Virtual Voices

N.Y. Journal: Haitian neighbors in New York

Global

Immigrants still keep New York City, the funnel for the original melting pot, running. A recent report on shows that they account for $215 billion of 2008's economic activity-about 32 percent of our gross city product.

That economic contribution has risen by 60 percent in the last eight years. Every one of our chemical engineers is an immigrant, four in ten of every accountant and auditor, and 27 percent of our chief executive and legislators. The ten city neighborhoods with the highest concentration of immigrants are flourishing-growing by 14.8 percent, compared to the rest of the City's 3.3 percent.

Perhaps this is why any international crisis in Haiti affects New York in a different way-because New Yorkers and not some distant population are the ones who are actually affected. New York has 125,475 Haitians-the most of any state besides Florida-and most of them must live close to me. My neighborhood has a high concentration of Haitians and my old neighborhood, East Flatbush, had even more. It was 57 percent immigrant, predominately hailing from Haiti. They run the grocery stores, corner bodegas, bakeries, restaurants, hair salons.

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So when a crisis hits Haiti, it hits not just a minority population affected but the majority of my neighbors-the people who fill the half dozen churches I walk past on my way to the subway. There are communities in New York City that are collectively grieving. When I called up the pastor at the Haitian Ebenezer Baptist Church just two avenues from where I live, the pastor was too frantic to talk and could only say desperately that his school and church and family were in Haiti.

But for some who have been here longer I found a sense of detachment, since there's a reason they're here and not there. The older man I spoke to seemed to have no ties to Haiti anymore-only frustration with its lack of economic development and the matter-of-fact realization, "If I were in Haiti, I'd die."

There have been Haiti fundraiser parties popping up across the city. Of course, given that it's New York City, the fundraisers are often luxurious, celebrity-studded affairs at swanky clubs. People are drinking wine for Haiti, bowling, donating canned food, wearing Lady Gaga t-shirts-with New York celebrities from Jimmy Fallon to Tommy Hilfiger.

It's good to see. Here, where the whole idea of a "native New York" seems somewhat dim, loving our Haitian neighbor actually means loving the person next door.

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