Immigrants welcomed by Paterson group
Monday, April 9, 2007
By SAMANTHA HENRY
PATERSON -- When Daniel Andre emigrated from Haiti in 1993, he went from being an elected councilman in Port-au-Prince to a dishwasher at Garden State Plaza.
After years of working to get his life back in balance, he felt settled enough to start helping other Haitian newcomers.
"I can't live in a community by crossing my arms and not acting in that community," he said.
Andre, 45, founded the Haitian Civic Organization of Paterson last June. The group is dedicated to helping Haitian immigrants adjust to life in America -- while teaching their American-born children to take pride in their heritage.
The organization helps people with anything from learning to drive to searching for a job. Andre said the language barrier is one of the biggest obstacles for newly arrived Haitians, whose native French and Creole are not widely spoken in New Jersey. The group also organizes seminars on topics from opening a bank account to buying a home, as well as cultural events and youth activities.
Andre, who works for the City of Paterson's shade tree program and gives private driving lessons, hopes to build his group into a powerful advocacy organization on behalf of Haitians in New Jersey, while encouraging their civic participation.
"We have to get some leaders who can stand for the community; this is an imperative." he said. "I don't see Haitian police officers, etc., and when the community doesn't have these professionals, it is a weakness."
The number of Haitian immigrants moving to New Jersey started increasing in the early 1990s, according to Andre, although traditional ports-of-entry like Florida and New York remained strong.
Thousands of immigrants fled the Caribbean nation -- which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic -- following the 1991 overthrow of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Andre was among those granted political asylum in the U.S., and resettled in Paterson, where he lives with his wife, Precieuse, and their three children.
Although the 2000 U.S. Census shows about 400 Haitians in Passaic County, Andre estimated there are nearly 2,000 living here now. The community is anchored by three churches in Paterson that offer religious services in Creole and French, and Andre and several members of his organization attend the Haitian Bethel Church of Nazarene on Main Street.
Jarnack Melse, a Sunday school teacher at the church and the cultural director of the Haitian Civic Organization, said the group not only helps new immigrants get oriented to life in America, but teaches a new generation of Haitian-Americans to take pride in their heritage as they struggle to forge an identity in America.
"If we leave it be, we'll lose our identity," Melse said. "Our kids grow up in America, they don't know anything about Haiti. But if we have this organization, our kids will learn our story."
Reach Samantha Henry at 973-569-7172 or email@example.com
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