Ou Ayisyen? The Making of a Haitian Diasporic Community in Chicago, 1933-2010

This dissertation investigates the formation of the Haitian diaspora in Chicago over the twentieth century. Through original oral history interviews with key community leaders, analysis of Chicago-based newspapers, and previously unexamined organizational records, this is the first comprehensive study to look at the Haitian diaspora in Chicago. Chicago’s Haitian diaspora is different from the more recognized and studied Haitian diasporic communities in New York and Miami and other African diasporic communities for three reasons. First, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a fur trader believed to have been from Haiti, founded the city around 1780 which highlights the initial formation of Chicago as a diasporic space. Black women led the movement in Chicago to commemorate DuSable as the founder of the city and played a key role in building connections between Chicago and Haiti which shaped the formation of the Haitian community there. Secondly, the social class composition of Haitians who migrated to Chicago is unique because it is largely professional, educated, and middle class. Finally, the Haitian diaspora in Chicago is smaller and more decentralized than its counterparts in Miami and New York. Approximately 15,000 to 30,000 Haitian descendant people live in Chicago today, but this community does not live in a “Little Haiti,” a neighborhood comprised largely of Haitian immigrants. Instead, Haitians in Chicago are geographically dispersed across the city and its metropolitan area. The distinct historical, demographic, and spatial characteristics of Chicago influenced the ways that Haitians in the city forged community, interacted with other African descendant people, and cultivated transnational linkages to their Caribbean homeland over the twentieth century.

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