North Miami, a U.S. City Ran by Haitians

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011 03:41

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MIAMI, USA (defend.ht) - In Southern Florida, North Miami is the new favorite spot for Haitians after Little Haiti in Miami. The first immigrants held a district there, today the new-generation of immigrants run the city. They hold dozens of municipal seats and are led by Mayor Andre Pierre.

In North Miami, it is not uncommon to hear Haitian music, like konpa, blasting in a store. "Do not be surprised, it’s a Haitian city here," said proudly Lucie Tondreau, a community leader living and working in that town.

Located between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, North Miami has become in a few years one of the largest Haitian area in Florida with Little Haiti district.

“Now there’s even more Haitians in North Miami than Little Haiti”, according to Marleine Bastien from Haitian Women in Miami association.

The city is one of the few in the United States where a Haitian can speak Creole without fear when he (or she) enters a fast food restaurant, a store or another place. He (or she) will be understood by employees, Haitian or American. "If an American doesn’t understand, he will refer the customer to a fellow Haitian," says Ms. Tondreau during a visit to the municipality for two years led by Andre Pierre.

The Haitian-American attorney is the head of a Board of five people, three Haitians and two Americans.

"Haitians have the power here being most represented in City Board. When they want to do something, it is easier to vote. This demonstrates the importance of Haitian community to elect the most fellows in various public positions here, "says Lucie Tondreau who runs a consulting firm for immigration matters.

Many Haitian professionals have taken up residence in North Miami, the fifth largest city of Miami-Dade County. This is where many important events of the Haitian community happen too. This is also where many compatriots take their business.

Community leaders as Marleine Bastien, however, deplore the fact that the historical district of Little Haiti is increasingly neglected by Haitians settling in North Miami. Andre Pierre responds that is "because they find it more advantageous there, they go where the grass is softer", alluding to Job opportunities.

North Miami has 60 000 people (which is considered an important city in US) with nearly 50% of Haitians. The remaining percentage is divided between Black Americans, Hispanics and Whites. Andre Pierre is the second Black and Haitian mayor to be elected after Joe Celestin (2001-2005).

Aside from the Mayor and two Haitian town councilors (Marie Steril Erlande and Jean Marcellus), other key positions of the City are held by fellows like Marc Elias (police chief) and Claude Lumane (Deputy City Manager).

The streets are named after Haitian Independence Heroes like Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Haitian singer Wyclef Jean’s name will soon be engraved in the Citizen Hall of Fame, announces Mayor Pierre who made this decision, he says, despite the reluctance of some people asking "who are Haitians so that streets and buildings bear their names in the United States."

One of the ten best cities in the U.S.

North Miami was honored in 2010 as one of the ten best cities in the United States. "The city has been awarded by the National Civic League as one of the best places to live, to study, to play and to work," says proudly André Pierre.

It was also named for the best representation of ethnic groups within the City Government, according to Mr. Pierre stating that the city has received such an honor for the first time since its creation in 1926.

"It's a great joy that Haitians can run this city, competent Haitians passionate to help their community," boasts Mayor, explaining how his administration has innovated.

"I made sure for example that various ethnic groups are better represented in city government. Then we set up a public health program in schools, allowing students to eat healthier food; we have initiated tutoring programs in some noted F-schools, raising the standard.

"We had this recognition because we work for the benefit of the people," says the lawyer, adding City Hall notably required from companies investing in North Miami to employ 30% of the labor work of the city.

The mayor says being more proud that North Miami is the only city outside of Haiti’s to put Haitians at key positions. "There is a psychological effect when a fellow reaches a high position. It shines on his countrymen, they have more respect", states the mayor.

However, running a city like North Miami is not always easy, especially for a Haitian. The mayor said receiving bad comments on his native country, some challenging his decisions to assign Haitians in important positions or name places after their names. Others, he says, has criticized him for demanding TPS for Haitians in the aftermath of the earthquake.

André Pierre was born in Haiti, Arcahaie. He came to the US when he was 14. He is a civil engineer and attorney. In 2004, he was the first Black chairman of North Miami Chamber of Commerce. In 2008, he was very active in Obama’s campaign. He was elected for an initial two-year term in 2009. Then he was re-elected this year until 2013. North Miami has an annual budget of $ 150 million.