Chaville, France

By Makana Eyre

When Anne-Louise Mesadieu and her family arrived in Chaville in the 1980s, they were among the first Haitians in town. In fact, they were one of the first families of color in a largely white, affluent area southwest of Paris.

“There were two black students at school,” she said.

Since her childhood, Mesadieu knew that many people in France had a simplistic view of Haiti, that they connected the country only with poverty and corruption. In many ways, that view shaped her.

“I learned English so that people would think I came from the United States, not Haiti. It was stupid but it worked.”

Mesadieu and her family being Haitian and arriving in France hardly made them unique. In fact, Haitians have been coming to France for centuries to study, escape dictators and coups d’états, and seek a better life.

Today, France is home to around 62,000 Haitians. Most of them live in Paris and its surrounding suburbs.

What is unusual about Haitians in France are the many gaps in the public’s understanding as to their place in French society. This is odd because Haiti and France are so deeply connected. Unlike Miami and New York, Paris has no Little Haiti. Few permanent community centers welcome Haitians here. No university in France is home to a Haitian studies institute.

We set out to fill some of these gaps. Perhaps unsurprisingly, information was hard to come by and the picture we assembled is complex.


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