English Feature #7-34994 Broadcast July 02, 2001
Haitians have been immigrating to the United States in significant numbers since the 1960s. Large Haitian communities have sprung up in Miami, Boston, Washington, and, of course, New York City. Two years ago a Haitian-American journalist, working at the time for the New York Times, launched an English-language newspaper to serve Haitians in America. Today on New American Voices Garry Pierre-Pierre talks about his newspaper, and its readers.
The 600 or so newsstands that sell the weekly Haitian Times are concentrated, like the Haitians themselves, in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and in south Florida. The newspaper, a well-designed, colorful 28-page tabloid, is also available by subscription around the United States. The weekly circulation is 15,000 and growing. Publisher Pierre-Pierre says the paper's target audience is very broad.
"First and second generation Haitian Americans, from nineteen to seventy. Because we appeal to a large number of college students, and some high school students, and we have a lot of retirees that read the paper. It keeps them informed not only about Haiti, but what's more important, about what's happening in the Haitian-American community."
Previously, newspapers aimed at the Haitian American community had all been published either in French - spoken by the educated elite, or Creole, the language of the masses. By publishing his paper in English, Mr. Pierre-Pierre hopes to reach not only Haitians who were born here and those, like himself, who came at a young age and no longer speak Creole or French, but also mainstream Americans.
"It's a newspaper that's trying to have a broader appeal, to bridge the gap. We want the mainstream to understand who we are, and one of the ways they can do that is to be able to seewhat we're doing, what are our issues, so they can respond to it. As you know, the Haitian community is relatively young, and there are a lot of issues, and language can be a barrier – we have to communicate in a language that is widely understood."
Mr. Pierre-Pierre says that foremost among the issues of interest to Haitians in the United States are U.S. immigration laws and procedures. But there are others.
"Education. Police brutality. Housing. Like the issues that are prevalent to all emerging immigrant groups and the so-called underclass."
The primary purpose of the newspaper is to inform its readers about events and issues in the Haitian-American community, about what's happening in Haiti, and about developments in the United States, particularly Washington, of interest to Haitians. But Mr. Pierre-Pierre says there is another mission, as well.
"I mean, information is power, and knowledge is power, and our primary goal, of course, is to inform, but inform with an agenda, to lead the community, to lead it out of the margins where it is, I think, at this point. And to really get the middle class involved in the community. It is fashionable not to be part of the community for middle-class Haitians. They take a very sneering attitude toward the community, and that's one of the things I've been fighting about - getting people who have something to contribute to do so."
Mr. Pierre-Pierre says he thinks the question of identity is a complicated one for Haitians in America especially for the middle class.
"I think this is something that still has to be defined. I think they cannot identify with white Americans for the very simple fact that they're not white, it's very evident that they're not white. But I don't think the bond is there with African-Americans, unfortunately. I think that Haitian American identity is yet to be developed - and that's why we think we can play a role in that."
Garry Pierre-Pierre says he gave up his job at the New York Times to start a newspaper for his countrymen because he saw a need that he was uniquely qualified to fill.
"It's very simple. Because when I see the direction that the community was going, it was more important to me that the community become strong than that I remain in a prestigious job. I'd rather walk somewhere being a representative of the Haitian Times and know that the community is well-respected, and strong, and vibrant, and moving forward. So I decided that instead of sitting on the sideline and looking at it, I'd just go in and direct it in a way that I feel it should be directed. And that's been sort of the driving force for me, that's helped me to overcome all the other difficulties that are inherent in running a small ethnic newspaper."
Next week on this program, a university researcher talks about identity issues for Haitian school students in the United States.