are now equal in number to Cubans. Little Havana in Miami was 60 percent Cuban in 1990 but dropped to 49 percent Cuban in 2000.

Latino and Caribbean Migration and Immigration: Fact Focus

  • In 2000 Florida's Miami-Dade County, in southern Florida, was home to more than half of the Cuban population in the United States, but even so, the Hispanic population of this area no longer had a Cuban majority, as it has had in the past. Non-Cuban Hispanic and Caribbean Americans—Dominicans, Colombians, Hondurans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and others—in Miami-Dade County were equal in number to Cubans at the turn of the century.
  • The large wave of Puerto Ricans to migrate to the United States after World War II (1939–45) arrived by airplanes. In the 1950s Puerto Ricans could fly to New Jersey for forty dollars.
  • After Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926–) allied Cuba with the Soviet Union in 1960, the U.S. government announced that it would welcome all refugees from Castro's Cuba. By encouraging middle-class professional Cubans to leave Cuba, U.S. leaders felt they could damage the Cuban economy and hurt the image of communism worldwide.
  • Dominican Americans are the fourth-largest Hispanic group in the United States. New York City has more Dominicans—between five hundred thousand and one million—than any city in the world except Santo Domingo.
  • From 1991 to 1993, forty-three thousand Haitians fled their country by boat. Many of their boats were intercepted by U.S. officials and those emigrants were taken to Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba. At one time there were 12,500 Haitians in the camp at Guantánamo awaiting a decision on their refugee status from the U.S. government.
  • Nicaraguan Americans in Miami live in several well-defined neighborhoods, with Nicaraguan restaurants, stores, travel agencies, beauty shops, and medical clinics.

Historical background

When European explorers found the West Indies, or the islands in the Caribbean Sea—Cuba, Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica, and Puerto Rico

Latino and Caribbean Migration and Immigration: Words to Know

A person who is not a citizen of the United States.
The way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into a culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.
Protection from persecution and not subject to arrest.
A Spanish-speaking section of a U.S. city or town.
Able to speak two languages fluently.
A group of people living as a political community in a land away from their home country but ruled by the home country.
A form of government based on the common good of the citizens rather than on the rule of a monarch.
To send an alien out of the country whose presence in the country is not legal.
Unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices.
Leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there. "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland."
A distinct cultural or nationality unit within a foreign territory.
Ethnic cleansing:
The killing of an ethnic minority group by the majority group.
To travel to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States."
Migrant workers:
Laborers who move regularly to find temporary work.
To move from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders.
A person of African American and European American ancestry.
The process of becoming a citizen.
Abusive and oppressive treatment.
A dependent state under the authority of a stronger state.
An assigned proportion.
The Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as a person who has left the country in which he or she last lived and is unable to return to that country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Once a person is determined to be a refugee in the United States, he or she is entitled to federal assistance in settling into a home and finding a job, and in getting English-language training, temporary cash loans, and necessary medical services.
Subsistence farm:
A small farm that provides the goods for the survival of its tenants without producing extra crops for commercial use.
Trade embargo:
Prohibition of the trade of certain goods with a country.
The official endorsement on a passport showing that a person may legally enter the country.

among others—they almost immediately forced the local inhabitants, mainly Arawak, Taino, and Carib Indians, into servitude. Later, when the plantation system of raising sugar crops was developed in the Caribbean, the Spaniards sought another source of labor and soon began importing slaves from Africa. Despite the violent nature of the formation of the societies of these islands, the Spanish, Native Americans, and African Americans mingled, giving birth to societies that were a mixture of the traditions and history and beliefs of all three ancestries (and in the case of Haiti and Jamaica, yet another European influence would be added to each). Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Haitian Americans all have their own unique mixture of Spanish, Native, and African influences that show up in their clothing, religion, physical appearance, food, and art.

Puerto Rican migration

Although Spain lost many of its New World colonies by the early nineteenth century, it held onto Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines until the Spanish-American War of

1898. Well before the war, a population of Puerto Rican exiles lived in the United States while it plotted its revolution against the Spanish. The first groups of these early exiles were from the middle classes, but laborers and artisans soon came as well.

Large-scale migration from Puerto Rico began in the late 1800s as a response to changes in the Puerto Rican economy and society. Puerto Rico emancipated (freed) its slaves in the 1870s. At the same time, coffee replaced sugar as the primary crop. Farms began to rely on day labor (short, temporary work). Jobs were inconsistent and there were not enough to go around. Because of improvements in health care and sanitation, the Puerto Rican population soared during this period, almost doubling itself. Severe unemployment led many to migrate.

Independence from Spain

In the meantime, the United States had begun to support the revolutionary movement championed by the Puerto Rican exiles. Hostilities with Spain grew. In 1898 the United States declared war and then invaded Puerto Rico to force the Spanish out. The Puerto Ricans cheered the Americans as liberators. Five months after the war had begun, Spain surrendered. In the Treaty of Paris of 1898 Spain transferred Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines to the United States. The United States set up a military government in Puerto Rico, and in 1900 the island was made a protectorate (a dependent state under the authority of a stronger state) of the United States. Puerto Ricans had very little power over their government in these first years after independence from Spain. In 1917 Congress passed the Jones Act, which provided Puerto Rico with a legislature and granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

The Jones Act was a political victory for Puerto Ricans. However, employment opportunities decreased because of the closer economic relationship with the United States. New larger sugar plantations used more machinery and fewer workers. The plantations gobbled up land, forcing out subsistence farms (small farms that provide the goods for the survival of their tenants without extra crops to sell) and coffee plantations. In the towns and cities, independent shoemakers, carpenters, and other craftsmen were overwhelmed by manufactured goods made in the United States. In addition, the many jobs for women in tobacco factories and in maid services declined. As the years passed, job opportunities for island workers continued to decrease. Most of the available jobs were part-time odd jobs, working for a day or two at a time for factories or businesses that needed menial work done—such as construction, demolition, hauling, assembling, or cleanups. In Puerto Rico these jobs are called chiripeo. Unemployment and underemployment caused many Puerto Ricans to leave for the mainland.

U.S. immigration policies made Puerto Rican workers attractive to American businesses. The National Origins Act of 1924 raised barriers to immigration from Eastern and southern Europe and from Asia. So, when labor shortages occurred, employers looked to the Americas for workers. Mexico and Puerto Rico became sources for labor. As American citizens, Puerto Ricans could enter the United States more easily than Mexicans. By 1930 there were over fifty-three thousand Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, with most in New York. There they concentrated in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and East Harlem. As more Puerto Ricans came in later years, these barrios (Spanish-speaking sections) remained at the core of the Puerto Rican community in the United States.

More and more Puerto Ricans came to the mainland in the early part of the twentieth century. Soon after settling in northeastern cities, they began to feel the effects of discrimination. In July of 1926, non-Hispanics attacked Puerto Ricans living in New York. The Harlem Riots, as the conflicts were called, forced the Puerto Ricans to come together to stand up for their rights. To assert their culture, Puerto Rican migrants looked back to their island roots in a time before the Spanish. The Native Americans had called their island Borinquén. Now in the United States, Puerto Ricans showed their nationalism and ethnic pride by reviving the idea of Borinquén querido "beloved Puerto Rico." Community organizations and clubs did much to unite Puerto Rican migrants in cities like New York. These groups also helped raise awareness of Puerto Ricans in the non-Hispanic population. The most common associations were the hermandades (brotherhoods).

The Great Depression (1929–41) brought economic hardship to everyone, including Puerto Ricans. The hard times also led to more discrimination against all immigrants, who were seen as competition for the dwindling jobs available. Between 1930 and 1934, about 20 percent of the Puerto Ricans living in the United States returned to Puerto Rico.

The Great Migration from Puerto Rico

The largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, almost two million people, occurred after World War II (1939–45). They came for two reasons. Economic policies

in Puerto Rico had decreased the number of jobs in agriculture and light industry. At the same time, the postwar economic boom on the mainland offered more jobs and higher wages than were available back home.

Puerto Ricans in the new migration arrived by airplanes. After the war many World War II cargo planes became available for peacetime use. There were so many Puerto Ricans who wanted to come to the United States that entrepreneurs (starters of new businesses) established new airlines. By 1947 over twenty airlines provided service between Puerto

Rico's capital, San Juan, and Miami or between San Juan and New York. The large numbers of passengers and the competition among airlines pushed the prices down. In the 1950s Puerto Ricans could fly to the New York-New Jersey area for forty dollars.

These new arrivals crowded into large barrios in New York and other eastern cities. As their numbers grew, Puerto Ricans began to settle in Italian American and Irish American neighborhoods. Here there was often hostility between the ethnic groups. Like earlier groups of Puerto Rican migrants, these postwar arrivals faced serious social and economic challenges. Most of the work available to them was low paying. Discrimination forced them into low-rent, overcrowded housing. Police brutality and a less than sympathetic court system made conditions worse. To better deal with these challenges, the new Puerto Rican Americans turned to new self-help and civil rights organizations that were not as inclined to look back on their beloved island home as earlier associations. The Puerto Rican Forum was founded in New York in the mid-1950s. It proposed actions to ease the effects of poverty. Aspira (Aspire) was founded in 1961 to promote educational programs. Aspira eventually spread to serve large Puerto Rican communities across the country.

Because of their numbers and the pressures of crowding in large eastern cities, postwar Puerto Rican migrants began to spread out across the country. They moved to textile mill towns in Rhode Island and Connecticut; to steel mill towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; and to Chicago, Illinois, to work in the factories. Chicago soon had the second largest population of Puerto Ricans, behind New York. Today, Puerto Ricans tend to live in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania. The Puerto Rican populations within the big cities has actually dropped in the twenty-first century, with more Puerto Ricans now living in the suburbs.

Puerto Rican population

Puerto Ricans are the second-largest Hispanic group, increasing by about 25 percent between 1990 and 2000 to roughly 3.4 million on the mainland United States. That number does not include the 3.8 million living on the island of Puerto Rico. There is not as much Puerto Rican migration today as there was during the 1950s and early 1960s. Even so, Puerto Ricans continue to move back and forth between the island and the mainland, keeping the Puerto Rican American culture alive.

Family is very important to Puerto Ricans, and migration has always been done in whole family groups. Puerto Rican families are typically large, and Puerto Rican Americans in New York City continue to have the largest families of all city residents. A high percentage of Puerto Rican American families are headed by single females (almost 44 percent in New York City), many of whom are on welfare (receiving regular assistance from the government or private agencies because of need). Puerto Rican Americans have the highest poverty rate (37 percent overall; 57 percent of children under eighteen) among Hispanic Americans. This is partly due to their young average age, which is a result of the high number of children per family.

In 1953 the island's governor Luis Muñoz Marín (1898–1980) led the push to change Puerto Rico from a protectorate to a commonwealth, a political unit that is voluntarily united to the United States but is more self-governing than a state. More recently, the island has debated becoming an independent country, becoming the fifty-first state, or keeping its current status. A vote was taken in Puerto Rico in 1999 to see what Puerto Ricans' opinions were on the issue of its political status. Less than 3 percent voted for independence. Fifty percent supported maintaining Puerto Rico's position as a commonwealth, while 46 percent voted for U.S. statehood.

Most Puerto Rican Americans speak Spanish at home and with their friends, making it more difficult for them to become fluent in English. The drop-out rate among Puerto Rican American high school students was as high as 75 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Although more Puerto Rican American students are finishing high school today, the percentage of those who drop out is still among the highest of any ethnic group in America.

The majority of Puerto Rican Americans (about 80 percent) are Roman Catholic. When Puerto Rican Catholics began to migrate to the United States, they found Irish, Italian, and German Catholic churches that were quite strange to them. They never established their own ethnic parishes (as the Italians and Germans had), so they struggled to maintain their traditional religious practices at home while attending the unfamiliar European churches. Eventually, European Catholics moved on to other neighborhoods, and the parishes became predominantly Puerto Rican. The language of church services shifted to Spanish, and traditional Puerto Rican rites and festivals began to be celebrated, such as Three Kings Day (or Epiphany) on January 6, and Fiesta de San Juan (The Feast of St. John the Baptist) on June 24. Today the influence of Hispanic Americans on the Roman Catholic Church in America is being felt. In 1972, there was only one Hispanic bishop in the United States. By 1990, there were twenty-one Hispanic bishops and two Hispanic archbishops. Three Kings Day and the Fiesta de San Juan are celebrated each year in many cities with huge festivals, fairs, processionals, and fireworks. Bótanicas, shops that sell charms, incense, herbs, magic potions, candles, and santos (homemade statuettes of religious figures), are found in every Puerto Rican American neighborhood.

Some Puerto Rican Americans choose to follow various combinations of spiritualism and folk religion, such as Santería (see sidebar in Cuban section) or Curandera (folk healing). A number of Puerto Rican Americans follow both Christianity and a spiritualist folk religion.

Cuban immigration

Large-scale Cuban immigration to the United States has only occurred within the last fifty years. In fact, more than one million Cubans have entered the country since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. But in smaller numbers, Cubans have been living in the United States since the 1800s. From the beginning, Florida has attracted Cubans, mainly because it is only 90 miles north of the island. Florida's historical connection with Cuba has also made it attractive. Each wave of arrivals has shared similar characteristics. Unlike Mexican and Puerto Rican migration, Cuban immigration has featured equal numbers from the middle class and the working class.

Immigration from Spanish Cuba

In the days of Spanish colonialism, Cuban cigar manufacturers began operating in Key West, Florida, in the 1830s, and they welcomed Cuban workers to their factories. Some cigar makers even closed their Cuban factories and opened new ones in Florida. Key West was close to the tobacco plantations of Cuba, and it was free of the trade laws imposed by Spain. It became so popular among Cuban factory owners and workers that by the late 1860s, Key West was practically a Cuban colony.

Up to this time, the number of Cubans leaving their homeland had been small. Then, in 1868, Cuban rebels declared independence from Spain for the eastern part of the island, and a bloody war known as the Ten Years' War followed. The war came to an end in 1878 when both groups signed the Pact of El Zajón, which promised amnesty (an official pardon) for the rebels and freedom for slaves who fought with the rebels.

Cubans began fleeing the country as soon as the war had started. At least one hundred thousand had left by 1869.

The Cigar Rollers of Tampa, Florida

Ybor City, a section of the city of Tampa, Florida, is the site of a large and successful Cuban cigar-rolling industry that employed tens of thousands of people, many of them Cuban Americans, at the end of the nineteenth century. One of the founders of the industry was Vicente Martinez Ybor (1818–1896), who had immigrated to Cuba from Spain in 1832 at the age of fourteen and started a cigar factory in Havana. Because of taxes and labor unrest, he moved his industry, first to Key West, and later to the small town of Tampa, where two other cigar manufacturers joined him in building cigar factories. The area where the factories were established became known as Ybor City. Ybor, in his later years, worked hard to make the city a hospitable place to live and work for his employees. By 1900 Ybor City was producing more cigars than Havana, and it came to be known as the Cigar Capital of the World.

Rolling cigars was considered skilled, artisan work. Cigar rollers, both men and women, were paid quite well for each cigar they rolled. They could set their own hours, they dressed well for work, and most took pride in their finished products. To occupy their minds while their hands were busy rolling perfect Cuban cigars, the cigar rollers spent their own money to hire a lectore, or reader. While the cigar rollers sat working at their wooden tables, the lectore read to them. Lectores were usually men. They read to the rollers from the daily newspapers, but they would also read the works of great poets as well as novels and plays. Lectores were usually dynamic, witty, and well read, and the effect was to have a dramatist and a commentator present for several hours a day. The cigar rollers thus received a generous dose of culture and education as well as entertainment while they worked.

In 2003 highly acclaimed Cubanborn playwright Nilo Cruz (1960–) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play Anna in the Tropics, about the cigar rollers in a Tampa cigar factory and the lector who comes in to read to them. The play has been highly successful on Broadway and throughout the nation. Cruz, the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer Prize for drama, commented on his play in Hispanic Magazine: "I hear they still have lectores in Cuba. I love the notion of illiterate cigar rollers quoting Don Quixote and Shakespearian sonnets by heart. They're like artists—Bohemian. What's political to me is the personal: the need for culture, the need for literature."

Many wealthy Cubans went to Europe. The middle-class merchants and professionals went to cities on the East Coast of the United States, such as New York. The majority, the workers, crossed to nearby Florida. There, the Cuban community in Key West pulled together immediately. Cuban exiles formed revolutionary clubs to raise money for the cause of Cuban independence. Key West remained a center of the independence movement in the years ahead.

In 1885 the cigar factories in Key West experienced labor problems and many cigar factories moved to Tampa. There, as in Key West, the Cubans pulled together to support the independence movement. Other, smaller, Cuban communities throughout Florida grew, and they, too, supported the independence movement. A network grew between the different Cuban communities that enabled Cubans to lead the first labor movements. In these years, Cuban Americans owned and operated many important businesses, and they were active in shaping their communities. They helped initiate bilingual education. Moreover, in cities like Key West and Tampa, Cubans were responsible for many improvements to city services and civic culture.

The divisions that occurred in the exile community were usually not between rich and poor Cubans, but between white and black Cubans. Segregation laws in Florida, also known as Jim Crow laws, separated the races and forced blacks to form their own institutions.

Cuban independence

Cubans in the United States had gained economic and political influence during the late 1800s. With this power they were able to offer a great deal of support to the architects of Cuban independence. The poet and patriot José Martí (1853–1895) founded his Cuban Revolutionary Party (PRC) in Tampa and planned the Cuban Revolution while living in New York. In 1895 he launched it with the backing of Cubans in the United States. Four months after he helped start the war, he was killed. With things going poorly, Cuban rebels worked with the English-language press in the United States to stir up sympathy for Cuban independence. Public opinion turned against Spain as did many U.S. politicians and industrialists (who no doubt had their eyes on economic opportunities in Cuba).

When the Spanish-American War ended in 1898, the United States had won control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The United States allowed Cuba, unlike Puerto Rico, to become independent and draft its own constitution. However, a 1901 treaty included a provision—the Platt Amendment—that allowed the United States to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs. It also allowed the building of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay in southeast Cuba in 1903. Cuba was independent, but the United States had significant economic and political power there.

With independence, many Cuban exiles in the United States went back to their homeland, but others had put down roots in the United States. Meanwhile, the economic, social, and political changes taking place in independent Cuba were causing new immigration to the United States. From 1900 to 1950, Cubans continued to flee political turmoil on the island. A succession of unstable or oppressive governments that followed the Cuban Revolution did not bring peace and prosperity to Cuba, and Cubans continued to leave for Miami and other Florida communities.

Immigration from Fidel Castro's Cuba

Since 1959 over one million Cubans have entered the United States. That was the year Fidel Castro (1926–) came to power, after overthrowing the brutal regime of the dictator Fulgencio Batista (1901–1973), which had seized power in 1952. Batista had the support of the United States for most of his rule. U.S. policy was to invest in Cuba and to protect those investments for American businesses, and Batista was someone the Americans could count on to protect their interests. In the eyes of many Cubans, the United States controlled Cuba as an economic and political colony, and Batista was their man in Havana. However, by the end of the 1950s, Batista's abuses against the Cuban people were so bad that even the Americans began to look forward to a new leader. When a young lawyer turned revolutionary—Fidel Castro—came to power in February of 1959, he did not meet much negative response from Washington. Many Cubans welcomed the new leader.

Soon after taking power, Castro began a program of land reform and restructuring of the economy. Most of his policies were based on socialist ideals, and he turned to the Cuban Communist Party for support. (Socialism is a social

system in which the government or the whole community owns the means of production, such as land and factories, and controls the distribution of goods and services.) Eventually, Castro welcomed the support of the Soviet Union. For the United States, then in a deep conflict with the Soviet Union called the Cold War, this was too close for comfort. The Cold War (1945–91) was a period in U.S. history when the U.S. policy-makers became obsessed with the "communist menace" as the Soviet Union expanded its power throughout Eastern Europe. Many believed that the Soviets intended to take over the whole world, one country at a time. Most of the new communist countries in Eastern Europe and Asia were too far away from American shores to represent a direct threat, but Cuba was not. When Cuba became the first country in the Western Hemisphere to have a socialist revolution and establish close links with the Soviet Union, the United States became alarmed. The policy of the United States toward Cuba was geared to ensure that the island did not become an example to other Latin American countries. The U.S. government imposed a strict trade embargo (prohibited the trade of certain goods with Cuba) on the country and supported military dictators throughout Central America who shared its anticommunist views.

The U.S. government announced that it would welcome all refugees from Castro's Cuba. By encouraging middle-class professional Cubans to leave Cuba, U.S. leaders felt they could damage the Cuban economy and hurt the image of communism worldwide. Castro's new policies and the American invitation convinced many Cubans to leave the island for the United States: landowners, the wealthy, and middle-class professionals were the first to come. Thousands of children also came. Wild rumors spread that Cuban children were being taken from their homes by Castro's men to be sent to the Soviet Union for a communist education. The Catholic Church and other groups in the United States responded by sending 14,048 middle- and upper-class Cuban children to the United States to escape the rumored, and apparently nonexistent, program. As a consequence, there are numerous middle-aged Cuban professionals now in the United States who have not seen their parents or other family members since their childhood.

President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) followed a course of encouraging Cuban exiles to over-throw Castro. On April 17, 1961, Cuban exiles trained and armed by the United States attempted an invasion on the shores of the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). They received no direct support from the U.S. military and were easily defeated by the Cuban army. The United States was embarrassed and criticized by the international community. Cuban exiles grew more and more angry. Eighteen months later the United States faced the Cuban Missile Crisis. After discovering that the Soviets were building missile-launching sites in Cuba, Kennedy offered a clear and stern warning of severe consequences that would result from building Soviet missiles in Cuba. He backed his threats with a U.S. naval blockade of Cuba and succeeded in convincing the Soviets to withdraw their weapons.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. government resumed its policy of welcoming refugees as a way to insult Castro and hurt Cuba. This policy continued to attract the merchants, technicians, and professionals who were the backbone of Cuba's struggling economy. In the ten years after the Bay of Pigs invasion, almost five hundred thousand Cubans left the island. Because of the large numbers, U.S. officials started a special program to settle some of the refugees outside of Florida. Thousands went to California, New York, Chicago, and other areas with large Hispanic populations. To help the newcomers, the government provided emergency housing, English-language training, financial aid for the education of Cuban children, and medical care.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) continued the policy of welcoming Cuban refugees. Then, in 1965 Castro announced that any Cubans who had relatives in the United States could leave Cuba if the exiles in Florida came to get them at Cuba's Camarioca Bay. Boats of all types soon left Miami for Cuba, returning with thousands of new exiles eager to join their families on the mainland. The boats arriving in Miami created a dramatic spectacle. However, because many of the boats were in poor condition, the trip was dangerous. Some boats capsized. To make for safer transport, an airlift was organized. The flights continued until 1973, carrying thousands more Cubans to the United States.

Mariel Boat Lift

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, President Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) tried to improve relations with Castro's Cuba. The friendlier dialogue between the two countries prompted Castro to offer to allow more Cubans to leave, including prisoners of war. Before anything could happen, however, an incident in Havana complicated the issue. In April 1980 a bus carrying a load of discontented Cubans crashed through the gates of the Peruvian embassy in Havana. Peru granted the passengers political asylum (protection from persecution and arrest). The event attracted worldwide attention, revealing that many Cubans desperately wanted out of Castro's Cuba. Faced with this negative press, Castro tried to turn it around. He announced to the Cuban people that whoever wanted to leave Cuba should go to the Peruvian embassy. Immediately, ten thousand people crowded in. The Cuban government then processed and gave exit visas to these people. Several Cuban Americans gathered together a group of forty-two boats to carry these new exiles off the island. With Castro's approval, these boats began a round-the-clock evacuation of the "Havana Ten Thousand." Because the boats picked up the new exiles at Mariel Harbor, the operation became known as the Mariel Boat Lift. The refugees became known as Marielitos. By the time the boat lift ended in late 1980, over 125,000 Marielitos had left Cuba for the United States.

The Marielitos differed from the earlier waves of Cuban exiles, with a greater reflection of the general Cuban population than the middle- and upper-class wave that had preceded them. There were many blacks and mulattoes (those with black and white ancestry), and a large proportion of the migrant population was from the lower class. Castro sent some criminals with the rest of the emigrants. These criminals drew a lot of attention, but the majority of the Marielitos were average, hardworking Cubans.

Because there were so many coming in at once, the Marielitos faced many difficulties upon arriving in the United States. They were crowded into processing centers by the thousands and then placed temporarily in tent cities and even a football stadium in Miami. Some refugees stayed in these "temporary camps" for months, some for years. Castro accused the United States of discriminating against these Cubans because they were not rich, educated, and white like the Cubans in previous groups. The truth was more complex. Unlike previous exiles, most of the Marielitos did not have families in this country. At first many unrelated Cuban Americans and other Americans volunteered to act as sponsors. However, as the boatlift faded from the news, sponsors became harder to find. The knowledge that criminals were in this group also made it hard for the rest of the Marielitos. Those who came to work and raise their families were treated as guilty by association with the hard-core criminals.

The Cuban American population today

By the early twenty-first century, the Cuban community had put down deep roots in the United States. The Cuban American ethnic group is an important part of the culture of Miami and other American cities. The Cuban community has similarities to the other major Hispanic groups. Like Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, the early Cubans who came wanted to escape economic, social, and political problems at home, and they wanted to make a new life for themselves. But the Cuban community differs. Overall, Cuban exiles in the United States came from more privileged backgrounds. They brought more money, power, and education to the United States when they came. The upper- and middle-class Cuban immigrants have also been better accepted by the white majority culture in the United States. For these reasons, even though Cubans have been in the United States for a shorter time, they have succeeded at a faster pace than Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.

Cubans have also benefited from U.S. policies against Castro's Cuba. United States administrations from that of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61) to that of President Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89) have provided a great deal of aid to Cubans to help them settle and adapt. Cubans on the whole have more money, education, and political power than other Hispanic groups. In southern Florida the Cuban community developed a strong lobbying power (lobbying is campaigning to influence politicians) in order to keep U.S. pressure on Fidel Castro. Over the years, the population has grown and the Cuban American vote in Florida has become very important in presidential elections. Cuban Americans numbered 1.2 million in the 2000 census; they are the third largest Hispanic group in the United States, making up 3.5 percent of the Hispanic population. For


Santería is a folk religion that first developed in the Caribbean Islands. It is based on beliefs and rituals brought by Yoruba slaves from West Africa to Cuba and Puerto Rico. To these African traditions, Santería has added elements of Hispanic Catholicism. African slaves were often compelled to accept Catholicism by their masters. Even so they continued to worship their African gods, but they disguised them as Christian saints. The people of the Dominican Republic practice a form of Santería that is a modified form of Haitian voodoo—an African-based religion often associated with witchcraft.

Santería is a cult of the orishas (gods), who control the forces of nature. The ruler of all these spiritual forces is Olofin, God the Creator. The most popular of these gods are Las Siete Potencias (the Seven Powerful Spirits). They are often shown on candles and icons. Olofin's son is Obatala. Obatala is vengeful, powerful, and indifferent. His worshipers wear white. He is worshiped through the Catholic images of Our Lady of Mercy and Christ. Chango is the goddess of war, the snake, the storm, and thunder. Her color is red and she is called upon through the image of Saint Barbara. Babaluaye is the god of healing. He is portrayed as a leper on crutches, often with two dogs. He is represented by Saint Lazarus. Ogun is a wild man of the forest who controls things made out of iron. He wears the guise of John the Baptist. Ochun is the goddess of love. She is seen as Our Lady of la Caridad del Cobre. Yemaya rules the waters. She is Our Lady of Regla. Orula can see the future. He is Saint Francis of Assisi.

Santeros and babalaos are the healers and witches of Santería. Santeros are the devotees of the different gods. After a rigorous initiation, they become the son or the daughter of a particular orisha. The babalaos understand the supernatural powers by a system they learn through many years of study. They use the Rosary of Ifa (a god) to decide which god or orisha is affecting a person's life.

There are three reglas, or ways to practice Santería. The regla Obatala described before is the most widespread. The regla Lucumi is similar to the regla Obatala, but it has less mixing of African and Christian saints. The third way is the regla Mayombera, or Palo Mayombé. It mixes rituals from the Congo in central Africa with spiritism, or the cult of the dead. It works more with the ngangas (spirits of the dead) than with the orishas (gods). In this way it is similar to Haitian voodoo. The mayomberos who practice this religion are feared as powerful magicians. They can exorcise evil spirits, cast spells, and make amulets. A person may choose to consult a babalao to determine the nature of his or her problem and then go to a mayombero for a solution or cure.

many years the Cuban Americans in Florida have used their considerable influence almost solely in matters concerning Cuba. In the early twenty-first century, however, a large new population of Cuban Americans are not focused on removing Castro from power. They wish to open travel to Cuba and to participate in the other political movements of the nation.

Dominican immigration

The Caribbean island of Hispaniola was the center of Spanish colonization in the New World from the day that explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) and his Spanish expedition appeared on the shores and greeted the Taino Indians there in 1492. The Spaniards put the native peoples to work in the island's gold mines. By the 1520s the gold fields were exhausted, and infectious diseases had severely damaged the native population, killing thousands of people. The Spaniards turned to raising livestock and farming sugarcane. With most of the Taino population gone by 1550, the island needed labor, and the Spanish increased their import of slaves from the coasts of Africa. The African influx brought important new cultural and ethnic ingredients to the Spanish-Indian mix that had already been established on the island.

Hispaniola was the Spanish colonial empire's first center in the New World. It was the site of the first Spanish university in the Americas in 1538 and of its first cathedral, built in the period from 1523 to 1544. But by the mid-sixteenth century reports of gold in Peru and Mexico pushed Hispaniola to the sidelines of the Spanish empire. In 1697 Spain ceded (turned over) the western portion of the island—what is today Haiti—to France. The eastern portion was called Santo Domingo. During the era of revolutionary wars in the United States and France, the wave of growing discontent with colonization swept the island. In 1791 there was a major rebellion in Haiti. Slavery was abolished there and in Santo Domingo.

From the end of the revolution in the late eighteenth century until the turn of the twentieth century, Santo Domingo was ruled by a series of dictators and military leaders. Haiti ruled the whole island for a period, and Spain made several unsuccessful attempts to rule the country again. A civil war in 1843 gave the Dominicans the opportunity to try again for independence, and they established the Dominican Republic as an independent state. The country suffered greatly from a lack of stable leadership. Its economy plummeted and its international debt soared. Sugar farms in Santo Domingo attracted investors to the island, not to the benefit of Dominicans, unfortunately. North Americans, Europeans, Cubans, and other investors brought their money to buy land. They set up sugar, coffee, and cacao (seed used in making cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter) plantations, as well as cattle ranches. Dominican farmers were forced off their land and into the sugar labor force. Immigrants from the Dominican Republic began arriving in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.

The United States was among the nations owed millions of dollars by the Dominican Republic. In 1905 the United States took over the collection of Dominican customs duties. This was characteristic of what has often been called "gunboat diplomacy," whereby the U.S. government, when it saw its economic or political interests threatened, would simply invade a country or be "asked" to intervene to establish order. The political situation on the island got worse again after 1911. In 1916 the United States sent in the marines, which occupied the Dominican Republic for eight years. The Dominicans were not happy with the military presence, and armed opposition finally convinced the United States to pull out, but the U.S. government continued to control the Dominican economy until 1941.

The United States brought some advances for the Dominicans while at the same time damaging their economy. Under U.S. control, schools and hospitals were built. New roads and bridges connected remote areas. Government was centralized and local political leaders lost power. The U.S. occupation changed the average Dominican's way of life. Many Dominicans gave up subsistence farming and came to rely on wage labor. But by the end of the U.S. occupation in 1924, sugar companies controlled almost a quarter of all farmland. Eighty percent of these companies were American, and many of the profits from the Dominican Republic's resources were being deposited in American banks. When jobs became scarce in the Dominican Republic, many people moved to the United States.

Trujillo years

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina (1891–1961), a general in the Dominican Republic Army, took power of the Dominican Republic in 1930. Under Trujillo, political and civil liberties were reduced to a minimum, censorship of the press was routine, and jailing, torturing, killing, or exiling opponents was commonplace. To ensure loyalty to his regime he set up a complex system of spies and informers. Trujillo, his family, and his close associates ran most of the businesses and owned huge amounts of land: his wealth was so great that when he died he was one of the richest men in the world.

To achieve his nationalistic goals, Trujillo wanted a large and stable work force in the Dominican Republic. He stopped almost all migration to the United States. During his presidency the Dominican Republic experienced a large population growth, due in part to improved health services and the lack of emigration. From 1930 to 1961, the population of the Dominican Republic doubled from 1.5 million to 3 million people.

Trujillo was always careful not to antagonize the United States, either financially or politically. He was fervently anticommunist and was considered a valuable Cold-War ally by the United States. One event stands out among the many in his history of cruelty: During the 1930s there was an influx of Haitian immigrants seeking menial work. Trujillo, obsessed with maintaining his country's white Spanish roots, claimed the country's population, beliefs, and racial purity were being threatened. He ordered the Haitians massacred; between ten thousand and twenty thousand Haitians thus were cold-bloodedly murdered in 1937.

Selected Caribbean American Population Figures, 1990 U.S. Census

Barbadian Americans: 33,178

British West Indian Americans: 35,822

Haitian Americans: 280,874

Jamaican Americans: 410,933

Trinidad and Tobago Americans: 71,720

By the 1950s, the rest of the world learned about some of Trujillo's cruelty and abuses. When other Latin American countries tried to help the Dominican people, Trujillo responded with violence, even attempting to assassinate the president of Venezuela in 1960. He lost further support when he executed three nuns that year. Under the direction of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and with help from the Dominican military, assassins killed Trujillo in 1961.

When Trujillo was assassinated, he left behind a large population that depended on wage labor. Problems in agriculture pushed many Dominicans to leave the countryside and move to the city throughout the 1960s, and some began to leave the country as well. By 1970 over one-half of the population of the capital city, Santo Domingo, had migrated from the countryside, and many more Dominicans decided it was time to leave the country. Household heads left the republic for Puerto Rico and the United States. In the final decade of Trujillo's dictatorship, ninety-eight hundred Dominicans immigrated to the United States. In the next two years, from 1960 to 1962, almost sixty thousand moved to the United States. Between 1966 and 1980, the number of legal immigrants admitted to the United States averaged about fourteen thousand per year. Immigration to the United States, both legal and undocumented (illegal), became a partial solution to the growing unemployment problem in the Dominican Republic.

According to mid-1990s estimates, unemployment in the Dominican Republic was extremely high, running at 30 percent. Six percent of the population controlled 43 percent of the wealth, while half of the population shared only 13 percent of income—that meant that a few people were very rich and most of the people were very poor. The average wage of the Dominican worker had decreased steadily for twenty-five years. Thirty percent of the population was illiterate, 60 percent had no electricity, and 40 percent no running water. Only four of twelve hospitals that had three hundred or more beds were located outside the capital, and the rate of infant mortality was seventy per one thousand births (four times the rate of the United States).

Dominican American population today

Today, Dominican Americans are the fourth-largest Hispanic group in the United States. The U.S. Census in 2000 estimated that Dominican Americans number 765,000. Like Puerto Ricans, they are a mobile group. The closeness of the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland makes travel back and forth to the island relatively easy. Most

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immigrants travel directly to the United States. Others go first to Puerto Rico. Recently, however, undocumented Dominicans have begun to enter the United States through Mexico, crossing into the United States by the long U.S.–Mexico border.

More than 90 percent of Dominican Americans live in four states: New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York (which accounted for 70 percent of all Dominicans living in the United States). Dominicans were the fastest-growing major ethnic group in New York City during the 1980s and the second largest group of Latinos in New York after Puerto Ricans. New York City has more Dominicans—between five hundred thousand and one million—than any city in the world except Santo Domingo.

Haitian Americans

Historical background

In 1695 Spain ceded the mountainous western third of the island of Hispaniola to France. France named the colony Saint Domingue and began settling it with tens of thousands of African slaves and some white planters. The colony that would become Haiti (while the Spanish section would become the Dominican Republic) soon grew prosperous, its fertile soil producing vast amounts of coffee and sugar on large-scale plantations run by slave labor. By the French Revolution in 1789, the colony had a population of more than five hundred thousand slaves, some thirty thousand whites, and fifty thousand or so free blacks and mulattoes.

In 1791 the slaves of Saint Domingue revolted. Led by Toussaint L'Ouverture (c. 1744–1803), an army of exslaves fought successfully against Spanish, English, and French forces. In 1804, less than a year after L'Ouverture's death in captivity, Saint Domingue became the independent Haiti (Arawak for "land of mountains").

Liberation from French rule and the end of slavery did not solve Haiti's political and economic troubles, though. For most of its history after 1795 Haiti had a succession of short-term rulers who could not establish a course for economic growth or political stability. Several different Western nations, including the United States, France, and Germany, took advantage of the country's weakness and dominated the country's trade, taking the profits and leaving little for the Haitian workers.

Between 1843 and 1915 Haiti had twenty-two different dictators. In 1915 the U.S. military occupied the country, remaining until 1934. The U.S. officials made it a habit to only deal with the country's mulatto population (people of mixed African American and white ancestry) and not its blacks. Haiti already had racial divisions, and this discrimination made the situation worse. Instability continued after the United States withdrew. In 1950 a coup d'etat (over-throw of the existing government by a small group) brought General Paul Magloire to power. His policies led to a serious economic downturn. It was during this time that significant numbers of Haitians began to emigrate. In December 1956 a national sit-down strike, organized jointly by business, labor, and professional leaders, forced Magloire into exile. A period of chaos ensued, with seven governments trying to establish control.

Papa Doc's regime

Haiti entered a dark era in 1957 when, in an election filled with irregularities, François Duvalier (1907–1971), a middle-class black physician known to his followers as "Papa Doc," became president. In 1964 Duvalier was formally elected president for life. Despite several attempted revolts, Duvalier maintained his powerful position with a militia of thugs—his security force, called the tontons macoutes ("bogeymen"). Political opposition was ruthlessly suppressed, and thousands of suspected dissidents "disappeared"—they were never heard from again, and it was assumed they had been murdered by the government's forces. The tontons macoutes were very violent, torturing and murdering people and causing Haitians to live in constant fear. As an example, some three thousand members of the Peasant Workers Movement (Mouvement Ouvrier Paysan), which fiercely opposed Duvalier, were murdered.

In 1971 Duvalier named his son Jean-Claude (1951–) as his successor and died soon after. Jean-Claude, called "Baby Doc," was nineteen years old when he became president for life the following day. The younger Duvalier sought to ease political tensions, encouraging tourism and foreign investment, and contributing to the beginnings of an economic revival. However, political arrests did not wholly cease, and there were severe economic reverses in the midand late 1970s. Jean-Claude fled to France in 1986. Chaos reigned once more in Haiti. In December 1990 a Roman Catholic priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1953–), was elected president with a large majority of votes. The military, though, ousted him from the presidency in 1991. In 1994, with U.S. intervention, Aristide was restored to power in Haiti. Troubles for Haiti have by no means subsided, as the country in the early twenty-first century has been heading toward civil war due to the conflict between rebels and Aristide's administration. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Conditions of life there have been miserable for many years and have not improved as the twenty-first century begins.

Immigration to the United States

Haitians began to immigrate to the United States in the 1950s. Most of the early wave of immigrants were middle-class, well-educated professionals—doctors, scientists, lawyers, and teachers. They tended to settle in large metropolitan areas such as New York and Chicago.

When the Duvaliers came into power in Haiti, emigration increased greatly. At first professionals were leaving in large numbers, but later workers found ways to flee from the nation's political oppression and the lack of jobs and opportunities. The loss of the professionals was very harmful to Haiti, which encountered shortages of doctors and technicians. An established Haitian community began to develop in New York in the early 1970s.

Between 1972 and 1981 sailboats carrying Haitians began to arrive on the shores of Florida. More than fifty-five thousand Haitian "boat people"—and perhaps more than one hundred thousand—arrived in this wave. They were likely to be from Haiti's working classes, fleeing from rural areas. The boat people most often settled in southern Florida, where large Haitian communities began to emerge.

The 1990 election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide calmed the public, and fewer Haitians emigrated during his brief presidency in 1991. When the military took over the Haitian government that year, though, there was another mass departure from Haiti. The military government of Haiti made it a crime to leave the country; people caught leaving could be beaten or imprisoned. Nevertheless, in a two-year period from 1991 to 1993, forty-three thousand Haitians tried to reach the United States by boat. Many of their boats were intercepted by U.S. officials and those emigrants were taken to Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. naval base in Cuba. They were held there until the United States could come up with a solution. At one time there were 12,500 Haitians in the camp at Guantánamo awaiting relocation orders from the U.S. government. Some waited for more than a year.

In the early 1990s, the United States was trying to decrease the immigration from Haiti to its shores. The criminalizing of emigration enacted by the Haitian government presented policy makers with a problem—to return a fleeing Haitian to his or her own country was to subject that person to almost certain abuse and possibly death at the hands of the Haitian military. In the eyes of much of the world this made Haitians arriving in the United States refugees. The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as a person who has left the country in which he or she last lived and is unable to return to that country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Once a person is determined to be a refugee in the United States, he or she is entitled to federal assistance in settling into a home and finding a job, and in getting English-language training, temporary cash loans, and necessary medical services. After considerable debate and controversy, the United States began to screen the tens of thousands of Haitians who had fled their country. Of the initial thirty-four thousand screened by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), ten thousand were brought to the United States to file for asylum as refugees. The rest were returned to Haiti.

The U.S. government signed the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) into law in 1998. The act allowed certain Haitians to apply for lawful permanent resident status without having to first apply for an immigrant visa at a United States consulate abroad. It also waived many of the usual requirements for immigration. However, in the early twenty-first century, hundreds of Haitians had arrived in boats at U.S. shores and had been sent back to an uncertain fate in Haiti.

Haitian American population today

Haitians have developed some strong communities in the United States. In 2000 there were about 200,000 Haitians and Haitian Americans in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. There are significant Haitian communities in Boston and Chicago. In southern Florida, the home of the country's second-largest Haitian population after Brooklyn, the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami has prospered, with political visibility and strong self-help support. By some counts, there are between 200,000 and 250,000 Haitians or Haitian Americans in Miami-Dade County of Florida. In 2003 there were eight Haitian Americans in elected office in southern Florida, including the mayor of North Miami.

Many Haitian Americans face poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, and insufficient health care in the United States. It is difficult to get jobs for many recent immigrants who are often lacking in education and job skills, and many have limited abilities in English. Haitian Americans have organized to fight for better representation in government and against negative stereotypes that have arisen because of Haiti's unstable political situation.

Edwidge Danticat, Haitian American Writer

Edwidge Danticat (1969–) is one of only a handful of contemporary novelists of Haitian heritage writing in English, and her writing explores one of the more underrepresented cultures in American literature. Her talent for writing in English is remarkable, since she did not begin learning the English language until she moved from Haiti to New York City as an adolescent.

Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1969. Because her parents had left her in Haiti and immigrated to New York when she was very young, Danticat was raised by an aunt. During her early years Danticat was influenced by the Haitian practice of storytelling, which was widespread because much of the population was not literate. The title of one of her acclaimed books reflects her native country's influence in her writing. Krik? Krak! comes from the Haitian storytelling traditions, in which the teller calls out "Krik?" Interested listeners congregate and answer "Krak!"

Danticat lived in Haiti until she was twelve. In 1981 she joined her parents in New York City. When she started attending junior-high classes in Brooklyn, she had difficulty fitting in with her classmates because of her Haitian accent, clothing, and hairstyle. She took refuge from the isolation she felt by writing about her native land. Danticat graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in French literature and went on to attend Brown University, where she earned a master of fine arts degree in writing. Her thesis writing project, entitled Breath, Eyes, Memory, was published by Soho Press in 1994. This novel chronicles four generations of Haitian women who are trapped by, yet strive to overcome, poverty and powerlessness. This somewhat autobiographical novel explores the culture shock of Danticat's main character, Sophie Coco, a twelve-year-old Haitian girl.

In 1999 Danticat released her historical saga The Farming of Bones. Danticat's novel concerns a historical tragedy, the 1937 massacre of Haitian farm workers by soldiers of the Dominican Republic. In the course of less than a week, an estimated twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic were slaughtered by the Dominican government or by private citizens in a classic case of ethnic cleansing (the killing of an ethnic minority group by the majority group). The Farming of Bones is narrated by a young Haitian woman, Amabelle Desir, who has grown up in the Dominican Republic after being orphaned. As the nightmare unfolds around her, Amabelle must flee for her life, separated from her lover Sebastien. In the ensuing decades as she nurses her physical and psychological wounds, Amabelle serves as witness to the suffering of her countrymen and the guilt of her former Dominican employers.

In 2002 Danticat published her first young adult novel, Behind the Mountains, chronicling the experiences of a teenaged girl who immigrates with her family from Haiti to New York City.

Haitian Americans are deeply concerned with what is happening in Haiti. There are many organizations that have pressured the U.S. government for fair policies for Haitian refugees. Many believe that the government has discriminated against Haitians because of their race.

According to 1998 estimates, about 80 percent of Haitians are Roman Catholics. Most of the remainder belong to various Protestant denominations. Voodoo is still widely practiced in Haiti and among some Haitian Americans, usually together with Christianity. Voodoo originated in West Africa with the Fon and Yoruba people and is today the national religion of Benin (formerly Dahomey, a West African kingdom and then a French colony). Slaves who were brought to work on the sugar plantations in Haiti brought the traditions of voodoo with them. Many of the changes that occurred in the practice of the religion from seventeenth-century Africa to modern Haiti were because of the necessity for the slaves in the New World to keep their gods and spirits secret from the slaveowners. Other changes were due to the influences of Roman Catholicism and the spiritual beliefs of the Arawak Indians in Haiti. There are associations of voodoo practitioners and priests, but there is no established hierarchy or church.

Central American immigration

Central American countries have contributed to the U.S. Hispanic population, some with small groups, some with large. Each group of Central American immigrants has had its own reasons for coming. Costa Rican immigration to the United States has been the least noticeable (there were an estimated sixty-nine thousand Costa Rican Americans in 2000). This may reflect the prosperity and political stability of that country.

The population of immigrants from Honduras was relatively small in the early 1990s, but grew to 218,000 in 2000 after the devastating Hurricane Mitch caused massive destruction throughout Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998. The United States allowed thousands of Hondurans and Nicaraguans to stay and work in the country in order to help ease the situation in Central America. Hondurans are scattered in Miami, Houston, New York, and Los Angeles, but there is also a longstanding Honduran community in New Orleans, Louisiana. In the early years of banana trade between the United States and northern Honduras, many companies set up their offices in New Orleans. The trade attracted Hondurans to that city.

Guatemalans. Small groups of Guatemalans from the middle and professional classes have long lived in the United States. More recently, a large group of political refugees have fled the civil war tearing apart that country. Throughout the 1980s, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) battled against government troops. A counterinsurgency campaign by the government killed some forty thousand Guatemalans—many of them Mayans—and demolished some 440 villages. In 2000 there were approximately 372,000 Guatemalans living in the United States. Many of these refugees are Mayanspeaking Native Americans who speak little or no Spanish. Guatemalan communities are concentrated in Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, and New York. Small rural groups are found, for example, in southern Florida.

Most of the Mayan exiles from Guatemala made their way to refugee camps in Chiapas, Mexico, before venturing to "El Norte"—the United States. Many had no contacts in the United States. A major problem Guatemalan Mayan refugees confronted in the U.S. was language: most spoke only their Mayan languages. As unskilled workers, many also had difficulties finding jobs other than working in the orchards and vegetable farms in Florida and California.

U.S. Populations of Central and South American Descent, Census 2000

Central American: 1.7 million

Salvadoran: 655,000

Guatemalan: 372,000

Honduran: 218,000

Nicaraguan: 178,000

Panamanian: 92,000

Costa Rican: 69,000

Other: 104,000

South American: 1.4 million

Colombian: 471,000

Ecuadorian: 261,000

Peruvian: 234,000

Argentinean: 101,000

Venezuelan: 92,000

Chilean: 69,000

Bolivian: 42,000

Uruguayan: 19,000

Paraguayan: 9,000

Other: 58,000

Nicaraguans. The Nicaraguan population in the United States numbered about 178,000 in 2000. Waves of Nicaraguan immigration have been caused mainly by the political uncertainty in that country. There were already groups of Nicaraguans living in Miami and Los Angeles in the 1970s. Then, in 1979 the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) over-threw Nicaragua's U.S.-backed leader Anastasio Somoza (1925–1980). Fearful that the Sandinistas would build a pro-Soviet, Cuban-style communist government, the U.S. financed their opponents, the Contras. The Contras waged a fierce war against the Sandinistas, and trapped in the middle were innocent Nicaraguans, thousands of whom sought exile in the United States. After the revolution, the exodus from Nicaragua increased, as conditions there remained unstable and more Nicaraguans decided to join friends and families in the United States. In the 1980s tens of thousands of Nicaraguans came to settle in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. Since the 1990s the political situation in Nicaragua has become more stable. The country has an extensive rebuilding program to clean up after Hurricane Mitch, and the new Nicaraguan government has called for exiles to return to their homeland.

In Miami, Nicaraguans live in several well-defined neighborhoods. There, they have put in place their social, cultural, and economic traditions from their homeland. Nicaraguan restaurants, stores, travel agencies, beauty shops, and medical clinics have created a "Little Nicaragua" atmosphere. Several newspapers are published within this community. Local radio stations air special programs produced by and for local Nicaraguans. Nicaraguan holidays are celebrated in Miami with the same strong feeling as they would be in Nicaragua. Nearly any product or food found in their homeland can now be found in these immigrant communities.

Like with the Cubans fleeing Castro, the first Nicaraguans to flee the Sandinista Revolution were professionals and government officials. Later exiles included citizens from all classes. English-speaking Nicaraguans from the Caribbean coast as well as Miskito Indians came. Small communities of seafaring coastal Nicaraguans now live in Florida and along the coast of Texas. In Miami, these costeños (coastal people) live and work in different neighborhoods from the ladinos (Spanish speakers), Nicaraguans from the highlands.

El Salvador. The largest group of immigrants from Central America are those from El Salvador, who numbered 655,000 in 2000. Salvadorans are concentrated in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Miami. A dictatorial military government had ruled El Salvador since 1932. By the late 1970s, students and prominent figures in the Catholic Church were speaking out against oppression. After several of these figures—particularly the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero (1917–1980)—were killed (by government forces, it was widely believed) the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) took up arms against the Salvadoran national army in 1980. Like their Nicaraguan counterparts, innocent El Salvadorans were caught in the middle and fled to the United States.

For More Information


Gernand, Renée. The Cuban Americans. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Portes, Alejandro, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. Immigrant America: A Portrait, 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Press, Petra. Puerto Ricans. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark Books, 1996.

Web Sites

"Haitians in America." Haiti and the U.S.A.: Linked by History and Community. (accessed on March 3, 2004).

Logan, John R., and Glenn Deane. "Black Diversity in Metropolitan America." Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, University at Albany. (accessed on March 3, 2004).

Mosley-Dozier, Bernette A. "Double Minority: Haitians in America." YaleNew Haven Teachers Institute. (accessed on March 3, 2004).