PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti—Last week, the U.S. media focused on the Pew Hispanic Center’s recent study revealing Hispanics to be the largest group among children experiencing U.S. poverty, while failing to include significant racial disparities.
According to the study, 6.1 million Hispanic children live in poverty, compared to 5 million White children and 4.4 million Black children. However, the poverty rate among Hispanic children is 35 percent, while 12 percent for White children and 39 percent for Black children.
Such poverty rates show that although there are more Hispanic children living in poverty than Black children, Black children are more likely to live in poverty than Hispanic children.
The study reflects census data revealing an increasing Hispanic population in the United States, partly due to rising birth rates among Hispanics.
When the U.S. media shows images of Hispanics, most of the images reflect a mixture of Native American and European ancestry, void of any Black African physical characteristics.
Yet, there are people from countries like Haiti who are also considered to be Afro-Latinos.
Although not usually recognizing themselves as Latino or Hispanic, many even offended if labeled as such, Haitians hail from a country located among Latin American countries, whose inhabitants are labeled as such by mainstream media.
“I guess it depends on how someone identifies,” Ms. Ruth Merceron, a New York City resident of Haitian descent told the Viễn Đông, adding that she considers Haitians to be Afro-Caribbean.
While considering differing views on whether or not Haiti is a Hispanic country, also consider connections between Blacks in the United States and Blacks in Haiti, the only recognized majority Black nation in the Western Hemisphere.
As the poverty rate among U.S. children is highest for Blacks, it is interesting to note that Haiti is the poorest country in Latin America, its population reportedly 95 percent Black.
Brief history of Haiti’s
Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea to the west of the Dominican Republic on the same island, which was called Hispaniola when the Spanish colonized it. Cuba lies northwest of Haiti.
Prior to Spanish colonization in 1492, Hispaniola was inhabited by Taino Indians. As was similar in most of the Western Hemisphere, the Spaniards introduced disease to the Native American people on the island. Not having acquired immunity to such disease, many of them died.
To supplement the work of building a colony, the Spaniards brought Africans to Hispaniola as slaves in 1517. Past slavery on the western part of the island has been considered to be extremely brutal, with one third of imported Africans dying within the first few years of arrival.
The French also came to the western part of Hispaniola and competition between them and the Spanish grew. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick divided the island in two: the western part would be French territory and named Saint-Domingue, while the eastern part would be Spanish territory and is now called the Dominican Republic.
The split brought more French settlers to Saint-Domingue and by 1790, the combination of increased population and free slave labor made Saint-Domingue the richest French colony in the Western Hemisphere.
However, things began to change in 1791. There were free Blacks on the island who were inspired by the French Revolution of 1789-1799 and began uprising, demanding civil rights.
The British invaded Saint-Domingue in 1793 and in 1794 slavery was abolished in all the French colonies, including Saint-Domingue.
Mr. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, is credited with being the leader in the slave revolt leading to abolition. He is also credited with driving out British and Spanish invaders after abolition, bringing stability to Saint-Domingue by advocating work among freed Blacks and reestablishing trade with the United States and Britain.
As Saint-Domingue became more prosperous with free Black inhabitants, the French began to rethink their position on slavery. They retook Saint-Domingue and intended to reestablish slavery in 1802.
However, by 1804 free Blacks on Saint-Domingue had fought so hard the French gave up. Mr. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader in the revolution, declared independence for Saint-Domingue and named the country Haiti.
France did not officially recognize Haiti as a free nation until 1825 and only did so after Haiti agreed to pay retribution to France for the French loss of “property”: slaves, land, equipment, etc.
The retribution Haiti paid lifted a trade embargo placed on the country by France, Britain, and the United States. Though, Haiti had to take out high interest loans to fully pay the retribution, which took the country until 1947.
The country began its perpetuated debt, which still plagues Haiti, in1911.
A perspective on poverty in Haiti
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in 2010 and impacted the already struggling country, leaving a disputed 220,000 people dead.
Before the earthquake, 80 percent Haitians already lived below the poverty line.
In May 2010, a Viễn Đông reporter visited Haiti as part of an effort to bring relief to some of the Haitians affected by the quake. The reporter visited two village communities: Balan and Madame Bouje, located in eastern Haiti.
Madame Bouje’s residents were not hit by the quake, though they used the disaster to their advantage, telling organizations willing to help that they had been directly hit by the quake. The Viễn Đông reporter was told that this was done to bring necessities to the community already experiencing poverty before the quake.
Although Balan had not been directly hit by the quake either, the Viễn Đông reporter was told that there were survivors from the quake who were staying in the community, warranting them relief supplies.
Both communities looked physically dry and in need of water and nourishment, yet their children looked vibrant with hope for a wellspring of opportunities.
Such children are considered the poorest of the poor, though reflected resilience present in Haiti since before 1804.
Thoughts to consider
By highlighting poverty within specific groups, are other groups left out? What are some of the advantages to highlighting poverty within specific groups?