Community engagement and support are the core of the Haitian Institute’s mission. In addition to promoting a clear vision of how Haitians can thrive in Atlanta, we also seek to support that vision through educational means. Our research has shown a real need for formation in the area of cultural awareness. As one minister has admitted to us, entering the United States for the first time can be shocking for many Haitians. Navigating this new culture can be a daunting task without adequate support.
This problem becomes more pronounced in the conflicts which inevitably ensue as Haitian immigrants attend to the task of raising their children in a foreign world. As those children grow and more and more take on the characteristics of U.S. culture – particularly in the areas of dress, music, religion, and values – the conflicts intensify, leading to inter-generational malaise. The end result is an ever widening chasm, which has the potential to erode any sense of cohesion between succeeding generations.
Ill at ease in their homes and marginalized in their local churches, many members of the second generation seek comfort elsewhere. Sometimes this “elsewhere” is a more accepting and nurturing English speaking church or other religious community. Sometimes it is an accepting but destructive group such as a gang or other group which operates on the fringes of U.S. society. In some homes, the police sometimes has to intervene. This may introduce Haitians into the U.S. criminal justice system, which, as is well known, is especially detrimental to those who, like Haitians, have African ancestry.
At the Haitian Institute of Atlanta, we rank the lack of cultural awareness and the general inability to navigate U.S. culture among the greatest threats to Haitians’ ability to thrive in Atlanta. The first generation immigrants lay the groundwork on which future generations will stand. When that foundation is built inadequately or characterized by prejudice or fear, it becomes a hazard instead of a source of support.
The inability – and at time refusal – to negotiate between Haitian and U.S. cultures is sometimes symptomatic of an overall lack of cultural awareness. Closed to any cross-cultural negotiation, many Haitians effectively isolate themselves from the wider community, their children, and other opportunities in the host country.
We encourage leaders of the community to encourage those who rely on their leadership to register for the Institute’s courses.