By Aisha Powell
Little Haiti will soon join the likes of designated cultural districts like Little Caribbean and Chinatown. However, the question remains, can the new district thrive like its counterparts across the city.
NEW YORK – Brooklyn locals will soon find out if the borough will be home to a new black cultural district tomorrow. On June 26, The New York City Council will vote on a resolution that would create Little Haiti in the Flatbush area.
Rodneyse Bichotte, assembly member for New York’s 42nd District, which includes portions of Flatbush and Ditmas Park, spearheaded the designation into fruition. Since 2017, Bichotte, community members, other representatives and local organizations have advocated for the creation of the cultural district.
Haiti’s influence in the Brooklyn community is evident not only through the designation, but also through the recent string of conamings taking place in the district. Bichotte just unveiled the conaming of Nostrand Avenue, which is now being called L’Ouverture Blvd, after the leader of the Haitian revolution Toussaint L’Ouverture. Later in the year parts of Roger Avenue will be conamed Jean Jacques Dessalines Blvd., after Haiti’s first president.
The name changes are not the impact the community is looking for said Jensen Desrosiers, a Flatbush resident and owner of Tonel Bar & Lounge located in the heart of the proposed designation area.
“The way the world has turned, we have to be more vigilant and more organized,” he said. “Until the economy is touched” they are just making baby steps.
Bichotte’s communications and legislation director feels otherwise.
The designation will increase resources for the Haitian community, including immigrant services, Haitian creole language resources and legal services, said Rush Perez.
Can Little Haiti withstand changing times?
As ethnic cosmism pop up every day in New York City, maintaining a populace is met with aggressive gentrification as housing prices in continue to soar, displacing ethnic communities.
“There is a huge pressing demand (in Brooklyn) from the wealthier middle class,” said Donna Gabaccia, author of Gender and Migration: From the Slavery Era to the Global Age and history teacher at the University of Toronto.
According to the 2010 census, Flatbush, along with Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Garden, loss 10-14 percent of its black residence from 2000. Haitians represent the biggest ethnic group in Flatbush, accounting for 8 percent of all residences in 2013.
But gentrification isn’t the only thing to look out for. Immigration policy also has an impact on changing demographics of communities.
“Little Italy starting to fade away not when it was gentrified, but because the country cut off immigration from Italy,” she said.
Haiti is seemingly following the same path. Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allowed more than 50,000 Haitian immigrants to enter the United States, is set to terminate in July 2019 leaving thousands facing deportation.
Gabaccia says there’s a direct correlation between immigration policy and the future of minority groups in America.
Today the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows spouses, children and parents (over the age of 21) to petition for relatives in other countries to receive a legal status in America – but that could also potentially change she says.
“If there is a cut back in immigration, if TPS results in large amounts of Haitians leaving and if immigration from Haiti is further suppressed by law or policing,” she said. “It won’t be long before those wealthier people in Brooklyn will change the character [in Little Haiti.]”
Looking to Little Caribbean and other cultural districts for direction.
This September, Little Caribbean, also located in Flatbush, will celebrate its one year anniversary. The Caribbean cultural district created by caribBEING founder Shelley Worrell, hosts tours, food crawls, art shows and community events that work simultaneously with Flatbush’s most popular events including J’Ouvert and the West Indian Day Parade.
Local Caribbean-owned businesses are also highlighted, encouraging locals and tourist to shop generating commerce for the area. Much of Little Caribbean’s success is due to these collaborations with business and organizations in the community.
Other neighborhoods, such as the Little Guyana in Queens have the same structure: uniting long-time residents and businesses, to create authentic cultural dense areas where locals can thrive.
The biggest key to survive made eminent by New York City’s 160-year-old Chinatown, is ownership. Dating back to 1995, the Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), a non-profit dedicated to preserving affordable housing throughout New York, has raised more than $100 million dollars for Asian Americans.
Through grants, donations and loans, the AAFE has purchased tenement buildings, created more than 800 housing units throughout NYC and disbursed $46 million in loans to small Asian-owned businesses.
In the past year alone, AAFE has found or created housing for 3,500 tenants. Chinatown has been in existence since the mid-1800s and today it has roughly 7,700 Asian residents.
After Thursday’s decision at 1:00 p.m., Little Haiti supporters, including Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, State Senator Kevin Parker, Little Haiti BK Coalition, Flatbush locals, other organizations and Bichotte herself, are hoping to celebrate a victory that with the right direction can transform a community into a thriving cultural hub for the Haitian community.