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Celebrating Haitian Heritage Month

graphical user interfaceMay is Haitian Heritage Month, an opportunity to participate in Haitian culture and traditions, wherever you are. Does your hometown celebrate Haitian Heritage in May?

The first-ever recognition of Haitian Heritage Month in the US was in Boston in 1998. Since then, the celebrations have continued to expand; now, the festivities honoring Haitian culture are most visible in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Florida, and Pennsylvania. Haitian Flag Day on May 18th inspires the month of celebration in May–but cities like New York honor and elevate Haitian culture year-round, if you know where to look!

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live in New York City right now. Beyond Florida, the largest population of Haitians in America is right here in Brooklyn. More than 20% of the immigrant population in Flatbush, BK is Haitian. Today, the area between Ave H, Brooklyn Ave, East 16th Street and Parkside Ave is “Little Haiti.” If you’re looking for Haitian food, music, art, and culture in NYC, Little Haiti is the heart of it.

Haitians have made undeniable contributions to American history. The Louisiana Purchase, for example, is noted as a transformational victory for America, that solidified the survival and expansion of the independent republic. But the Louisiana Purchase wouldn’t have happened without enslaved people in Haiti. Enslaved Haitians fought for over a decade to overthrow slaveholders, then French troops, eventually defeating Napoleon’s army. They were victorious in May, 1803. Haitians established the first Independent State in South America. This black-led nation remained profitable and discouraged Napoleon’s North American conquests, diminishing his power and putting pressure on him to retreat or make a deal–so when America gained control of 828,000 square acres and the French retreated, it was due to pressure and deference from Haiti.

Despite significant Haitian communities and cultural contributions in cities like New York, “Little Haiti” is a brand-new area. In fact, it’s only been designated historic/business/cultural district for three years. Efforts to designate this community in an official capacity came as a result of rapid gentrification in the Flatbush area, where Haitian locals were being displaced and the Diaspora was becoming less visible. The efforts were successful, though initially met with undue resistance.

Designating a neighborhood in honor of a specific community helps facilitate the building of museums, monuments, and cultural centers. With more infrastructure elevating Haitian culture, New Yorkers have increased access to that community’s history. So “Little Haiti” unities New Yorkers, allowing New York’s Haitian community share their culture and stories in their own way. How is your culture and your history made visible in your community?