English Feature #7-34975 Broadcast June 25, 2001
The New York metropolitan area is home to close to a half million immigrants from Haiti. In the sections of the city where Haitians concentrate, a Caribbean flavor is superimposed on the stone and brick and neon of the usual cityscape. Building walls are decorated with brightly painted murals, Caribbean music wafts from open windows, restaurant windows display signs advertising Creole specialties. Today on New American Voices we introduce you to a member of the Haitian community of Uniondale, Long Island.
Uniondale, a suburb of New York City, is a neighborhood of modest one-family homes in pastel colors surrounded by postage-stamp-sized lawns. The business streets of the area indicate that this is an ethnically mixed area - there is a large, modern Ukrainian church, a Dominican old age home, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. But the Caribbean influence predominates, from the frescos of tropical landscapes on building walls to the décor of beauty salons to a night club - "The Hot Spot" - featuring Haitian artists.
Bob Lemoine lives and works in Uniondale. Among the Haitians of New York and vicinity he is a widely known radio personality.
Haitiwebs Station Identification (in French)
Haitiwebs, the radio station where Mr. Lamoine works, is one of several in the New York area aimed at Haitian listeners, offering a mix of Carribean music, news, features, and talk shows in Creole, French and English. Bob Lemoine says his programs are lighthearted, but they have a serious purpose.
"First of all, it's an educational program. Because we found out that the people living here in the States don't know what they should know. We talk about the language first, how you can speak French, how we can translate French to Creole, and how we can speak English. And mostly it's by means of some jokes or plays that we educate people."
In addition to teaching his listeners how to communicate better with each other and the society around them, Bob Lemoine hopes to raise their consciousness as Haitians in the ethnic mix of New York.
"Because in the community we have a lot of competition, I can say, between the Jamaicans, between the other West Indians, the Jews and the Italians. And I think that if we had some kind of solidarity between the members of the Haitian community, it really would be very much better, we would be stronger, w would have a stronger economy."
Indeed, Bob Lemoine feels strongly that the question of solidarity is most pressing issue in New York's Haitian community.
"I'm gonna tell you, really, you can hear on thousands of radio shows where people are talking about the same thing every day. That we should put ourselves together, we should be more in solidarity one with another, we should be under the same flag, we should think about the brothers, the sisters, and the cousins that we left in the old country and do something for them. The only one thing that they're motivated to do is to send money by transfers to Haiti, that's all. But really, I tell you, to convince three, four, five, ten Haitians to be united and to do something positive is so hard."
Many of Bob Lemoine's radio fans remember him from Haiti, where he was a radio announcer and filmmaker in Port-au-Prince. He immigrated to the United States seven years ago, after he was left a widower with three small children.
"When my wife died, I had to find someone to help me with my kids, because at the time my baby was only two and a half years old. And I found somebody who loved me and I loved her, and she said "We're going to take care of the kids together, no problem, Bob, but I'm leaving for the United States, so if you want to follow me, all right.' Usually it's the woman who follows the man, but that time it was totally the contrary."
Mr. Lemoine loves his life here in the United States--especially, he says,the technology, and the four computers that he uses for his writing. In addition to writing and producing his radio programs, he has written poems, plays, and 52 episodes of a television serial. He is not considering returning to Haiti.
"Not now, not now. I'm not ready to go back to Haiti, because I feel so good where I am now, and it's not only for myself, but for my children. They're so well-defined, they define themselves so okay where they are, that I can't do that to them."
For another view of Haitians in New York tune in next week, when we'll talk with the editor of the only English-language newspaper targeted at the Haitian-American community, the Haitian Times.